Bureaucratic arm twisting: Telangana chokes information flow; CS issues `certain instructions'

"All the special Chief Secretaries/ Principal Secretaries/ Secretaries to the government are requested to instruct the public information officers designated to obtain orders of Special CS, PS, and heads of the department, before furnishing the information to the applicant under RTI Act, 2005," the order added.

By Coreena Suares  Published on  19 Oct 2021 7:00 AM GMT
Bureaucratic arm twisting: Telangana chokes information flow; CS issues `certain instructions

Hyderabad: Call it a typical bureaucratic style of functioning, the Telangana administration has further choked the flow of information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

In an unprecedented move, Chief Secretary Somesh Kumar issued 'certain instructions' to the State Public Information officers.

"It has come to notice of the undersigned that the state public information officers designated/ appointed under Right to Information Act, 2005 in certain administrative units or offices are furnishing information to the applicants in a routine manner without proper verification of the records with reference to the information sought by the applicant," said the order issued on October 13.


"All the special Chief Secretaries/ Principal Secretaries/ Secretaries to the government are requested to instruct the public information officers designated to obtain orders of Special CS, PS, and heads of the department, before furnishing the information to the applicant under RTI Act, 2005," the order added.

The order has evoked sharp responses from RTI activists who termed it as a threat to the public right to information.

Madabhushi Sridhar Acharyulu- Former Information Commissioner- GOI explains "The authority gets 30 days to disseminate information according to the law. Within this period they(authority) can consult officials within departments and release information. But the consequences of this order (dated 13th October 2021) does not go well in the spirit of RTI Act. Every Public Information Officer (PIO) is supposed to be an independent authority however he/she has to follow the policy laid down by the government. A PIO is a nut in the missionary. However the Chief Secretary can frame a border policy which has to be followed by PIOs. But the recent order where in every application must seek the permission of the head of departments will create a lot of administrative hurdles in terms of man power and infra, and nobody will be able to take an independent decision. It creates a lot of practical problems".

He further adds, "The liability of not disclosing information will directly fall on the Special Chief Secretaries or the head of the departments. While the PIO can cite that he/she was ordered not to disseminate information. Instead of decentralising dissemination of information, the government of Telangana is centralising It".

Information on Rythu Bandhu and other welfare schemes seem to top the chart of RTI applications in Telangana. Not too long ago a man from Jadcherla sought information from the regional Tahsildar about the number of ration cards issued in the village. Tahsildar kept the man waiting for months. Later the RTI activist filed an appeal before the state information officer. In a visual meeting held by the commission, the Tahsildar reportedly asked the man, what he would do with the information. Later, he refused to give information.

"In such a case, it is the commissioner who should uphold the right of the applicant irrespective of what he/she does with the information. Telangana government isn't following the RTI Act. Transparency is being violated for the past few years. This latest order is part of those efforts to prevent the flow of information to people. This is a bureaucratic style of functioning. The government speaks tall about ease of doing business. However, it is limiting the ease of revealing information," said Narasimha Reddy Donthi of Citizens for A Better Public Transport.

Government Orders kept secret

About 4 years back, the Telangana government stopped uploading all GOs on their website, only routine GOs were made accessible to the public. The administration coined a new name 'GOs for internal circulation' only. Given that, in a month all departments issue 100 GOs. Only 10-20 were uploaded and the rest were for internal circulation.

Hyderabad based Forum for Good governance- an independent election watch body analysed the dwindling numbers of GOs on the website. It was found that the TRS government in 2016 kept secret 9,951 GOs while the number subsequently rose to 11,918 in 2017. Between financial years 2016-17, over 21,969 GOs were concealed, bringing down the act of transparency from 100 percent to 42.

"Despite High court direction, the government has not been uploading all GOs on their website. A PIL has been filed in the Telangana High court, while the government is yet to file its latest counter. Classifying GOs as public and private is violating the act of transparency in governance, said retired IFS officer M Padmanabha Reddy.

Thoughts of Madabhushi Sridhar Acharyulu- Former Information Commissioner- GOI

1. If the PIOs are acting without proper verification of records, the Government should train the PIOs on maintenance of records, their retention, categorization and analyse the request to give or deny information as per the RTI Act.

2. Before issuing this circular, the CS should have understood that the Supreme Court recognized the discretion powers and independent functioning of the PIOs in the case of CPIO, Supreme Court vs. Subhash Chandra Agrawal, 2019.

3. The Chief Secretary and other higher officials should concentrate on implementing Section 4(1)(b) of RTI Act, which mandated public authorities to disclose information suomotu on 17 categories. This will avoid the need for filing RTI requests which eventually reduce the burden of PIOs in answering RTI applications.

4. There is a need to train the officers designated as First Appellate Authorities to review if PIOs have improperly dealt with RTI applications and correct at their level.

5. It has to be noted that if the higher officers are asked to 'order' the PIOs, and if that order says not to give the information though not exempted by RTI Act, the liability will be fixed on those higher officers will be liable to pay penalty, not the PIOs. This circular will make PIOs very happy as there will be no threat of liability under RTI Act. But the RTI requestors will be worried.

Next Story
Share it