RTI queries elicit unusual responses in Odisha

From endangered lives to blank papers, different excuses have been found to deny information

Odd it may sound, the Odisha Forest Department refused to provide travel details of officers deployed to protect the State’s forest and wildlife by arguing that it would compromise the nation’s sovereignty and integrity.

Similarly, the State Vigilance Directorate declined to allow a Right to Information (RTI) applicant to go through the files of vigilance cases against former State Director General of Police Prakash Mishra under the RTI Act, or share the names of the Investigating Officers (IOs). The Public Information Officer (PIO) contended that it would the endanger lives of IOs.

It was alleged that Mr. Mishra was then intentionally entangled in a vigilance case to prevent his promotional deputation to the Centre. He later became the Director General of the Central Reserve Police Force.

Similarly, RTI petitioners who wanted information on the alleged corruption in the Uchhupur Cooperative Society in Puri district were provided blank papers last year. Apprehending foul play, the seven information seekers opened the registered postal envelopes in the presence of the postal peon and found only plain papers.

Despite a decade and half having elapsed since the passage of the historic RTI Act, and massive awareness programmes conducted on it, government officials find bizarre ways to deny information in the State.

Concerned over the frequent alleged poaching of elephants in the Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR) and its adjoining areas, wildlife activist Biswajit Mohanty had sought copies of the tour dairies of STR’s Field Director and Deputy Directors of the South Wildlife Division and North Wildlife Division.

On September 1, the STR PIO replied that the information attracted Section (1)(a) of the RTI Act, 2005. The Section reads: “information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence.” Under the clause, the public authority is not under obligation to disclose the information sought.

“It is apparent that the revelation of tour dairies would have exposed officers’ lack of field visits. We have been receiving allegations that top forest officials are operating from their offices while they are mandated to make regular field visits which keep the ground staff in a state of alert,” said Mr. Mohanty.

With regard to a former Director General of Police’s vigilance case detail sought by Mr. Mohanty, the PIO rejected his application under Section 8(1)(g) in RTI, 2005 that says the disclosure of which would endanger the life or physical safety of a person.

“I was taken aback to find the reply. I wonder what kind of threat could be posed by a former DGP to the Investigating Officers after the names are disclosed to an RTI applicant,” he pointed out.

Pradip Pradhan, convenor of Odisha Soochna Adhikar Abhijan, an RTI forum, said, “The lack of imposition of penalty has emboldened public authorities. They are taking different excuses to deny information. They evade supplying information by asking exorbitant costs for the true copies of documents, and sometimes the answers are deliberately confusing to discourage information seekers.”

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