Bihar Election Commission Vs RTI petitioner

Getting information under the Right To Information Act can get really tricky at times. Especially, when Government officials are so reluctant to work in a transparent and accountable manner.

Afroz Alam Sahil, an RTI petitioner based in Delhi had requested the Chief Electoral Officer of Bihar to provide him the details of the funding of some leading political parties under the Right To Information Act. He had asked for the details of Form 24 (A) of Congress, BJP, RJD, JDU and LJP submitted to the State Election Commission in the last three years.

The Election Commission of India lays down that political parties shall in each financial year, prepare a report in respect of the contribution in excess of twenty thousand rupees received by such political party from any person or companies in that financial year shall be submitted in Form 24 (A) to the Election Commission.

The petition was ignored by the Chief Electoral Officer of Bihar. The petitioner who is also an RTI activist filed a first appeal with the department. After waiting for another month for a reply from the office, he filed a second appeal with the State Information Commission (SIC).

The SIC of Bihar directed the Election Division of the State to provide the petitioner the requisite information by 20th January. The SIC also directed the concerned Public Information Officer to provide an explanation to why he would not be fined Rs. 37,000 (Rs 250 per day from 18.07.08 to 16.12.08) under Section 20 (1) of the Right To Information Act, 2005 for not providing the requested information.

This time it became obligatory for the Chief Electoral Officer of the state to provide information as well as the explanation for the delay.

The deputy Chief Electoral Officer of Bihar who also holds the PIO office made what can be termed the most fascinating reply.

Let’s look at the explanation first.

Their office had informed the RTI petitioner to submit a fee of Rs. 2 which the petitioner did not submit, (therefore they had not replied). “In spite of this, on the direction of the State Information Commission we are (now) providing you the requested information,” said the PIO in his reply.

The petitioner claims that he did not receive any such letter from the PIO. Even if the PIO had sent any such letter, it is amusing to note that the Electoral Office of the State sent a one page registered letter to demand money for his reply (consisting of half a page). Sending the letter itself must have cost the office appx. Rs 25.

The information is even more interesting

The deputy Chief Election Officer of Bihar, Sohan Kumar Thakur said in his reply that the petitioner could not be provided the requested information because no political parties by the names Congress, BJP, RJD, JDU and LJP were registered with the Election Commission of India.

However, if the petitioner has implied Indian National Congress, Bhartiya Janta Party, Rashtiya Janta Dal and Lok Janshakti Party, then the information can be sought from the Election Commission of India.

Quite ironically, the Electoral Officer of Bihar took six months for this piece of information and claims to have demanded a fee of Rs 2 through a registered letter.

It has been more than three years since the much-touted Right To Information Act was introduced in India. It raised hopes that the people will finally have access to the workings of the state. However, some babus are still unwilling to work in an environment of transparency.

[The hearing of this case (No.-12974/08-09 14427) is on 23.03.09 in the SIC building, Patna, capital of Bihar]