Maharashtra Info Commission's drive to clear pending appeals

New tactic adopted by RTI dept proves inadequate

geetanjali

Geetanjali Minhas | January 5, 2012




In a special drive to clear pending cases, Right to Information Appeals is being organised at Podar Medical (Ayurved) College,Worli , Mumbai from January 3-6. As per available records, 18,677 appeals were pending  with Chief State Information Commission  as on November 30, 2008. In a chronological manner the drive will endeavor to dispose off 600 pending appeals from 2008- 2011.

45 of 63 appeals put up for hearing were disposed off yesterday while 10 out of remaining 18 were not heard as appellants sought a second hearing or in some cases the appellants, PIO or first appellate authority(FAA) was not present. Today 128 out of 180  appeals were disposed off.

Chief State Information Commissioner,Vijay V Kuvalekar, who also holds Additional  charge of State Information Commissioner, Pune earlier conducted such a drive in Pune admitted ,“every month nearly 2500 appeals are filed where  around 1000 are disposed off .The problem lies with FAA because they don’t hear appeals within stipulated time .Some appellate officers don’t decide appeals even after 6-7 months while in many cases  they never decide or pass order”.

RTI Act does not specify action against  first appellate authority. At the most it recommends disciplinary action and that too takes one year. In such a scenario  1500 appeals are added to pendency every month.

Speaking on the drive the SCIC said “Unlike in RTI application where there is an element of animosity, here we are creating a dialogue  between the applicant and public authority. Out of a total of 6000 pending cases more than 2000 have been solved and out of the remaining 500  pertain to administrative action."

Activist Chetan Kothari  who was given required  information after waiting for two years was  confident that it is step in right direction but added “ what is the use if the information is given after two years and not when it is required.”

MV Ruparalia,78 who was called to the to the mass disposal programme, has  denied required information from BMC for past three years. Though his query remained unanswered he appreciated SIC for their good effort. “Even though BMC has 789 PIO’s, they have no coordination amongst them and SIC does not punish them”, he said.    

Mulund resident Prashant Vikey  was stonewalled  when he sought  information on unauthorized and illegal constructions from BMC’s ‘T’ ward Building and Proposals Department .Like Ruparalia ,his query remained unanswered by the PIO and FAA of the civic body at the mass disposal programme . He was asked to visit  their office  and go through the file to get the required information.

“As per RTI Act  they have to provide information and not tell me to find information. Due to controversial nature of information and possibility of involvement of their own officials I will not be provided information .They will remove the pages from file and I will not get required information”,said Vikey.

Though the activists were glad that the exercise has been undertaken with good intention to address the issues of pendency  and he opined that if matters get resolved it is good enough but unresolved issues should be held under normal process and  people should be given a hearing. They said that the state govt must appoint information commissioners in adequate no’s with  enough staff  to deal with cases. IC’s must impose penalties where necessary and PIO’s must be appointed from higher levels so that they are empowered enough to provide information. Additionally,PIO’s must be provided with the required infrastructure along with their routine work. On Citizens part, they must also know that RTI is not be used for raising  questions but asking for the copies of documents.          

Expressing his views activist, Mohd  Afzal  said, “as per RTI Act there is no provision for  negotiation or arbitration. Secondly SIC has sought legal opinion of the Attorney General, how it is interpreted we don’t know”. He added,“the act has undergone 158 amendments  before the standing committee of parliament before it was passed and it still has loopholes. It has not been implemented in its true spirit.”

Afzal said , “Despite being sent notices in advance  many PIO’s did not carry relevant documents. Under such circumstances strict  disciplinary action  and penalty needs to taken wherever demanded. Proper hearing should be given to applicants  in cases where no conclusion has been drawn.”

“The exercise is very good but the aim is to dispose off appeals  to reduce  the cue whether the appellant is happy or not. In a short circuit manner entire process of rule of law is subverted  by not following the appeal procedure under section 18, or 19(3). There is no consideration of whether information was denied as per section 8,9or 11. It is a good short term solution but in long term removes your faith in rule of law” said  Krishnaraj  Rao when asked to express his views on the drive.

Kuvalekar who is due to  retire on 7th February  was confident that if carried forward for 3-4 months the programme will help in clearing off many pending cases  across different benches in the country .

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