The simple act of listing all pending cases publicly, will go a long way in restoring citizens’ confidence in these institutions, and also act as self- regulating check
I had made a commitment when I was made an Information Commissioner that I would ensure that I decided most of the cases before me in less than three months. By and large, I have been able to fulfil this promise and perhaps the average time for decisions must be around two months. Sometime in June 2011, a RTI (Right to Information) application was received by my PIO (public information officer), asking for the decision in a case registered in May 2010. My staff could not locate the decision anywhere! I realized that the case had not been listed for hearing inadvertently, and no decision had been given. I realized that if a mistake had been made in one case, it could have been made in some others as well. A careful search of 2010 cases revealed another 110 cases which had been forgotten and missed completely!
We listed these for hearing and in one of them, there was a heartrending story. A government employee had died in 1993 leaving his widow and young children. The widow was illiterate and poor. Since 1993 she had been struggling to get the pension she was entitled to. Since she was illiterate, she probably could not pursue the matter properly and each time there was a great delay, the system required many more proofs to establish her claim. By the time she barely managed to submit the required papers, it took years and office inefficiencies would not take decisions for some years! The lady appeared before me with her son who was an unskilled labourer, and both of them could not describe the exact sequence of events. The PIO however assured me that all the papers had been put in order and she would get her pension and all the dues soon. It will always haunt me for my life—that despite running a reasonably efficient set-up—after her 17 year struggle, I was instrumental in delaying succour to her by a full year.
This set me thinking and I realized that there could be many such mistakes, which could result in untold suffering to citizens who approach judicial and quasi-judicial bodies. In most cases there is no list which citizens can access which will tell them, whether their cases are in queue, and whether any logic is being applied in taking up the matters waiting in this queue. I feel upset when I see anyone jumping a queue at the airport, and in judicial and quasi-judicial bodies, the citizen cannot even see the queue. It is necessary that there is transparency in this matter, and citizens can see the queue and also feel assured that it is being dealt with in a transparent non-arbitrary manner. All judicial and quasi-judicial bodies should first ensure that this queue is very short and also give visibility to citizens in the way they take up the cases.
I took up the matter of listing pending cases in the Central Information Commission (CIC) with the Chief Information Commissioner, who readily agreed. The ‘list of pending cases’ has been displayed on the website of the CIC at www.cic.gov.in and will be updated every month. In the Central Information Commission which is just six years old, this will lead to an opportunity for us to correct mistakes and also reassure citizens that there is fairness in taking up their cases. In most commissions and judicial bodies, citizens suspect arbitrariness and corruption in the listing of cases. The simple act of listing all pending cases publicly, will go a long way in restoring citizens’ confidence in these institutions, and also act as self- regulating check.
(Shailesh Gandhi is the Central Information Commissioner for the RTI. The views expressed here are his personal views and may not represent the views of the commission.)
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