By the end of February this year, over 37,000 second appeals were pending before the seven Information Commissionerates in Maharashtra, reveal figures about the transparency law. Data from the web portal of the State Information Commissioner shows that while 8,953 cases were pending by the end of 2016, the number had increased three times, to 21,320, by the end of 2017. Maharashtra has seven information commissioners, who are led by the state chief information commissioner. The position of the chief information commissioner in Maharashtra has been vacant since mid-2017.
A second appeal is the last resort for an applicant to seek information after his/her earlier attempts to seek information have been unsuccessful. The current number of pending second appeals — 37,435 — is the highest since the SICs were formed in 2009. Nashik, Pune and the bench of State Chief Information Commissionerate in Mumbai had the maximum number of of pending cases. Pune has a backlog of 8,286 cases and cases filed in 2016 are being disposed of in the city commissionerate.
The State Information Commissionerate, which submits an annual report on the implementation of RTI, has not submitted the report to the Maharashtra Assembly for the past two years. A nation-wide study, undertaken by the Commonwealth Human Rights Intiative (CHRI) in January, found Maharashtra had the highest number of pending cases in the country — 41,537. Venkatesh Nayak, programme coordinator of CHRI’s Access to Information programme, said the high levels of pendency indicated the level of dissatisfaction among citizen with the current system of disposing of information.
“The first appeallate authority across the country has collapsed, and this is leading to higher number of citizens turning towards the SICs to seek information,” he said. The government needs to look into how the current system for dissemination of information has failed to cope with the expectations of citizens, said Nayak. Worried about the increasing number of pending RTI appeals, citizens’ groups and activists had earlier written to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, urging him to fill the Chief Information Commissionerate’s post.