In a move that may discourage those seeking information under the RTI Act the UP State Information Commission (UPSIC) has issued a notice to an applicant to appear at the respondent’s office in Ghaziabad for the hearing of her case.
The case of Lucknow based activist Urvashi Sharma was listed at the UPSIC office in Jawahar Bhawan on August 14.
In a notice (S-1-2244/C/2013) recently sent to her, Sharma has been informed the same case concerning a revenue matter in Ghaziabad district would now come up for hearing in the meeting hall of the Ghaziabad collectorate on August 1 in the presence of public information officer.
Chief information commissioner RS Pankaj will hear the case.
So Sharma would now have to be present during the hearing in Ghaziabad.
If she isn’t, it would be considered that the petitioner was satisfied with the order and the case would be deemed disposed of, the notice adds.
Till now, cases have always been taken up in the commission itself and a public information officer from the concerned department had to be present during the hearing.
There is also a video-conferencing facility through which cases are taken up so that applicants from far off places need not come to the UPSIC office.
In states like Maharashtra, commissioners are not based in the state capital but are deployed as per the convenience of applicants.
Experts say this step of taking the hearing to a respondent’s office would discourage applicants from seeking information and defeat the purpose of establishing transparency in government functioning.
The move also favours the respondent unduly, as previously, whenever the public functionary had to travel to Lucknow, he was given a travel or dearness allowance.
Now, the burden of travel has been placed on the applicant, who will not get any such allowance.
“How can an applicant be told to be present at the respondent’s office for the hearing? The Act is supposed to empower the citizenry and not the public officials,” says former chief information commissioner of UPSIC, Gyanendra Sharma.
“No matter how good or revolutionary the law may be, eventually, its success depends on the competence and effectiveness of officers responsible for its implementation,” says Shailesh Gandhi, former CIC, Delhi.
And the UPSIC is setting a bad precedent in this regard, he adds.
The UPSIC is already reeling under the paucity of information commissioners.
Against a given strength 10 ICs and a CIC, at present, the commission has only two ICs and the CIC hearing cases.