Data from the office of the State Information Commissioner (SIC), Pune branch, reveal a trend of senior officers skipping hearing of second appeals. In almost 10-15 per cent cases, officers against whose decisions second appeals were filed remain absent or depute junior officers, or send written explanation for inability to attend hearings.
Second appeals are filed by Right to Information (RTI) applicants who are aggrieved by the decision of the first appellate authority (AA). Six information commissioners hear appeals filed before them in the state, Pune being one of the benches.
Headed by Ravindra Jadhav, the Pune bench hears second appeals from Pune, Satara, Sangli, Solapur and Kolhapur districts. Pune bench happens to be one of the most active benches of the Commission in the state.
During second appeals, the applicant, the public information officer (PIO) and the first appellate authority (AA) have to be present.
The SIC gives an order after hearing the sides and it can amount to imposition of fines on officers or administrative action or both. RTI mandates that during hearing, the appellant argues his case.
The maximum fine that can be imposed by the SIC is Rs 25,000.
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However, data from SIC Pune office show that in 10 per cent cases, senior officers do not attend hearings. In some cases, they depute juniors.
The trend, officers of SIC, Pune, say, is higher in the district police departments where, in many of the cases, a senior police inspector is the PIO and the DCP or above is the AA.
“In many cases, officers say they were caught up with work or were on urgent bandobast duty, which prevented them from appearing personally,” officers say.
In such cases, the Information Commissioner either hears the case in absentia or asks for a written explanation from officers. Prahlad Kachre, head of Yashwantrao Chavan Academy of Development Administration (YASHDA) pointed out that attendance of officers for second appeals is mandatory in the RTI Act. “The SIC benches are commissions and have the right to summon people for hearing,” he said.
RTI activist Vivek Velankar said the Commission should send a letter to department heads asking them to take action against officers who remain wilfully absent from second appeals.