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VEDANTA MASS MEDIARight to information: Orissa activist keeps hitting brick wall  







Right to information: Orissa activist keeps hitting brick wall





     Bhubaneswar, Nov 15 (IANS) A social activist in Orissa has complained he has failed to get information from government organisations in response to most of the applications he has been filing under the Right To Information (RTI) Act.


     The 2005 act empowers citizens to demand information on the working of the government. But Biswajit Mohanty, who claimed to have filed about 450 RTI applications in the past three years, said Friday that he has received a response to only about 60.


     "Of the total applications I had filed, I have got information only for 60 applications," said Mohanty, who usually seeks information from the Forest and Environment Department.


     "While in 40-50 cases, wrongdoings of the officials concerned have come to the fore, in five cases I have got evidence of corruption against the officials.


     "But hundreds of other applications are gathering dust. The Public Information Officers (PIOs) are harassing applicants time and again so that they won't seek further information," Mohanty claimed.


     Supreme Court judges have no hesitation in handing over their tour details to RTI applicants. But Mohanty, who works as a chartered accountant, alleged he has been struggling to get similar information from a central government undertaking.


     "I filed an RTI application in June this year seeking information from Paradip Port Trust (PPT) on T.A. (travel allowance) bills, leave applications and the official tour diaries of its chairman.


     "The port authority denied the information on the ground that it would affect the competitive position and commercial confidentiality of the organisation since his official tour is meant to improve the trade interests of the port," Mohanty said.


     "The disclosure of place of stay during leave period may endanger the life and physical safety of the chairman PPT," the first appellate authority of the port said after Mohanty appealed against the refusal. The appellate authority is the same official whose tour details had been sought.


     Tour diaries are not the only class of documents the PPT considers beyond the purview of the RTI Act.


     The administrative department of PPT has listed items like property returns of employees, note sheets of the files containing observations of employees and officers, staff selection committee and departmental promotion committee proceedings as classified/confidential documents which can be denied to any applicant.


     Answer sheets of the candidates appearing for the written test in connection with selection to different posts of PPT are also prohibited, though Indian Administrative Service examination answer sheets are bound to be disclosed as per orders of the Central Information Commission.


     Mohanty wondered how the PPT could deny such information when property returns of ministers and even the President can be obtained by any citizen of India.


     Orissa ranks fourth in the country in terms of filing applications under the RTI Act.


     "While some say they are struggling for information, awareness about the act is very encouraging," Malay Nayak, news editor of the Oriya daily The Samaya, told IANS.


     "We need more awareness in both the government and public levels for successful implementation of the act," Orissa's information Commissioner Jagadananda told IANS.




     Indo-Asian News Service





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