Four years after the Right to Information (RTI) Act was enacted to ensure easy access to information for citizens, officials are still rejecting applications on questionable grounds, which may make them liable for punishment.
The Indian Air Force headquarters rejected an RTI application saying that fee attached in the form of Indian postal order was drawn in favour of “Accounts Officer, Indian Air Force” and not “Air Force Public Fund Account, Air Headquarter, New Delhi” as per their internal rules.
The sub-section “RTI-regulation of Fee and Cost Rules, 2005” under the RTI Act section of Indian Air Force’s official web site clearly states that fee can be drawn in favour of Accounts Officer of the Public Authority, which in this case was the IAF.
When the concerned Central Public Information Officer, Wing Commander T. Sajan, was contacted, he said, “The information on the web site may be wrong. We don’t have any such head to accept the fee.”
The Department of Personnel and Training, nodal agency for the implementation of the Act, had in a circular dated December 5, 2008 to all ministries and departments of Government of India made it clear that RTI applications with fee drawn in favour of “Accounts Officer” should not be rejected.
“Refusal to accept an application on the ground that the demand draft/banker’s cheque/IPO submitted by the applicant has been drawn in the name of the Accounts Officer may amount to refusal to accept the application. It may result into imposition of penalty by the Central Information Commission on the concerned CPIO under section 20 of the Act,” it read.
When contacted, Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah said this was a clear case of violation of RTI Act and an immediate complaint should be filed with the CIC.
The Sports Ministry had last year rejected two applications seeking details of expenditure incurred on the preparation of Commonwealth Games.
“Your both applications along with postal orders are returned herewith as the information asked for is not readily existing and is not held by the public authority (Sports Ministry),” Pramod Agrawal, Director, International Sports Department of the Ministry, had said in his reply.
The cases are also seen by experts as an indication of poor training given to officials handling RTI requests.
Frequent change of postings too make it difficult to keep a tab on the regular updates which keep coming from Information Commissions and Department of Personnel and Training.
“Most of the officials have been trained but it is a difficult task. Frequent transfers also add to problem,” Mr. Habibullah said.