RTI Act and reluctant government employees

[ Tongam Rina ]
The engineering departments-PWD, RWD, PHE, Power, APEDA, and UD in the state have a notorious reputation of not doing enough for the people of the state or not doing anything at all, while the engineers working in these departments have even worse reputations.
Adding to the reputation of not doing anything that is sustainable or long lasting; being corrupt and rampantly misusing government money, some of the engineers have gone a step further by refusing to furnish information to the citizens under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005.
Within a span of a few weeks this year, executive engineers across engineering departments have refused to furnish information pertaining to implementation of various government schemes.
The Aalo PHE Division, Seppa and Yinkiong RWD, West Kameng Electrical Division, Nacho PWD, and Pasighat WRD have been penalized Rs 25,000 each by the Arunachal Pradesh Information Commission (APIC) for not furnishing information to the citizens.
Now, the commission has done its job of penalizing and the next step is disciplinary action under Section 20 of RTI Act if the defiance continues.
It is not only the engineering departments; other employees too have refused to give information, whereas the very basic tenet of the RTI Act is transparency and accountability by public offices. The Act is the most important right given to the people to check governance and government employees who disregard laid down rules rampantly.
While the Commission has, more or less lived up to the mandate given to it by panelizing defaulters, the Act itself has not been properly used in the state by the citizens and even the media.
While we all make it a point to talk about corruption, are we actually using the provision that is there to ensure governance or check lack of it? Not really.
There is a huge scope to check rampant corruption, by procuring information and acting upon it, if citizens in the state use the Act properly.
Unlike before, it is not expensive to get information. Remember, there was a time when it cost Rs 10 per page to get information after the state cabinet in 2010, at the behest of government officials, figured out that Rs 2 ensured easy access to information.
One must thank Nabam Pali who went to the High court in 2014 after he was asked to pay a whopping Rs 5, 75, 700 by the public information officer of the WCD department, Government of Arunachal Pradesh, pertaining to documents related to implementation of the Integrated Child Development Service.
Even though information comes cheap these days, there have hardly been any takers. Perhaps, the situation will change in the future, but one must also remember that, individuals have used the Act to harass the officials or to extort money from them.
If a government employee has nothing to hide, he or she will pass on the required information and not comply with extortionists, who otherwise masquerade around as RTI activists. We should start a discourse on that soon!
Chief Information Commissioner, Dr Joram Begi, during an awareness programme said that the RTI Act should be used to ensure accountability and it is a tool for the common citizens to enforce transparency in the entire developmental process. Any takers?
One can only hope that the system is transparent and the government officials, including the elite IAS, APCS and the corrupt yet gratified engineers are forthcoming enough to share information without waiting for anyone to use the RTI Act.
The reluctance of those in power and indifference of those who can make a difference by using the RTI Act, including yours truly, will only ensure that transparent governance is merely a talking point, not worth applying.
In the meantime, yours truly wonders whether those engineers who refused to give information under the Act will pay from their personal or whatever pocket, or will the department end up paying.
Need to fill that form to find out!