No sooner does 60-year-old Ramanand Tiwari retire from the Indian Administrative Service at the end of this week, he will become Mumbai’s first information commissioner, the man to whom you could turn if the government decides not to divulge to you a particular bit of information under the Right to Information Act (RTI).
The Hindustan Times made dogged but fruitless attempts to prise information from Tiwari — now the additional chief secretary with the urban development department — about a government decision to allow a club to go ahead with constructions at recreational ground in Dadar east.
On February 19, the Hindustan Times carried a report about how the government was allowing Dadar Club more construction rights. The decision comes at a time with citizens in Mumbai are trying to reclaim their open spaces. When we called him, Tiwari — the bureaucrat responsible for okaying the government decision — said he had been too busy to look at the files.
As information commissioner, Tiwari will decide what information — including land deals and de-reservation of plots — can be made available to the public. Threatening protests, RTI activists said appointing retired bureaucrats on information commissions undermined the spirit of law aimed at obtaining information from the bureaucracy.
The law is increasingly popular with citizens across Maharashtra filing an estimated 400 requests each day to probe how the government is managing public affairs making decisions and spending taxpayer money.
“With the government stonewalling many requests, over 12,000 appeals are currently waiting to be decided by commissioners, which is why Tiwari plays a key role.
“The state information commission has become a dumping ground of retired bureaucrats,” said Keval Simlani, RTI activist and founder of Mahadhikar, a NGO which works towards ensuring transparency in governance. “This move is one more nail in the RTI’s coffin. This is designed to kill the act. We have been protesting against bureaucrats being appointed as information commissioners. Now, we will come out on the streets,” he said.