TAMIL NADU

“Leniency in imposing penalties takes sting out of RTI Act”

Shyam Ranganathan



A list of suggested guidelines on punitive action submitted



CHENNAI: The State Information Commission (SIC) is failing to implement the Right to Information Act in spirit by not imposing penalties, activists say. This leniency towards errant Public Information Officers (PIO) is emboldening government officials to withheld necessary information, they say.

Recently, many activists submitted their views to the chief commissioner of the Central Information Commission and the SIC on the issue of penalties.

V. Madhav, an RTI activist, who has looked at the orders of the SIC over the previous three years, says that only 24 penalties were imposed until May 2008. The Commission has been lenient even towards PIOs who have been criticised severely in the Commission’s orders, he says. “The Commission has issued strong strictures against PIOs. But for some reason they are not taking the punitive action of imposing a penalty provided for by Section 20(1) of the Act,” he says.

In one case, the PIO provided information only 18 months after it was sought while the Act says that information should be provided within 30 days. In spite of that there was no penalty imposed and even a showcause notice was not issued, he adds. He says that he has submitted a list of suggested guidelines to the Commission on punitive action to be taken against repeat offenders and those who have been unreasonably tardy in providing information.

S. Ramakrishnan, chief information commissioner, SIC, says that the Commission has already been working on the problem. He accepts that without punitive action, the Act could lose its sting and government officials would not be transparent in their working. “But we have to be balanced and not be over harsh on government officials as that might hurt the interests of the petitioners in the long run,” he says.

While Mr. Madhav’s suggestions were being considered for legal feasibility, Mr. Ramakrishnan says that the Commission is already examining every case to see if a showcause notice should be issued to the PIO or if strict action should be taken.

“We are doing it on a case-by-case basis to be fair to both sides. But the number of cases we receive each day is much higher than in many other States. So we are also loaded with work and it will take time to iron out all issues,” he says.

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