Information Commissioner Deepak Sandhu has been the government’s spokesperson and is one of the most senior commissioners in the Central Information Commission. Sandhu spoke to HT on impact of recent Supreme Court order and the new Right To Information rules. Excerpts of an interview:
The SC had issued a detailed order on functioning of the information commissions, which would have wide ranging implications. How do you view the court’s order?
As far as the Supreme Court order is concerned, the government has already filed a review petition. I would not like to comment on any aspect of the court ruling. But, I would like to say that the court’s order should not adversely impact the simplicity of the Right To Information Act. A person can seek information from the government on a piece of plain paper. The right of the people to directly approach government authorities or file second appeal easily should not be lost. An RTI applicant has a right to appear in the second appeal before the commission. This right shouldn’t be taken away or the information commission would become like other courts where a common man fears to go. We should guard this right of the people.
The government has brought out new RTI rules and many fear that the rules are an attempt to curb people’s right to information. How do you analyse the new rules?
The biggest concern is regarding the limit of 500 words in an RTI application. I want to say that the rules say that an application cannot be rejected on the ground of its word length. I feel that the rule will help the Public Information Officers to provide information in a much better way. It will also help the applications to focus on what he wants to ask. Some people file lengthy RTI applications and it results in burden on government resources. I think the rules will help the government to use its resources to provide information in more efficient manner.
There was also concern raised that the new rules says an RTI appellant will have to appear in person and cannot authorise anyone else to appear on his behalf. Any clarifications.
There is no ambiguity on whether the appellant can come himself or can authorise anyone else. The rules says that there would be no change in the existing system for the applicants.
How do you visualise performance of the CIC?
After three years in the CIC, I believe we have done really well. People can come and see how hearings are taking place. We have 18,000 pending cases. Three years ago, the average time to hear the case was one year. We have brought it down to seven to eight months and by December we would reduce it to six months. To improve voluntary disclosure under the RTI Act, I have given two months to public authorities to comply with section 4 of the Act. I will be holding a meeting in December with public authorities to check the status. Anybody can come and give suggestions on how to improve section 4 compliance.