The Central Information Commission (CIC) blocked a government move to saddle the regulator with hearing public grievances while insisting it was already reeling under a backlog of over 37,000 Right to Information (RTI) appeals, according to documents seen by HT.
The panel that has been headless for over nine months conveyed its objections to the administrative reforms department that is working on the Right to Services and Grievance Redressal Bill.
Under the RTI Act, the CIC is mandated to resolve appeals and complaints filed against government departments or public authorities by information seekers.
The department initially proposed setting up of a powerful commission to redress grievances, but PM Narendra Modi was against the idea of instituting another statutory body.
Later, Modi’s office suggested one or two commissioners at the CIC could be designated to hear grievances or a new ombudsman could be created by an executive order “which shall not have the trappings of a final appellate authority”. The CIC bluntly told the government it wasn’t such a good idea, officials told HT.
“The mandate of the RTI Act is to provide information to information seekers. Bringing in grievance redressal mechanism as part of the RTI Act may not be in consonance with the existing objectives and provisions of the RTI Act,” the agency said. “Moreover, 37,000-plus appeals and complaints are pending before the CIC.”
The CIC also ran down the second proposal to set up a body by an executive diktat.
“The proposed Ombudsman can be effective only if he is armed with sufficient statutory powers for enforcing compliance of various orders/directions to be passed by him from time to time,” the commission observed. It emphasised that the CIC too faced problems of noncompliance despite its statutory status.
Social activist Anjali Bhardwaj said the PMO proposal hadn’t been thought through as one or two information commissioners could not be enough to hear the thousands of grievances.
The central public grievances portal run by the gove-rnment gets about 75,000 complaints annually.