The Right to Information (RTI) Act is often hailed as the most important piece of legislation for empowering the common citizen, but its very existence in Maharashtra seems to be under threat.
According to the 10th annual report of the State Information Commission (SIC), a major challenge facing the implementation of the RTI Act is “ignorance” about the landmark legislation among public information officers (PIOs) and Appellate Authorities (AAs).
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The recently-released report, which analyses the RTI trends in the state, slams the government agencies in no uncertain manner about the level of knowledge of these officials.
“It is observed that majority of the PIOs and AAs are ignorant on how to deal with RTI applications or how to provide information. Also, the orders of the AA are often ignored,” stated the report.
Both PIOs and the AAs play a crucial role in implementing the RTI Act. The PIO is the first line of contact with the common man, and the officer has to deal with RTI applications seeking information on numerous issues.
In case the PIO fails to provide information on time or the applicant is not satisfied with the information provided, the AA — often a senior officer in the department — steps in.
The Appellate Authority can conduct hearings on the matter and give directions which have to be followed. If the applicant is still dissatisfied, he/she can move the State Information Commission for a second appeal hearing. But due to the high rate of pendency, it is a time-consuming process and it often takes two or more years for hearings to take place.
Currently, there are 38,441 cases pending before the seven benches of the SIC in Maharashtra. RTI users in the
state have often complained about denial of information on frivolous grounds.
The main cause of the problem is the increasing number of PIOs and AAs in the government offices, said RTI activist
“When the Act was first introduced, there were fewer PIOs and AAs, and most of them were senior officers who implemented the Act seriously. Now, the number of PIOs and AAs has increased, which has taken a toll on the quality of implementation of the Act,” he said.
The state government had 78,297 PIOs and 24,274 AAs, according to the 10th annual report.