BANGALORE: The Urban Development Department and the Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Department top the list of government bodies not providing information sought under the Right to Information(RTI) Act. The highest penalties have been slapped against them in the last two years.
While awareness among citizens is high about the RTI Act, government officials remain unresponsive when it comes to parting with information. According to the law Public Information officers (PIOs) can be penalised for non-compliance.
Sources said the Karnataka Information Commission (KIC) levied a fine of `36.63 lakh on the Urban Development Department in 2013-2014 for not replying to RTI aplications while the Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Department was asked to pay a fine of `36,28,500. In 2012-13, the Urban Development Department was fined `29,87,000 and RDPR `22,31,250.
According to the RTI Act, if an applicant fails to get information within 30 days of filing an application, he can file an appeal with a higher authority in the department. And, if after 45 days, the information is still not supplied, then a second appeal can be filed with the Information Commission.
“The Commission has the right to levy a fine on PIOs who fail to furnish information within the stipulated time without any reasonable cause. They can impose a penalty of `250 per day, with the total penalty on a PIO not exceeding `25,000,” said A R Shashikumar, an advocate and RTI activist.
RTI experts say the department doesn’t want to be transparent. “They get requests to furnish details about land transfers, ration cards and implementation of various schemes. But more often than not, there has been misappropriation of funds or some corrupt activity, due to which they don’t willingly give out information,” said Shashikumar.
The penalty has been on the rise every year. For instance, in 2012-13, the Commission imposed a total of `91,20,000 penalty on the PIOs of 28 departments while in 2011-12, the penalty was just `36,56,500.
Shashikumar said that even though a penalty is levied, it does little to improve matters. “According to the Act, the Commission levies a fine. But many times even though the department pays this amount, it doesn’t furnish the information and continues dragging the matter for years,” said Shashikumar.
“But if the penalty didn’t exist, the RTI Act would die. The government should look into steps like deducting the salary of defaulting officers, only then will they be more responsible,” he added.