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Former Central Information Commissioner (CIC) Shailesh Gandhi has called for a strong public opinion-building movement to highlight the precarious condition of the Right to Information (RTI) Act due to the “lackadaisical” attitude of both the Information Commissioner (IC)s and the government servants. Gandhi — who is hailed for highest disposal rate of second appeals — said that the powers that be are the biggest threat to the RTI Act, both in the country and the state.
In a letter to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, Gandhi had highlighted the pitiable state of RTI in the state and had asked for quick appointment of commissioners. Responding to his letter, the chief minister’s office has promised to look into the matter.
According to Gandhi, improper interpretation of some of the judgments regarding RTI, by both the Information Commissioner and Public Information Officers (PIO)s, pose a serious threat to the act.
“Without going into the reasoning of the judgment, they are being used to throttle the Act,” he said.
Citing his own example, Gandhi said his second appeal before the Central commission regarding disclosure of Income Tax returns of former deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar was disposed off by citing Supreme Court judgments. “It is necessary to have a strong public opinion regarding recent events. It was the public opinion from various quarters which had saved the Central government’s earlier attempts to amend the law. We need another such movement to save the Act from being made toothless,” he said.
Over the last few years, RTI users have been increasingly vocal about the delay in receiving information. Also, appeals tend to stay pending for years before both the state and Central Commissioners, which defeats the purpose of the Act. In Maharashtra, of the seven benches, two are vacant with additional charges being given to other commissioners. As a result, the pendency of cases has shot up. Pune and Amravati benches have more than 8,000 pendency with cases dating back to 2013-14 being heard now.