BENGALURU: As per section 20 (1) of the RTI Act, the State Information Commission has the power to impose a penalty on the Public Information Officer (PIO) for not responding to an RTI application, for missing the 30-day deadline or providing incorrect or incomplete information.
RTI activist and lawyer Narasimhamurthy said, "Once the 30-day deadline has passed, the PIO of the particular agency must pay a fine of Rs 250 per day from his/her pocket. The maximum it can go up to per application is Rs 25,000.”
The statistics of penalty levied on BBMP, BDA, BWSSB and BMRCL, a copy of which is available with City Express, are shocking and show little promise of transparency. So far, the State Information Commission has released data of penalties levied until 2014-2015 only. BBMP tops the list of penalty amount imposed among the above departments.
BBMP fined Rs 26.32 lakh
Aruna Newton has filed 280 RTIs to seek information on trade licenses of individual commercial establishments in Indiranagar, to find out about those violating building bye laws in a residential zone.
“Of 280, I got responses to only five-seven of them and they too are rubbish. They make it so difficult to file RTIs, by sending me to three different BBMP offices. A woman in the main office claimed that they don't have manpower to process the applications,” Newton said, adding that she has to take half or full days off from work for this.
“The officer made me wait for two hours and did not give me an acknowledgement slip,” she said.
“BBMP asked me to collect the response after 2 months but said they don't have the required permission for it, the information isn't authentic and asked me to get in touch with a medical officer to cross check the answer,” she said, adding, “They either pretend not to know what to do or are apathetic, and want to throw you off scent.”
The above example could explain why the State Information Commission has slapped a heavy fine of Rs 26.32 lakhs from 2012-2015 on the BBMP (Rs 26,32,000).
From 2012 to 2013 a penalty of Rs 9.76 lakh (Rs 9,76,500) was levied on BBMP for improper or lack of RTI responses. In the next two years, the BBMP was fined Rs 6.26 lakh (Rs 6,26,500) and Rs 1.02 lakh (Rs 1,02,9000) respectively.
Responding to the query on reason for heavy fine levied, BBMP Mayor Sampath Raj said, “Sometimes it takes time for the application to reach the concerned officer at the zonal level and specific department. As per the RTI act, we have to give information.”
“In the next council meeting, I will bring this matter up with the designated Public Information Officers. The RTI queries filed by people must be given a response as per law,” Sampath Raj added.
BDA fined Rs 2.26 lakh
Tara Krishnaswamy and others instrumental in the protests against the steel flyover, term their experience of filing RTIs with the BDA as "mental harassment".
"We filed RTIs about many aspects, such as feasibility report, or how many trees have to be cut, but got no replies. They kept forwarding it to different departments. We were forced to speak to the concerned officers, revealing our identity. This is against the procedure.”
BDA ranks second after BBMP, in terms of opaqueness, paying a fine of Rs 2.26 lakh (Rs 2,26,500) since 2012 to 2015. From 2012-2013, the commission imposed a fine of Rs 63,500. They were fined Rs 82,000 and Rs 81,000 in the next two years, respectively.
BDA Secretary Basvaraju was not reachable for comment. Vasanth Rao, CPRO of BMRCL said, "The notice to attend the appellate hearing wasn't sent to us. We only received the penalty notice from the commission. We have challenged it in court."
BWSSB Chairman Tushar
Girinath said, "The delays in responding to RTIs are due to bureaucratic reasons. It takes time to collect information from concerned department, leading to a penalty."
'PIO pays for lapses, not agency'
BWSSB has been fined Rs 75,000 for 2013-2015. Chairman Tushar Girinath said, "The fine goes out of the PIOs pocket and not the agency itself. Normally, the delays in responding to RTIs are due to bureaucratic reasons. It takes time to collect information from concerned department leading to a penalty."
Penalties levied on civic agencies
2012 to 2013- D976500
2013 to 2014-D62,6500
2014 to 2015-D1,02,9000
2012 to 2013D63,500
2013 to 2014D82,000
2014 to 2015D81,000
2013 to 2014D50,000
2014 to 2015D25,000
2013 TO 2014D30,000