RTI activists from across Gujarat gathered outside district collector’s offices with a slew of demands regarding the process of filing requests and the procedure followed. They submitted a 16-point charter of demands under the Right to Information Act highlighting various issues that they alleged bordered on ‘inhumane and unconstitutional’. In this connection, an application was submitted to the district collector on Wednesday. The demands are in the form of a 20-page application with legal details and High Court judgments. Activists say they are seeking a response from the state government on behalf of 6.5 crore people.
These are their key demands. Excerpts from the demand letter:
1. The Governor of Gujarat, the Chief Minister, the Legal Minister, the Chief Justice should convey instructions to authorities to abide by the RTI Act.
2. The lifetime ban and blacklisting imposed on applicants seeking information from the State Information Commission Commissioner Gujarat is tantamount to contempt of court as it is contrary to several judgments of the Gujarat High Court. It is an attack on the fundamental rights of the citizen, hence must be repealed immediately.
3. Government of Gujarat should take note of the violation of Section 15 (5) in the appointment of Commissioners and must ensure that they are appointed as per the provisions of the Act in strict compliance with the Act.
4. The incidents of GIC Commissioners ordering the re-hearing of the first appeal after the second appeal is not only not in accordance with the provisions of the RTI Act but are also a criminal waste of time and energy, are akin to harassment of the applicant and illegally protects the violators. There is no provision in the Act to transfer a second appeal to a first appellate authority. The passing of such orders must be discontinued.
5. State Information Commissioners often arbitrarily interpret Section 18 of the RTI Act and do not execute the orders passed. Many orders of GIC have not been complied with. In a way, the right to information granted to the citizen has been effectively taken away whereas the Commission is silent and inactive. Financially weak applicants do not have the means to reach the High Court for seeking recourse which ultimately enables those violating the RTI Act.
6. The Information Commissioners and the Commission are acting arbitrarily despite their functions, powers and responsibilities being clearly demarcated in the law.
7. Suggestion of Gujarat High Court, to operationalise the RTI portal has been ignored despite the government has agreed to it.
8. Pro-active disclosure information is not being followed under Section (4) of the RTI Act most of the time. Legal action should be initiated against defaulters and immediate public enforcement of Section 4 must be ensured.
9. The applicant is not being formally informed about the application acceptance letter, noting of application, and probable disposal date at the time the application is submitted.
10. Information Commissioners do not have the power to warn and reprimand violators of the RTI Act and letting them go without imposing a fine. There is a clear provision for levying fines on violators. Various High Court judgments in this regard have been made public. By not collecting fine, the Information commissioners are stopping the revenue coming into the state exchequer while trying to shield criminals by using tactics that harm the government. The GIC commissioners are not complying with the High Court’s order under Section 20. It must be ensured that the judgments of the court are taken heed to by the commissioners.
10. While the Gujarat High Court is allowing the hearing of the case through video camera, the Information Commissioners, on the other hand, are allowing the Information Officer and the Appellate Officers a second hearing in just two to three hours in a day without providing the applicant with a fair chance to reply. And within 10 to 12 hearings, the order is passed which raises suspicion. These unconstitutional and inhumane practices must be curtailed to maintain the public’s faith in the government
11. It must be ensured that other appeals and grievances submitted to the Commission be disposed of within 45 days and the applicant should be provided with certified copies of the information within 30 days so that the citizens are not harassed and the purpose of the RTI Act is not defeated.
12. There have been attacks on citizens applying under the Right to Information Act. They are threatened and many have been murdered. Citizens and applicants must be protected. For those who misuse the RTI Act, legal action must be initiated against them and guilty should be prosecuted. In such cases, the government should disclose the information on its own to foil the nefarious intentions of the applicant and concealer the information sought.
13. Arrangements like proper courts should be arranged during online hearings so that applicants are not kept sitting outside,
14. The government announcement regarding the Right to Information Act is not being done and it should be started. The names and addresses of the Information Officer and the Appellate Officers should be in the public domain.
15. Despite “A C B” not being an intelligence agency or a security agency, it is excluded from the provision of the right to information that is illegal. An appropriate order must be passed in this regard.
16. The Hon’ble Governor of Gujarat has not granted the visit despite the request, so this application is being delivered to the Collectorates in all the districts. An acknowledgement for the same must be given.