No keeping away information now
As Reported by RAGHAV OHRI in Express India
Posted online: Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Chandigarh, March 4 With implementation of the Right to Information (RTI) Act and increasing awareness about oneâ€™s rights, not only litigations pertaining to denial of information under the act have increased in courts, but also the demand for advocates has increased considerably.
Taking no chance of getting penalised or summoned by courts, in case they are unable to supply the demanded information, government and private institutions are hiring advocates to contest their cases in the courts.
Majority of cases that come to courts are mainly related with information not supplied, incomplete information or information other than the demanded one.
Why engage lawyers?
â€œThe RTI Act has not only been implemented effectively but those who fail to supply information are being severely penalised by The Information Commission and courts. Moreover, since the information demanded concerns particular officials, the latter would never take a chance to attract strictures or penalty from the court, especially when the strictures can affect promotion,â€ said advocate D K Singhal.
â€œCourts slap heavy penalties on people who refuse to supply information and do not abide by the act. Since the penalty has to be paid most of the times by defaulters, they prefer advocates to contest cases on their behalf,â€ said advocate Swaraj Arora. Another crucial factor that makes lawyersâ€™ engagement important is the time and energy that one wants to save by avoiding regular visit to courts.
Type of cases in courts
The majority of cases that come to courts are those that concern the non-supply of information demanded by individuals. â€œMore than 8 per cent of cases are related to information not supplied by concerned party. After approaching appellate authorities, when people fail to get the required information, they finally approach courts not only to obtain court directions to get the information but also strictures against other party for not supplying it,â€ said Anil Kamra.
Another category of cases pertaining to the RTI, deals with a rather strange stand taken by authorities while denying the information. In majority of cases, it has been observed that authorities refuse to provide information saying that it is of private nature and could not be made available. However, when the matter is reported to courts and is found that the information was not of private nature, heavy penalty is slapped on erring officials.
Giving due importance to the RTI Act, for the first time, a division bench headed by Justice Uma Nath Singh of the Punjab and Haryana High Court had directed the Chief Information Commissioner, Wajahat Habibullah, to consider and dispose the pending appeal of an Amritsar resident within a period of four weeks.
The order was passed on October 2 last year. The petitioner, Rajan Verma, had demanded information regarding an alleged embezzlement by Canara Bank officials under the act. However, the information was not supplied and the commissioner kept on delaying in deciding Vermaâ€™s appeal.
A handy tool
Besides fighting cases against erring officials who fail to supply information or deny information on one account or the other, the lawyers of the Punjab and Haryana High Court are using the act as an effective tool to get information against government departments and then use it in filing public interest litigations (PIL).
The advantage of getting information under the act is â€” the cases are based on the information supplied by the department itself.
While a majority of lawyers feel that the RTI Act benefits the general public, some feel that people are misusing it.
â€œSince so many people have started demanding information under the act, the burden has increased many folds on the officials responsible to supply it. The number of officials dealing with the RTI replies should be increased in every department to ensure efficiency,â€ said advocate Mahadev Singla.
Am committed to taking up 3-4 classes on RTI in a middle school civics class in Delhi.
I am writing to seek suggestions. My tentative plan is to cover the following aspects:
(a) a brief history of the Official Secrets Act and RTI; what is a public authority; where to find more information in the Act about rules, time limits, penalties, etc. Examples of questions that have been asked. Successes and failures.
(b) how to draft an RTI request (brief mechanics, with one example)
© common pitfalls arising from how "information" has been defined and interpreted (discussion of section 2(f)) -- with examples, exercises (specific suggestions for this part will be greatly appreciated; I am very limited by my own experience).
(d) strategies public authorities have used (discussion of section 8, plus what we've learnt of PA strategies only slowly on this website)
(e) how to search the CIC website to pick up ideas for a better draft of an RTI request; how to search for parliamentary questions (am sure kids will ask better questions!!). Exercises with mock question-answer sessions to help improve the draft of an RTI question (I want specific ideas for what would be good test RTI question-drafting exercises, to give pre-teens or early teens living in Delhi. My examples so far are not RTI questions but parliamentary questions which I'm sure even a bored teenager can easily improve upon.)
(f) using volunteer websites dedicated to the RTI Act.
From my experience on this website I am convinced that kids teaching adults about RTI is also going to be vitally necessary. They have some of the skills needed, that adults either never had, or have lost.
If you have ideas, comments, suggestions, to help improve this short course on RTI for kids, please post or send me private email. Do note that the intended audience of these sessions will be school kids in a civics class in Delhi. Best,