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Hindustan Times
March 18, 2012
After almost four decades of being a bureaucrat, Satyananda Mishra, who has held several positions in Madhya Pradesh and at the Centre, assumed charge as the Central Information Commissioner at the end of 2010. More than one year later, Mishra feels the CIC is bogged down more by applications asking for personal information under RTI. Excerpts:

With about 13,500 cases in 2010 to more than 25,000 cases in 2012 pending at the CIC, the very purpose of RTI seems to have been defeated.
A major reason is the rise in number of RTI applications. Also, till recently three posts of information commissioners were vacant. Moreover, the way in which we deal with each application is time-consuming.

What is the solution?
We need two more information commissioners. We also need to equip the commission with legally trained staff. Except for issuing notices and filing, the current staff is of no use directly for any hearing. RTI does not warrant extraordinary legal expertise. We have asked the government to appoint at least two legally trained staffers per commissioner.

There have been complaints of non-compliance of CIC orders. Are the CIC measures not punitive enough?
The punitive measures are sufficient and the financial penalty imposed is substantial. But government’s record-keeping is tardy. It involves nature of decision-making, the stages through which file passes, storage of records, etc. Thus, information is not always easily available or is not easily identifiable. We demand remedies to our problems in a linear manner.    

It has become almost routine for judiciary and the government to challenge CIC orders. What is the solution?
'Information' is defined under RTI Act and there are 10 categories that are exempted. The government authorities are now realising that these 10 categories are not adequate. I don't want to go into whether this is right or wrong. Another reason is that there are RTI-related cases pending in the Supreme Court, which sets the path. The more cases apex court decides, the more it will settle the contours of the law.

Attacks on RTI activists are continuing unabated.
We should not really be overtly perturbed. While it is highly contemptible, the fact is the number of such incidents is not proportionate to RTI applications filed across the country. But a possible solution, if at all there is one, lies entirely with the state governments. If somebody is seeking information in the field of potential threats, it calls for careful handling, not overt protection but keeping tabs.

Six months from now, CIC will complete seven years. How do you see the journey till date?
This is one of the laws that has done marvellously well. The credit goes to people. The civil society and to some extent, the media, have been the guiding spirit behind the awareness. RTI today is almost part of vernacular vocabulary. When a legal term like RTI enters into the popular lexicon, it is a wonderful thing. Hopefully, it will have more impact but it also needs more reforms for easy delivery of information.

What are your expectations?
One of the reasons for high pending of files at CIC is the large number of applications filed every month. We receive more applications asking for personal information. People need to know what type of information to seek and how to seek it. People should ask questions of public interest.