Activists raise concern as RTI pleas put on the backburner

Right to Information (RTI) activists have raised concern over their applications remaining unanswered. In several cases, information from State government departments is not forthcoming, forcing them to opt for first and second appeals. To make matters vexatious, due to the backlog, it is taking about a year for their petitions to be heard at the Telangana State Information Commission (TSIC).

Activists with YouRTI.in, a portal which assists individuals to file RTI requests apart from its own activists seeking information themselves, say that filing first and second appeals and waiting for petitions to be listed for hearing appears to have become the norm.

“At the moment, three appeals are pending in the TSIC. Recently, we have had appeals dealt with which were filed in 2019 and 2018. Delays by government departments, irrespective of reasons, do not further the cause of RTI,” Kareem Ansari, an activist with YouRTI.in, said.

Giving an example, Mr Ansari said an application to the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation seeking information on births and deaths was sent on June 17. The request was forwarded to the Department of Public Health and Family Welfare. When no response came, the activist filed a first appeal on August 12 and received a response directing the joint director treat the application as ‘time bound’, and send a response within three days. “It has been more than a month and no information has come,” Mr Ansari said.

According to official data, till December 2020, there were well over 10,000 pending cases with the commission. There are a few thousand cases pending now.

S.Q. Masood, another RTI activist, also pointed out cases in which the respondents were failing to comply with the commission’s order. “In April this year, dealing with appeal number 1574/CIC/2019, the commission directed the Serilangampalli MRO to furnish information within a week. It has been more than six months. I have not got the information,” Mr Masood said.

In a similar case, a second appeal was filed with the commission on August 2018 after the activist was not given statistical information on beneficiaries of the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund. In an order dated January 21, the Commission directed the Public Information Officer at the Chief Minister’s office in-charge of CMRF to send information within seven days. Mr Masood said he is still waiting for the government to implement this order.

“If it takes so long for it to reach the commission, and then departments ignore instructions, it defeats the very purpose of RTI, which appears to have been weakened here. The Chief Secretary should ensure regular training and sensitisation of PIOs with respect to the RTI Act. Departments should not needlessly invoke section 8 (1) of the Act which deals with exemptions on giving information,” he said.

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