RTI activists plan protestsin State capital next week

Exercise of right to information continues to face several hurdles though six years have passed since the Right to Information Act came into effect. Information is being denied on technical and specious grounds by government officials.

In the case of the Mullaperiyar issue, for example, both the Tamil Nadu and Kerala governments are refusing to part with information that the citizens concerned have every right to seek.

The Public Works Department of Tamil Nadu declined to provide documents regarding appropriation and allocation of funds for Mullaperiyar and alleged payments made from the funds to Keralites on the ground that the matter is sub judice.

The Office of the Chief Engineer (Inter-State Waters) of the Kerala government maintains that copies of affidavits and other documents submitted to the Supreme Court in the Mullaperiyar case cannot be provided since they come under the purview of “strategic interests of the State.”

It has invoked clauses under Section 8 of the Right to Information Act, which actually deals with disclosure of information that would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific, or economic interests of the State.

Applicants find it very difficult to deal with such arguments.

The situation is compounded by ineffective functioning of the State information commission, which hears complaints about denial of information. The number of complaints and appeals pending before the State information commissioners are mounting. Several of their orders tend to weaken the application of provisions of the Act. Besides, a Supreme Court order last year restrained information commissions from ordering release of information on complaints.

An order for disclosure of information can now be made only on (second) appeals before the commission, which usually take months or even years for disposal.

The commission can take only penal action (in the form of fines) while considering complaints (about furnishing of incomplete, misleading or false information or absence of response to a request for information).

RTI activists, led by the RTI Kerala Federation, are planning protests here next week over weakening of the right to information. Its general secretary D.B. Binu said public trust in the Act and the information commissions formed under the Act had eroded.

The information commissioners adopted very lenient attitudes towards State public information officers who failed to provide the information.

This had led to official apathy and neglect towards requests for information under the Act.