Right to Information Act, 2005 and rules made there under by the Himachal Pradesh Government.
Right to Information (RTI) is an Act of the Parliament of India to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens and replaces the erstwhile Freedom of information Act, 2002. Under the provisions of the Act, any citizen of India may request information from a “public authority” (a body of Government or “instrumentality of State”) which is required to reply expeditiously or within thirty days.
The Act also requires every public authority to computerise their records for wide dissemination and to proactively certain categories of information so that the citizens need minimum recourse to request for information formally. This law was passed by Parliament on 15 June 2005 and came fully into force on 12 October 2005. The first application was given to a Pune police station. Information disclosure in India was restricted by the Official Secrets Act 1923 and various other special laws, which the new RTI Act relaxes. It codifies a fundamental right of citizens.
RTI in Himachal Pradesh
Accessibility to Information
Almost all the Public Authorities at the district level have appointed PIOs which shows the good compliance of the basic requirements of the RTI regime in the State but a list/directory of PIOs has not been prepared. The non-availability of this list and non-existence of a notice board informing the citizens about the PIOs in Public Authorities makes it difficult for the citizens to apply for information. Thus, only literate citizens are able to apply for information which is substantiated by all the respondents of the civil society in Kangra district. They say that the Act has been used mostly by the middle class in the district. The Department of Administrative Reforms, the nodal agency for the implementation of the RTI Act in the State, is still in the process of preparing a directory containing the list of the designated PIOs/APIOs of different Public Authorities in the district.
Response of the State Information Commission
With respect to the experience of the citizens in filing second appeals to the State Information Commission, one respondent felt that the SIC was cooperative and directed the PIO to provide the information as requested. Another respondent said that the SIC was not cooperative and did not admit the appeal. However, the table on the role of the SIC shows that the Commission has dealt with 20 out of 26 appeals filed, and 35 complaints out of the 44 complaints filed; it means that the rate of disposal of the appeals by the SIC and complaints is quite satisfactory in the State which creates a good impression on the efficiency of the Commission. It is important to note that the Commission has not found any PIO guilty of malafide denial of information for 70 appeals and complaints which it has dealt with.
Following are some issues arises from the implementation of effective right to information act in himachal Pradesh:
- Lack of adequate publicity by the State Government for the people about the provisions of the Act led to the filing of a few applications for information under the Act, so the State Government should take initiatives for mass sensitisation of the citizens in the State.
- There was also lack of information about the Act amongst the PIOs and Appellate Authorities under the Act, which led to delay in some cases in furnishing the information to the applicants. In view of the large number of PIOs and APIOs and Appellate Authorities, the training facilities available at HIPA may not be adequate to train all those officers before the end of the financial year 2006-2007. Hence, it is necessary that other training institutions in the State are also involved in conducting training programmes covering the Act and rules for these functionaries.
- Further, in order to increase general awareness about various provisions of the Act and the rules there under, one training session can be devoted towards the Act, and the rules in all the training programmes, especially those meant for the elected representatives of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) and Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) being conducted by various training institutions in the State. This step is expected to spread awareness about the RTI Act 2005, and the rules there under amongst the general public in the State through the elected representatives of PRIs and ULBs.
- In the absence of adequate financial support, these training institutions including HIPA (Himachal Institute of Public Administration) would find it difficult to conduct such training programmes. Hence, the State Government. should provide funds to HIPA and other training institutions to impart necessary training to the PIOs/APIOs and the Appellate Authorities within a specified time frame so that these functionaries are properly equipped to process the applications received under the RTI Act, 2005, within the period prescribed under the Act.
- The Government should therefore, take necessary steps to ensure the completion of the updated voluntary disclosure of its work during the current year, It may also be ensured that every public authority in the State has designated adequate number of PIOs/ APIOs and Appellate Authorities (AAs) as per the Act’s provisions. The Public Authorities must also ensure, that its field offices have complete details of the designated PIOs/ APIOs/ Appellate Authorities. The departments/Public Authorities having larger public interface, should ensure that these details in respect of a district are available on a notice board at its district level office.
- Regarding the mode of payment of application fees, the Commission recommended that payment of fees may also be done in cash or at least through Indian Postal Orders in addition to, other modes already in force.
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