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Many abusing the powerful Act to make a quick buck.

MORE and more people are using the Right to Information (RTI) Act as a tool to expose corruption. At the same time, the legislation is also being misused by a dishonest few to make money.

A number of RTI users in Surat are 'charging' several government departments, including the police and the municipality, to not file petitions under the RTI Act, sources said. An official explained the modus operandi of such 'RTI blackmailers'. He said the unscrupulous information seeker first establishes some contact within the department to get information on malpractices. On finding a loophole, he or she establishes contact with the authority and threatens to expose them through an RTI application. "The obvious result follows and the game of money begins," he added.

Such syndicates exist all across the state and not only in Surat. A public information officer (PIO) of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) said similar syndicates are in place in the AMC too. "There are people who seek information with malafide intentions but we can do little about them," he said. A block development officer (BDO) from north Gujarat said:

"I had a case in the Ranavav block of Porbandar, where a man filed a petition under the RTI Act seeking some information from the village level revenue officer. However, when the information was given to him, he kept on dodging it and when a registered post was sent to his house, he got it received by a child. Later he approached the local media and complained that he has been denied the information," he said.

Subsequently, the commission sought explanation from the BDO and he went on to meet the information seeker. "The man asked me to negotiate with the sarpanch to get him `5 lakh in cash and a job in exchange for the information," the officer said.

"Such cases are getting rampant and people are displaying shrewd wit in abusing the Act. The Act is serving as a tool to enhance a person's bargaining power against the system. However, such a practice, though rampant, is only going to hurt the democratic spirit in the long run," eminent RTI activist from Gujarat Harinesh Pandya said.

"The nature of the Act is such that the probability of its abuse cannot be eliminated under its existing provisions," Gujarat chief information commissioner R.N. Das said.

"But I personally feel that the information should not be withheld and be brought out in the public domain. If such a provision of publicising any information is made, the use of RTI as a tool of blackmailing will decrease considerably as there would be no way of retracting the same," Das added.

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Date:Mar 10, 2011
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