The Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, is often perceived to be a pain in the neck for Government officials who are flooded with applications seeking various kinds of information. But much less is said and written about the plight of applicants who face equal trouble in obtaining the information which is more often than not denied on one pretext or another.
K. Kesavan, a lawyer here, had made an application to the Public Information Officer (PIO)-cum-Personal Assistant to Additional Director General of Police (Prisons) on September 15 seeking information about steps taken to provide telephone facilities to prisoners in the State as directed by the Madras High Court Bench here on March 1.
Replying to the plea on November 15, the PIO, S. Seethalakshmi, had said that the information sought by the lawyer was in the form of a question and that there was no provision under the RTI Rules, framed under the Act, to provide answers to question-based applications.
Expressing surprise over the reply, S. Sampath, an RTI activist, said that such denial of information was the result of the officials failing to read the Act in its true letter and spirit. According to him, the PIOs must take sincere efforts to provide the information sought rather than concentrate on mere technicalities.
He recalled that the Central Information Commission (CIC), while deciding a second appeal filed under the RTI Act, on May 11 had held that denying information, except for the classified information in accordance with Section 8 and 9 of the Act, would be clearly against the statutory mandate and would negate the citizen's right to information.
Like Mr. Kesavan, another lawyer R. Lakshminarayanan had made an application to the PIO of Committee on Heritage and Culture, Ministry of Railways, on January 13 seeking to know the designation of the authority competent to pass orders for launching a mobile museum to honour nationalists such as Poet Subramanya Bharathiyar.
The second question raised by him was why the committee had not launched a mobile museum to honour the poet despite a requisition submitted by Bharathiyar Thinkers' Forum, of which he was the secretary, on October 13 last year. The information was sought for by remitting the required fee of Rs. 10 through a postal order.
Yet, there was no reply. The lawyer filed an appeal petition on February 28. There was no reply for that too.
At last, he approached the CIC on April 13. Disposing of his second appeal, the CIC on October 7 directed the Chief Public Information Officer of West Central Railway at Jabalpur to furnish a reply within a week from the date of receipt of the order copy.
“I received the CIC's order on October 15. It is over a month since then, but the CPIO of West Central Railway has not replied till date,” rued Mr. Lakshminarayanan.