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Rights exercised, but no information yet

The Right to Information (RTI) Act ? a law meant to sweep in transparency and improve governance ? is mired in bureaucratic delays, reports Chitrangada Choudhury.

india Updated: Dec 06, 2006 06:07 IST

The Right to Information (RTI) Act — a law meant to sweep in transparency and improve governance — is mired in bureaucratic delays.

A whopping 5,000 RTI appeals made by aggrieved citizens are waiting to be decided by the State Information Commission (SIC) — the state’s highest appealing body.

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

Joshi is currently hearing appeals that were filed in March-April.

Of the 387 cases decided so far, barely 10 per cent of Joshi’s decisions upheld the initial rejection of information by officials, indicating that citizens had up to a year-long wait for information.

The act permits immediate access.

“The Information Commission has gone into a coma,” said Bhaskar Prabhu of the Mahiti Adhikar Manch (Right to Information Forum). “Such delays defeat the very purpose of the act. Bureaucrats are just denying information knowing it will be months before the matter is decided.”

When contacted, Joshi said, “My letter to the state government to appoint more commissioners is still pending.” It has been two months since Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh announced the names of two more information commissioners. But the notification was sent to Governor SM Krishna only on Monday.

A 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.”

These commissioners will be posted in the Aurangabad and Nagpur divisions, after the High Court, which has benches in these two cities. Their appointment means little for divisions like Pune, where over 944 RTI appeals wait to be decided. Kamlakar Shenoy, a city hotelier who has over 15 appeals pending with the SIC, challenging RTI rejections from the Mumbai police, the BMC and the Registrar of Co-operatives, said, “RTI is the only law that can address the corrupt state of our governance, but the delays are subverting the power of the act.”

Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) MLA, Narasayya Adam from Solapur is planning to raise the issue in the ongoing assembly session.

He told Hindustan Times: “My demand is that at least six more commissioners should be appointed.”

Information activists like Shailesh Gandhi are also crusading for immediate appointment of more information commissioners, preferably from fields other than bureaucracy, and a system that disposes 250 to 300 appeals 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,” said Gandhi.

Email Chitrangada Choudhury: chitrangada.choudhury@hindustantimes.com