Gujarat Info Comm an overburdened body | india | Hindustan Times
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Gujarat Info Comm an overburdened body

The State Information Commission in Gujarat has not been able to look at any new complaint since July. All the new files are packed into shelves in one corner of the Commission’s office in Gandhinagar, the administrative capital of Gujarat, reports Prasad Nichenametla.

india Updated: Oct 13, 2009 18:35 IST
Prasad Nichenametla

The State Information Commission in Gujarat has not been able to look at any new complaint since July. All the new files are packed into shelves in one corner of the Commission’s office in Gandhinagar, the administrative capital of Gujarat.

While the Commission received 9,667 cases till July from October 2005, when it started work, just 4,990, a little more than 51 per cent, were disposed of.

Since October 2005, when the Right to Information (RTI) Act came into existence on October 13, only the chief information commissioner is there to handle cases in a state of 55 million people.

This state government has not appointed two more commissioners, which it itself sanctioned two years ago.

“It is a burden (on a single person). But what can I do? The government sanctioned the posts of two more commissioners but they are not filled till now. (Instead of letting the files stagnate), I am trying my best to clear the complaints,” State Chief Information Commissioner RN Das told Hindustan Times.

Das, who was earlier Union secretary, food and public distribution, took charge in July 2006 and is managing the Commission single-handedly, hearing up to 20 cases a day.

His predecessor, PK Das, who retired in May 2006, was similarly overburdened.

A selection committee (to decide the appointment of commissioners) under Chief Minister Narendra Modi, which includes the leader of the opposition, Shakti Sinh Gohil, and a state cabinet minister (NAME?), did not meet even once in the past two years.

RTI activists say that complainants have to wait for more than a year to get a hearing.

“Our RTI helpline data show that some citizens have to wait for 1.2 years for the second appeal hearing. The Commission (operating with one person) cannot be blamed for this. For a population of 5.5 crore (55 million), there should be at least five to six information commissioners. Neither the chief minister nor the opposition leader seems to be interested in filling the posts,” said Pankti Jog, co-ordinator, Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP), an initiative to strengthen the right to information.

“We are aware of the pending cases but the chief minister is not interested in calling a meeting of the committee. When we did not meet in the past two years, how can we select anyone?” Gohil asked.

“I do not have the details … I need to check (as to why the committee did not meet),” a senior official in the chief minister’s office said.

With cases piling up, Das, who was also director, enforcement directorate, is left with no option but to concentrate on older cases rather than look into the new ones.

The Commission was able to dispose of 762 cases in the past three months.

Though RN Das has expressed satisfaction with the response of government officials to RTI queries, awareness efforts initiated and budget allocation, it remains a puzzle why the government is appointing the two commissioners.

Fact File

1. Right to Information Act, 2005, is a landmark Act, empowering people to know how she/he and fellow citizens are governed by the state.

2. October 13 marks the completion of four years of RTI

3. Awareness about the RTI, according to the Commission and activists, is very high in the state. Analysis of queries received on the RTI helpline run by MAGP (from May 2006 to October 2009) shows that 15 per cent of the queries are from farmers, followed by teachers (11 per cent), small entrepreneurs (7 per cent), disabled (7 per cent) and social workers (7 per cent) to daily wage earners (4 per cent). Twelve per cent of the calls are from the public information officers, who are supposed to provide the information.

4. “The people are Gujarat are demanding in their complaints and are keen on being heard and their grievances redressed. The Commission with the same spirit is receiving their complaints also,” R.N. Das, state chief information commissioner, said.

5. The RTI Act 2005 provides for one chief information commissioner and ten information commissioners. While Punjab has a chief information commissioner and nine commissioners, Goa, a small state, has two commissioners.

Some SIC decisions:

1. Ordered that annual confidential reports of government servants be made available to the public.

2. Upheld the plea of secondary education students who wanted access to their answer sheets in examinations. Decision stayed by Gujarat High Court.

3. Ruled that cooperative societies and banks fall under the category of public bodies, a decision again challenged in court.