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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Literary geniuses of Mantralaya, a case of wasted talents


State Governments all over India keep issuing numerous circulars. They are the same everywhere. Never implemented. It becomes a case of “you tell me the person and I shall tell you the circular”, thus putting into action only those circulars, which benefit the officers or their cronies. Others are thrown in the waste paper basket and none feels bad or sad about it. The circulars are cleverly drafted. If some issue is to be evaded, then the choice of words is so 'creative' as to abash even a litterateur. Perhaps these circulars would pass off as pieces of excellent literary talent.

Here’s how. Consider the case of Maharashtra. Many circulars were issued from Mantralaya of Maharashtra since 1996 to express commitment to eradicate corruption and illegalities. Right to Information (RTI) Act was introduced soon afterwards. There was a provision for stringent action against illegalities exposed through the use of RTI. So far, 13 circulars have been issued for action against those involved in corruption and illegalities. These circulars are well drafted comparable with the masterpieces in literary art! But there has been no action as a result of a single circular. If you query officers about any problem, they immediately draw attention to these thirteen circulars and boast about their commitment to eradicate corruption and illegalities.

The Government has issued a large number of circulars for better implementation of the RTI Act but there has not been any implementation based on these circulars. Of course, there never was any possibility of execution because the drafting was so skilful that the officers, by reading between the lines, got the message that the circulars are not for implementation.

As per section 25 (3) of RTI Act, 2005, public authorities are supposed to furnish following information in the form of a report to the state information commission every year.

Each report shall state in respect of the year to which the report relates –
(a) The number of requests made to each public authority;
(b) the number of decisions where applicants were not entitled to access to the documents pursuant to the requests, the provisions of this Act under which these decisions were made and the number of times such provisions were invoked;
(c) the number of appeals referred to the Central Information Commission or State Information Commission, as the case may be, for review, the nature of the appeals and the outcome of the appeals;
(d) particulars of any disciplinary action taken against any officer in respect of the administration of this Act;
(e) the amount of charges collected by each public authority under this Act;
(f) any facts, which indicate an effort by the public authorities to administer and implement the spirit and intention of this Act;
(g) recommendations for reform, including recommendations in respect of the particular public authorities, for the development, improvement, modernisation, reform or amendment to this Act or other legislation or common law or any other matter relevant for operationalising the right to access information
A circular was issued in January 2006 instructing that the above information shall be provided to the information commission by 15th of every month. Some formats were prepared for providing this information. But no format was prepared for sub section (g) above while the same information is provided every year for sub section (f) as nobody makes any effort “to administer and implement the spirit and intention of this Act”! No format was prepared for providing information about disciplinary action against any officer for non-implementation of RTI Act. So, the information commission does not get any follow-up on its orders of punishments by fine and disciplinary actions. The commission has sent many letters to the state government but the response has just been to issue more circulars.

The story about implementation of section 4 of RTI Act is no different. The State Information Commission has written many letters to the state government about non-implementation of Section 4. The state government had issued many circulars in this regard. But nothing concrete happened. So, the then chief information commissioner issued a letter to the state government that the commission would take a serious note if the omission continues. Accordingly, the state government also took 'serious' cognizance of this letter and issued a circular in January 2011 saying that department heads should take disciplinary action against the concerned officers if Section 4 was not implemented. The message was stern. But the babus in Mantralaya folded the circular and attached it to the file in Mantralaya. Ultimately no action has been taken against any one and implementation of Section 4 languishes as ever.

On taking over the reins of office, the incumbent chief state information commissioner Ratnakar Gaikwad sent a letter on June 18th, 2012 giving a list of steps not taken regarding RTI Act expressing unhappiness that these steps were not taken even after seven years of the introduction of RTI Act, 2005. The state government routinely issued a circular on August 22nd, 2012 asking the public authorities to take action as per suggestions by the chief state information commissioner and review its compliance regularly. But there is still no action!

As per section 20 (1) of the RTI Act, information commission punishes the public information officer (PIO) with a fine if, in its view, the PIO has refused to accept an application for information, if he has not provided information by the stipulated time period or deliberately provided wrong, incomplete or misleading information or destroyed the information asked for or in any way created hurdles in providing information. Information commissions have levied such fines in many cases so far. But no information is provided to the commission whether the fines have been actually recovered. Even the commission’s orders for compliance are being ignored. Ratnakar Gaikwad has sent a letter to the state government on August 17th, 2012 expressing his displeasure and asking the government to issue orders to the public authorities to recover fines imposed upon the PIOs. The government immediately issued instructions under another related circular on September 4th, 2012.  But there is no visible action on this circular to obey previous circulars!.

P.S.

As per section 20 (1), the amount of fine is supposed to be recovered from salary of the officers concerned and it is expected that the information commission should demand a compliance report in respect of fines imposed or disciplinary actions against PIOs or others. There is a greater chance of compliance if the information commissions ask for compliance reports. Also, it is mandatory for public authorities under Section 25 (3) to provide information to the information commission about the amounts recovered from fines. Accordingly a note is to be made in the annual report of the central information commission. But Maharashtra State Government does not provide this information. In fact every public authority is supposed to report to the information commission under section 25 (3) (e) about recovery of fines. Such information is provided at the Central Government level but not in the state of Maharashtra. Why? Is RTI Act 2005 not applicable to Maharashtra or is Maharashtra under a different RTI Act?
Generally, information commissions order recovery of fines from salary, which is the appropriate manner. The state chief information commissioner has informed the state government accordingly. However, in Pune Bench of the state information commission, public information officers are instructed to deposit the amount of fines directly in the government treasury. The Pune Bench sends a copy of the order to the immediate senior officers concerned for compliance of the order. However there is no verification whether the PIO has actually paid the fine amount himself or 'someone' else deposited it on his behalf. And the question of senior officers concerned sending a compliance report does not arise because it is not asked for. After a fuss was made about it, it is reported that the Pune Bench would ask for a compliance report separately.