Shailendra Kumar, a Masters Student at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, addressed a press conference on the findings of a survey he conducted to assess the status of implementation of section 4(1)(b) of the Right to Information Act, 2005 in Uttar Pradesh, at Lohia Mazdoor Bhawan, Narhi, Lucknow.
Shailendra’s survey is part of an ongoing movement to highlight the shortcomings in the implementation of the RTI Act in the state and raise awareness about its provisions among ordinary citizens, so that they may use it to counter administrative corruption and inefficiency. According to Shailendra, the RTI Act was brought into force in India to ensure that the government functions transparently, and is accountable to the people. Section 4(1)(b) of the Act directs all public authorities to pro-actively disclose certain information about their functioning, such as their powers and duties, budget allocations and expenditure, rules and regulations and manner and status of execution of their programmes. The information is required to be published in a form which is easily accessible to all citizens, and which facilitates the right to information.
The survey involved visiting various government offices in the city and asking the respective Public Information Officers (PIOs) for information on all 17 points of Section 4(1)(b). Along with this, websites of the departments were also surveyed to determine how much of the required information had been made available on the internet. Some of the public authorities visited were the Rural Development Department, the Lucknow Development Authority, the Board of Revenue, the Public Works Department, Office of the District Magistrate, among several others.
Shailendra expressed his disappointment with what he discovered in the course of his survey. He found that many Public Information Officers were ignorant about the requirements of section 4(1)(b), and were often rude and uncooperative. Some, such as the PIO at the LDA, complained that the RTI Act had done more harm than good, and was being misused. In some offices, like that of the Registrar, the PIO was nowhere to be found, or there was no name-plate or board by which the officer designated as the PIO could be identified. Very few could provide satisfactory information on any of the points.
On checking for information on the departmental websites, it was found that most of the information available was outdated and incomplete. Some departments have no website at all, or the ‘RTI’ link on the site does not work.
Shailendra feels that to ensure better implementation, it is important to make ordinary people more aware about the RTI, so that they can demand more accountability and force the system out of its slumber. For this awareness camps and workshops should be organised around the state. He also suggests creating better information management systems, so that department officials find it easier to maintain and publish records.