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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Local bodies rapped for ignoring queries

Paul John I TNN, Gandhinagar: The Right to Information movement is no longer restricted to urban centres. The state information commission (SIC) recently expressed concern over the callous attitude of gram, taluka and district panchayats across the state in providing information pertaining to larger public interest. In a recent order, state chief information commissioner RN Das observed that the indifferent attitude of officers may invite penal provisions under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
This order has been sent to the secretary and commissioner of rural development.
A copy has also been shot off to the director general of Sardar Patel Institute of Public Administration, which oversees the training of officers under the RTI Act. Das observed that information sought by applicants at the village, panchayat and taluka level should be part of the proactive disclosure that each public office should make regarding its functioning.
According to the SIC order, some of the officers responsible for the deplorable condition in villages across the state are talaticum-mantris, taluka development officers and district development officers. Moreover, in most cases, public information officers (PIO) representing the village bodies claimed ignorance of the RTI Act. Das, however, said this was no excuse for delaying information to applicants.
The SIC’s order came in the case of Akheraj Vaghela of Lodrani village in Rapar taluka of Kutch who demanded accountability from the gram panchayat on the water shed programme in his village. Vaghela had demanded information on the village level committees, the number of watershed programmes undertaken by these committees, details of expenditure, budget and whether village committees were responsible for utilising funds for these projects.
Akheraj had applied for this information in March last year, but was given incomplete data in January this year. The SIC took a strong note of this.
“The information sought was in the larger public interest. Such information should be provided in order to promote transparency and accountability and comes under proactive disclosure,” Das said.
The SIC issued a showcause notice to the taluka development officer of Rapar as to why a fine, under section 20 of the RTI Act, should not be imposed on him for the delay caused in providing information to Vaghela.
Publication: Times Of India Ahmedabad; Date:2007 Feb 11; Section:Gujarat; Page Number 5

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