RTI in Maharashtra seems to be passing through one of its roughest patches. With more than 37,000 second appeals waiting to be heard, the State Information Commissionerate (SIC) has its work cut. To add to the trouble, the annual report of 2016 is yet to be placed before the state Assembly even after a delay of a year. The state had played a stellar role in the promulgation of the RTI Act with activists like Anna Hazare and others taking the lead in the movement that led to the enactment of the law. Many of the practices of the state were picked up for other states to follow.
However, over the past three years, RTI seems to have taken a turn for the worse in Maharashtra. At present, the state does not have a full-time Chief State Information Commissioner (CSIC) with the SIC, Greater Mumbai, holding charge. The post has been vaccant since Ratnakar Gaikwad retired a few months back. The state government is yet to call for a meeting of the special committee to select an Information Chief for the state. By far, the biggest problem before the state is the mounting second appeals, which are resulting in delay in the cases being heard. The state has reported a whopping 37,456 pending second appeals by the end of January- one of the highest-ever recorded since the promulgation of the RTI Act, in 2005. Three benches — Nashik (9,792) Pune (8,126) and Amravati (7,166) — by themselves corner more than 20,000 appeals.
The bench of the CSIC has 4,422 pending appeals as of now. Second appeals are filed by RTI applicants who are dissatisfied with the information provided to them. To add to the trouble, the annual report of 2016 is yet to be placed before the state legislature — even after a delay of a year. The annual report of the SIC provides a glimpse of the working of the Act and gives an insight about its implementation.
Generally, the annual reports are placed either during the Budget Session or during the Winter Session. Once the report is accepted by the state legislature, it is made public. The delay, officials of the SIC said was due to the delay in printing the report.”We had tried to place the report during the winter session but could not. We hope to place the report during the Budget Session of the state Assembly,” an official said. The year 2018 might be one of the rare one when annual reports of two years — 2016 and 2017 — would be placed.
The trend, former Central Information Commissioner (CIC) Shailesh Gandhi said, was an indication of the non-seriousness of the state government towards RTI. “Given the huge backlog, we had repeatedly suggested to the government to increase the number of commissioner from the present 6 plus 1 to 10 plus 1. However, the government has not responded to our requests,” he said. The RTI Act allows for maximum of 10 information commissioners to be appointed at one go. At present, Gandhi said, appeals that date back to 2015 are coming up for hearing. “This makes no sense at all,” he said.
Similarly RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar said the failure of the submission of the report was due to the non-seriousness of the government machinery towards RTI. “Neither the SIC nor the politicians are bothered about this Act any more,” he said.