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New Delhi: Ten people in Gujarat have been banned for life from filing Right to Information (RTI) queries over the last 18 months.
According to the Times of India, the Gujarat Information Commission (GIC) imposed the ban, and listed ‘using RTI Act to harass government officials’ and ‘filing multiple queries’ as the reasons to ban these people from filing RTI queries.
Former chief information commissioner, Wajahat Habibullah, told TOI, “These orders are not only disputable but also totally illegal and could be challenged by moving the Gujarat high court.”
Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel, an NGO that runs an RTI helpline and studies RTI applications and responses, analysed all the ten cases. As per the TOI report, it found that information commissioners have instructed officials concerned that no information be provided on issues at hand.
For instance, an applicant, Amita Mishra, who is a schoolteacher from Pethapur in Gandhinagar, had filed an RTI query asking for a copy of her service book and salary details. However, she was banned from filing RTI queries for life.
As per the newspaper, information commissioner K.M. Adhvaryu ordered district education office and Sarva Vidyalaya Kadi to never entertain her applications. The school authorities had even complained that she does not pay the required Rs 2 per page RTI fee and asks the same set of questions.
In another case, an applicant Hitesh Patel and his wife from Petlad town were fined Rs 5,000 for filing 13 RTI queries related to his residential society. Penalty for filing RTI queries is a first in its history.
Sattar Majid Khalifa, school employee from Kasba in Modasa town, was banned from filing RTI queries when he began asking questions about his institution after it had taken action against him.
Information commissioner Adhvaryu withdrew Khalifa’s right to appeal to the commission on that subject, the report said. Adhvaryu alleged that Khalifa was “trying to take revenge on the school by filing RTI queries.”
The daily also reported that the RTI ruling had observed Khalifa “made allegations against the public information officer, the appellate authority (of the education department) and even the commission during a virtual hearing.”
The poor disposal rate of RTI applications has persisted for long, The Wire had reported. As of October 2017, there were more than 37,000 cases pending before the Central Information Commission (CIC). The situation hasn’t changed much this year. As on July 18, 26,518 appeals and complaints filed under RTI Act were pending for clearance with the CIC.
The Wire report, citing RTI activists, said that the primary reason for the poor disposal rate is that many applications are overlooked by authorities just to deny information. However, according to the CIC authorities, “frivolous” nature of applications is one of the reasons for the huge pendency of applications.
According to them, RTI applications are used as a “tool of harassment” against government officials, if any work pertaining to an applicant is not finished. They further said there would be multiple applications on the same topic.