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Maharashtra fines officers for delaying RTI replies

The Maharashtra government has imposed fines of over Rs 26 lakh collectively on public information officers for ignoring or delaying answers to queries received under the Right to Information Act

Suresh Joshi, Maharashtra’s first chief information commissioner who retired recently, has revealed that a total of Rs 26,57,691 was imposed as fines on 347 officers across the state in 2009 for ignoring queries and delaying information under the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Maharashtra leads the country in the number of RTI applications filed in the five years since the law came into force. Joshi said Maharashtra received 4.4 lakh applications last year, while 6 lakh queries were received in the entire US. The disposal rate too is as high as 102%, he said. Most queries related to the urban development and revenue departments -- 125,418 and 72,393 respectively.

The flow of applications is largely from urban areas, implying the need for awareness about the Act in rural Maharashtra. “There is strong need to take this law to the rural areas where awareness about it is very low,” Joshi said. “In five years, only 7% of applications have come from women. This suggests that women also need to be made aware of the Act.”

RTI activists in the state are dissatisfied with the way the Act has been implemented. Vivek Velankar from Pune feels a lot more needs to be done to take the law to the downtrodden. He is particularly unhappy with implementation of Section 4 of the RTI Act that makes it mandatory for government offices and staff to make certain information public on a suo moto basis.

“Of late, there has been some improvement in implementing Section 4. However a lot needs to be done,” says Velankar. Joshi agrees. “Once Section 4 is implemented, the number of applications will drop by half because a lot of select information will already be available,” he says.

Although the central government implemented the RTI Act five years ago, Maharashtra has had its own RTI Act since 2000. It was amended in 2003 to make it more effective. The Centre’s RTI Act was modelled on the Maharashtra Act.  

Source: Press Trust of India, October 12, 2010
            The Indian Express, October 12, 2010