Info glare on officer

The Telegraph

Kalimpong, Dec. 31: The West Bengal Information Commission has showcaused a public information officer for failing to provide disaster management-related information to Save The Hills (STH), an NGO.

In its notice dated December 18, the commission has asked the state public information officer of the disaster management authority, posted in Darjeeling, to explain within seven days from the receipt of the letter why he has failed to respond to the queries of Praful Rao, the president of STH.

It has also threatened to impose penalty on the officer according to the provisions of the the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Under Section 20 of the act, the failure to comply with an RTI request can lead to a fine of Rs 25,000 as well as disciplinary action.

The Kalimpong-based organisation, through an application under the RTI Act on August 19, had sought to know the long and short-term measures contemplated by the district disaster management authority to mitigate landslide hazards in the district. The NGO had also wanted to know whether or not most landslide-prone areas had been identified and the money allocated and spent on disaster management in the district.

Rao said he was compelled to approach the state commission after the district authorities failed to respond within the stipulated one-month period. “Hopefully, something positive will emerge from the commission’s notice,” he said.

Describing the RTI Act as an effective tool to extract information from the government, Rao said STH’s experience had shown that it was almost difficult to get it on time.

“The RTI Act stipulates a time limit of 30 days for questions to be answered, but even after more than four months of submitting the application, we are yet to get any response,” Rao said.

The NGO was formed after landslides caused severe damage in the hills in September last year.

When contacted, the information officer, Biswanath Barik, said: “We have received the notice. We will respond to it in the next three-four days.”

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