Perhaps the citizens of Bihar are, in some respect, more aware about Right To Information (RTI) Act than the Public Information Officers (PIOs) and the State Information Commissioners. Sounds astonishing nevertheless seems to be true, at least in the case of Bihar.
Dr Prabhakar Sinha, a professor in B R A Bihar University, Muzaffarpur asked for information that was20 years old. Upon this one of the commissioners expressed his helplessness. However, the Act does not mention that the RTI can not provide 20 years old information.
Bihar State Information Commission completed its one year on August 25, 2007. It was formed as an independent organ. However, the experiences of the applicants say something else. Experts complain that not a single act of the Commission shows that it is unprejudiced. From the very formation of the Commission to the hearing of the cases it often took stand in the favour of the government officials than the applicants.
Article 15 (5) states that the State Information Commissioner shall be persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media or administration and governance. However, Bihar Information Commission has three members, one Patna high court judge as chief Information Commissioner and the other two are IAS officers. It is said that the commissioners having administrative background often defend PIOs and do not impose penalty as punishment on them.
According to the official site of Bihar State Information Commission, the Commission has received1600 cases till August 20, 2007 out of which 315 cases are yet to be disposed of. The first appeal was made on November 26, 2006 that is exactly three months and one day after the formation of the Commission.
In the press conference called up by RTI Campaign Bihar Gorelal Manishi, RTI activist, said that functioning of the Commission was not upto the expectation of people. He further said that one of the commissioners had yelled at him once. According to him Commission is not public friendly. Activist like Sarfaraz often assist people in the Commission's court. He noticed that commissioners with administrative background are rude to common people.
According to the RTI Act Information Commissions alone have the power to recommend disciplinary action and impose monetary penalties of Rs 250 per day and the total amount shall not exceed Rs 25,000 if officials are found to provide incorrect, incomplete or misleading or distorted information which was subject of the request or if they obstructed in any manner in furnishing the information. However, in one year the number of those fined is almost negligible.
In one of the cases the Commission directed a BPL applicant to pay a sum of Rs 45,000 for the information that he asked for. This notwithstanding, Article 7(5) which clearly states that applicants who are below the poverty line do not have to pay any fee under RTI Act. This shows lack of awareness about the Act in the Commission, the activists say.
The Commission has overlooked these cases and are often accused of adopting a laid-back approach. They have imposed fine on PIOs but not more than Rs 2,000and Rs 5,000.When the case gets prolonged poor people have to undergo a lot of physical and mental harassment and financial crunch as well. The activists felt that Commission must order the guilty PIOs of related department to pay them compensation about which there is mention in the Act. Not a single such example can be cited in this regard in the last one year.
Thus the record of one year suggests that the Commission has a long way to go.