'40% rural info seekers complain of harassment'

NEW DELHI: Over 40% of rural respondents of a major RTI survey said they had faced harassment and threats from officials while filing an application to obtain information. Nearly 30% of respondents from villages said Public Information Officers had discouraged them from filing the application. About 50% of the rural PIOs did not have a copy of the RTI Act readily available with them.

The survey brings out the great rural-urban divide in the implementation of the RTI Act. Only 15% of the urban respondents cited harassment and lack of co-operation from officials. And just 5% of urban PIOs who were interviewed did not have a copy of the RTI Act available with them.

These findings emerged in a survey conducted across 10 states, and NCR Delhi, in 2008. The states were Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Orissa, Rajasthan, UP and West Bengal.

Over 35,000 people were interviewed; 1,027 public authorities' offices were inspected in rural as well as urban areas. The survey was conducted by RTI Assessment and Analysis Group (RaaG) and National Campaign For People's Right to Information (NCPRI).

More than four years after Parliament passed the RTI Act in June 2005, the road to accessing information remains difficult. From huge delays in getting replies and receiving incomplete answers to difficulties in filing appeals — the information seeker is discouraged at every step.

But the other side of the story is equally revealing. The report says that "almost all the information commissions responding complained about the inadequate financial and infrastructural support provided by the government." About 85% felt the staff sanctioned to them was inadequate.

Nearly 60% of the commissions did not have what they considered adequate infrastructure. Over 30% of the rural PIOs admitted they did not know the act's provisions. On the other hand, all urban PIOs claimed they knew the RTI Act well.

Interestingly, respondents from both rural as well as urban areas had a common suggestion to improve the functioning of the act. About 30% respondents from rural areas and 35% from urban areas wanted people's awareness of the act to be enhanced.



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