Rayagada, May 2: Inaugurating a two-day workshop on RTI-CMM (Right To Information-Central Monitoring Mechanism) for PIOs (Public Information Officers), APIOs (Assistant Public Information Officers) & FAAs (First Appellate Authorities) in the DRDA conference hall, the District Collector Sri Jagannath Mohanty said, “though the propounders of RTI Act like Sri Harsh Mander had a noble intention while conceptualizing the framework of the Act, in the recent past, the Act is seen more misused than used. During my stint as a Sub-Collector, even I have been blackmailed by an information seeker who sought information under this act. Some people are extorting money by using this Act and have made this Act a means of business. Of course the Act can be used as a tool to retrieve justice from the erring officials who harass the retired govt employees running for pension from pillar to post and in similar other cases. The information can only be rendered only if it exists and information for a period more than twenty years can’t be given. It is a pity that some information seekers, claiming themselves as consumers, are approaching the consumer forums even if remedial measures exist under the RTI Act. In fact the information seekers are not consumers and approaching consumer forums is not actually warranted. We, as public authorities, do not have a right to exploit and this Act has become a panacea to maintain equilibrium in the system.” He suggested the representative of Luminousinfoways, the facilitator of the workshop, to lead the workshop in practical terms rather than being theoretic.
To have a reality check, this correspondent talked to the President of Rayagada District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum(DCDRFs) Sri Pradip Das, who is also a very senior advocate. Sri Das refuted the statement of the Collector by saying that the applicant under RTI Act is certainly a consumer when he pays prescribed fees to avail information through RTI Act. He quoted several decisions of the DCDRFs, SDCRCs (State Dispute Consumer Redressal Commissions) and NCDRF (National Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum) which say,” “the remedy under the RTI Act would take care of disciplinary action and penalty against the competent authority in not furnishing the information, but no remedy is provided under the Act to an applicant seeking information if information sought is not provided resulting in deficiency in service on that count. There was no provision in the Act to claim compensation for deficiency in service. The case of the complainant would fall within the scope and ambit of Section 2(i) (o) of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA)-1986, which states that service means service of any description which is made available to potential users that include purveying of news or supplying of other information.”
Mr Das has ruled that any petitioner can’t be compelled to go only in appeal after he/she fails to get a satisfactory reply under the RTI Act in the first instance and has clarified that the aggrieved person, as a consumer, has every right to approach the consumer forum for compensation instead of going in appeal. Citing another ruling by the Supreme Court, he said that the remedy of arbitration was not the only remedy available to the consumer and it should rather be an optional remedy. Hence, the complainant could seek reference to an arbitrator or file a complaint under the Consumer Protection Act. If the complainant opted for the remedy of arbitration, then it might not be possible to say that he could not subsequently file complaint under the Consumer Protection Act.
In fact, none could compel a person to file complaint before the appellate authority instead of going in for getting remedy from consumer protection forum. The CPA provides additional remedy in addition to the remedies provided under any other Acts and it is not in derogation of any provisions of law for the time being in force.
According to the representative of Luminousinfoways, RTI CMM is a webpage or Paperless transaction between Government-Government and Government to Citizens. He presented the Power Point on RTI CMM and its usefulness in daily life for the PIOs as well as Public Authorities. He has also facilitated a practical demonstration of RTI CMM how to be applied or maintain their proactive disclosure under RTI section 4(1) (b). According to him, the public authorities need to maintain eleven manuals under this section and e-file the information in seventeen manuals in Odisha Information portal within 120 days of the promulgation of this Act or else the concerned authorities will be levied a penalty ranging from Rs.250 to Rs.25000. Unfortunately, 40% of the departments do not disclose suo-moto. When the participating scribes asked the representative to name two departments in Rayagada who upload the required information in the odishartiportal, he drew blank. He said that his company can only do the job of uploading if the required information is fed from the departments.
When this correspondent browsed the said portal and looked for information on Rayagada, it was observed that most of the departments including the District Collectorate uploaded the information during the year 2010. Even the name of the Collector, who has joined since last three months, is not changed. The information fed in the seventeen numbers of manuals is extremely casual. For exampleManual-10 where the salary of the employees needs to be fed, is blank for the District Collectorate. Similar is the case for many departments. The office of the Odisha Information Commissioner is supposed to track this information on voluntary disclosure by the departments. Alarmingly they are lagging behind making a mockery of this Act. “Though, during the workshops, seminars, the babus spend a hefty amount from government exchequer and render nice lecture on this Act as tool of good governance, transparency & citizen empowerment, consciously implementing the Act by them in a snail speed reflects their mindset”, said Sri Rabindra Patakhandala, a prominent RTI activist of the district.