By Express News Service
HYDERABAD: RTI is a powerful tool that can help citizens elicit official information that can otherwise be inaccessible. But do officials always comply with this rule? An RTI filed by Express on YouRTI.in reveals that the number of cases where Public Information Officers failed to give information is nearly 2,000 till date from 2014.
What’s worse is though the State Information Commission (SIC) has imposed penalties on all these cases, a sum of `36.88 lakh is yet to be recovered from the Public Information officers (PIO) of at least 22 departments across the State.
These figures, as per the RTI, are from two periods from 2014- 2017 September, when there was a united SIC which served both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. During this period at least 22 departments were penalised for not providing information.From 2017 till date, when a separate SIC was formed for Telangana State, the number of penalties fell drastically and there were merely 5 instances when the PIOs were penalised to the tune of `5,000 in total.
Health department the biggest defaulter
In undivided SIC, the biggest defaulter was the department of Health, Medical and Family Welfare which has 69 penalties imposed on it to a tune of `9,06,500 of which only `26,500 was recovered. Other departments like school education had the next highest with 511 penalties imposed on it at `15,90,000 of which only `9,36,500 was recovered.
When a separate SIC came into being in 2017 September for Telangana, there were at least 5 penalties imposed on two departments revenue (4) and transport department (one).As per Section 20(1) of the RTI Act, the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) or the SIC, has the powers to impose a penalty on the PIO, while deciding on a complaint or a second appeal when PIO has refused to give any information within 30 days, denial of information with malafide intention and giving misleading information.
A fine of `250 can be imposed every day till information is furnished up to maximum of `25,000. Explaining the provisions of the Act, the First Appellate Authority, T Gopal Singh said that the penalties were imposed on the PIO and not on the department and they have to be paid personally by the PIO.
"We are not in a position to recover these penalties from individual PIOs. We only penalise them," Singh said.On why the number of penalties came down now, officials said it could be due to PIOs maintaining strict discipline in terms of providing the required information.