With over one lakh second appeals or complaints under Right to Information (RTI) Act, haunting the Maharashtra State Information Commission (SCIC) and the delay in filling up vacancies of information commissioners being habitual, the fate of dissemination of information, blocked earlier by the public information officers (PIOs) and first appellate authorities (FAA), remains stagnant at the SCIC’s end too.
People in Maharashtra are extremely active in using the RTI but due to such large pendencies, are unable to get the fruits of their labour. Sumit Mullick, state chief information commissioner sounds helpless when he states, “Not only do we get large numbers of second appeals or complaints, but a few individuals file 1000s of them because of which the number of appeals become too large to handle.”
What about the vacancies, which also contribute to the delay? “There are three vacancies as of now and it would help if they are filled up,’’ he says.
As per the website www.sic.maharashtra.gov.in
, Samir Sahay, state information commissioner (SIC), Pune has additional charge of SIC, Nashik while Sunil Porwal, SIC Mumbai has additional charge of Konkan, Vinay Kumar is SIC, Amaravati, Rahul Pande is SIC, Nagpur and has additional charge of SIC Aurangabad (the website though shows that Dilip Dharurkar, who retired in January 2022, is still SIC, Aurangabad. ).
Shailesh Gandhi, former central information commissioner and RTI activist, who is vocal about this issue, says, “There are two aspects to it. I believe that whoever is in charge, must take ownership and every information commissioner can dispose of 6,000-7,000 cases per year. As for Maharashtra, which has the largest pendencies, vacancies of information commissioners need to be promptly filled up. People here are very aware of the RTI Act and put it to prolific use. One of the reasons is Anna Hazare’s crusade to implement it. They get frustrated due to delays, which is strictly because of failure of the authorities in addressing their second appeals/complaints.’’
As per the Report Card on the Performance of Information Commissions 2021, if Central Information Commission (CIC)’s annual norm for disposal of 3,200 cases per commissioner is adhered to, there would hardly be any backlogs. Yet, interestingly, the average rate of disposal of cases in Maharashtra is 4,371 appeals per information commissioner but it is still lagging behind in disposals due to higher number of appeals filed by citizens.
The report states, “If the requisite number of commissioners are appointed, and they dispose an optimal number of cases (agreed as the norm) each year, in most information commissioners (ICs) the pendency could be easily tackled. The CIC has set for itself an annual norm for disposal of 3,200 cases per commissioner.”
Which implies that, each commission, if it was fully staffed, could dispose of 35,200 cases a year. This is more than the number of cases registered annually by most commissions. Even in the states where more than 35,200 cases are registered, 11 commissioners would be adequate if the commissions adopt efficient systems of disposing cases (drawing on international experience) and are provided with appropriate resources, including legal and technical experts, to assist commissioners to dispose cases expeditiously.
SIC of Maharashtra registered the highest number of appeals and complaints, followed by Uttar Pradesh (UP) and the CIC. As per the report, “The analysis shows that the Maharashtra information commission had the highest annual average disposal rate of 4,371 appeals or complaints per commissioner, followed by the CIC at 2,583 and UP at 2,169. Several commissions had a low annual disposal rate per commissioner despite having a large number of appeals or complaints pending.”
While most commissions have not adopted any norm for disposal of cases, in 2011 the CIC had set an annual norm for disposal of 3,200 cases by each commissioner. Analysis shows that with an annual average disposal per commissioner of 2,583 cases, the commissioners of most of the CICs failed to meet the norm in the time period under consideration.
Despite having the best average disposal rate per commissioner, the Maharashtra SIC has the highest number of pending appeals or complaints, as the commission has been functioning at half its strength since early 2021. The estimated time required for disposal of an appeal or complaint in the CIC was one year and 11 months and for the Maharashtra IC it was three years and six months, says the report.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)