An activist has finally received a half-hearted response to an RTI query he made eight years ago. This has put the spotlight on woeful implementation of the Right To Information Act in Odisha.
Bimal Pandia, a water right activist, applied for information online under the RTI Act on September 24, 2015.
In his request to the Engineer-in-chief of Rural Water Supply and Sanitation (RWSS), Mr. Pandia had submitted six different questions regarding the status of piped water supply in the State. For the benefit of said government officer, he attached three different official orders issued on different dates.
Eight years too late
“I was expecting a speedy reply as I had provided government letters for reference. I did not get any response for years even as piped water supply programmes were implemented in all districts. On August 21, 2023 I received a copy of the letter sent by the statistical investigator and public information officer of RWSS, who asked the RWSS superintending engineer to supply information to me,” he said.
“The replies I was expecting in 2015 are no use to me in 2023. It is a crude joke that the PIO of a department moved to supply information eight years after submission of the RTI application. Ironically, the information is in the collection stage.”
There is huge discontentment among activists and the general public over frequent delays and denial of access to information under RTI Act.
“Last year, I asked a simple question on the volume of water entering Hirakud Reservoir in Sambalpur. The information is certainly readily available in engineers computers. However, I have been made to wait one year for the information. After I appealed, authorities have been asked to supply the information. It is yet to land in my inbox,” said Mr. Pandia.
Pradip Pradhan, convenor of Odisha Soochana Adhikar Abhijan (OSSA), a forum of RTI activists, said, “With regards to the controversy surrounding the Ratna Bhandar, the treasury of Shree Jagannath Temple, Puri, Odisha government said the file on the Ratna Bhandar was untraceable. When people began asking questions, the government said the file had been traced. I filed an RTI query seeking to know how the file was misplaced and who found it. I have not received a reply.”
Mr. Pradhan alleged government departments were deliberately avoiding answering queries that could put the State government in an uncomfortable position. “At ground level, information seekers are frequently attacked if the query seeks data on corruption in execution of welfare programmes,” he said.
The Odisha Information Commission website says on 1729 different instances, penalties have been imposed on government officials for denial and delay in supply of information, the list of people denied information is long. The website’s information sheet on year wise receipt and disposal of cases shows errors.
“If one files a complaint seeking penalty on this PIO it will take years to be heard by Odisha Information Commission. And there is little chance he will be penalised. The RTI Act has been destroyed in our State,” said Biswajit Mohanty, a regular information seeker.