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5000 RTI appeals pending in M'rashtra

The state?s sole information commissioner is likely to take nearly a decade to settle backlogs, reports Chitrangada Choudhury.

india Updated: Dec 04, 2006 21:18 IST

The law meant to sweep in transparency and improve governance finds itself mired in bureaucratic delays.

Close to 5000 appeals by aggrieved citizens, denied information by the bureaucracy in response to their applications under the Right to Information law, are currently pending with the state’s highest appealing body – the State Information Commission (SIC).

Manned by a sole Commissioner Suresh Joshi, since October 2005 when the RTI act was born, only 387 appeals by citizens have been decided till date. Joshi’s current rate of deciding roughly an appeal a day means it will take over a decade for the standing backlog of appeals to be decided.

The appeals currently being heard by Joshi were filed back in March-April. "The Information Commission has gone into a coma," says Bhaskar Prabhu of the Mahiti Adhikar Manch (Right to Information Forum).

"Such grotesque delays defeat the very purpose of the act. Bureaucrats are just denying information knowing it will be months before the matter is decided."

Of the 387 cases Joshi has adjudicated on so far, barely 10% of his decisions upheld the initial rejection of information by officials, indicating that citizens had a long wait for information which the act actually permitted access to.

Joshi’s defence: "Yes there is a great backlog in this office. My letter to the state government to appoint more commissioners is still pending."

Two months have passed since Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh announced the names of two more Information Commissioners also bureaucrats on the verge of retirement, like Joshi.

But the notification was sent to Governor SM Krishna only on Monday. An senior secretary in the General Administrative Department said, "It will be next year by the time the new Commissioners can take charge and begin hearing cases."

But these commissioners will be posted in the Aurangabad and Nagpur division, after the High Court, which has benches in these two cities. Their appointment means little for areas like Pune, where over 944 RTI appeals are waiting to be decided.

Kamlakar Shenoy, a city restauranter has over 15 appeals pending with the SIC challenging RTI rejections from the Mumbai police, the BMC and the Registrar of Co-operatives: "The delays are very frustrating. RTI is the only law that can reform governance but it is being subverted like this."

CPI(M) MLA, Narasayya Adam from Solapur is planning to raise the issue in the ongoing assembly. He told HT, "What is the point of a Commissionerate that has so many delays? My demand is that at least 6 more Commissioners should be appointed."

Information activists like Shailesh Gandhi want the immediate appointment of more Information Commissioners, preferably from fields other than bureaucracy, and 250-300 cases to be disposed each month.

"RTI’s use is proliferating. Summary disposal should be adopted, a hearing need not be held in every case. Otherwise, RTI will be dead."

Email Chitrangada Choudhury: chitrangada.choudhury@hindustantimes.com