RTI Act is a non-starter in State, says a consumer group

Staff Reporter

`No proper response from four government agencies'

CHENNAI: City-based Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG) has said it sought information from four different government agencies under the Right to Information Act (RTI) but could not elicit proper response due to "procedural uncertainties and a lack of understanding of the spirit of the legislation among public information officers."

In a press release issued on Saturday, the consumer activist group said it would soon release a "first six months study" on the implementation of RTI in Tamil Nadu. So far, the Act has been virtually a non-starter in the State despite coming into effect from October 12, 2005. The CAG quoted its experiences: a request to the Chennai Metrowater Board regarding details of the contract for the proposed construction of a desalination plant at Minjur was turned down on the grounds that the petitioner had demanded details on the "contract" whereas only an "agreement" was in force.

Another request to the Public Works Department was returned stating the information was with the Highways Department overlooking the fact that the Act places onus on transferring the application to the appropriate public information officer within five days of receipt of request;

The Group's coordinator, Sriharini Naryanan, in a release stated that there was limited understanding of the spirit of the legislation among the public information officers.

"Procedural uncertainties, lack of operational knowledge among public information officers and inadequate infrastructure had caused unnecessary delays and frustration among citizen-consumers seeking information."

She also pointed out that the information request fee of Rs.50 (levied in Tamil Nadu) was the highest in the country. "The decision to charge the highest fee not only removes a section of our population from the information-seeking category but also adds to the existing procedural opaqueness."