Ten years since it was passed, the Right to Information (RTI) Act seems to have become a “victim” of government apathy, which is threatening to render the Act “toothless”. With 35 per cent vacancies in all benches of the State Information Commission (SIC) and senior officers refusing to shoulder the responsibilities of Information Officers, the 9th Annual Report of the commission paints a picture of government indifference towards RTI.
The SIC’s report, among other things, takes note of the various administrative and functional lapses hindering the functioning of the Commissionerates. As mandated by the RTI Act, the SIC benches hear the second appeals filed by the applicants and pass orders which are quasi-judiciary in nature. For proper functioning of the SICs, the state government is supposed to provide staff, which includes deputy secretaries, desk officers and clerks, among others. As the SICs dictate orders, the need for clerical staff has always been high on SIC benches.
The report states that of the 136 sanctioned posts in the seven (six SICs and Chief State Information Commissioner) benches, 85 are filled with 51 vacant. Majority vacant posts are for clerks and stenographers. Records show of the 17 sanctioned posts with the Nashik SIC, 10 are vacant, the highest in the state. Next is the Amravati SIC, where seven of 17 posts are vacant. The other benches have three-four vacancies.
The report points out how the vacant positions are hampering the work of the SICs. “As the orders given by the SICs are quasi-judicial in nature, it is necessary to dictate the same. It has earlier been recommended that each bench be sanctioned four clerks/short-hand typists, but the government has not heeded the request.” The report also observes that lack of proper manpower is hindering the fast disposal of appeals.
Another issue raised by the report is the reluctance of senior officers to shoulder the responsibility of Public Information Officers (PIOs) and Appellate Authority (AAs). One of the major issues for high pendency before the SICs, the report says, is the below-par functioning of AAs. “The first appeal disposal mechanism is anything but satisfactory. … senior officers are shrugging off the responsibilities of being AA. Earlier reports had pointed this out, but no action has been taken on it,” the report says.
RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar said lack of proper implementation of Section 4 of the RTI Act, which mandates suo motu declaration of information, was one of the major reasons for more number of appeals, as pointed out by the SIC report. Kumbhar said Information Commissioners were not serious about implementation of Section 4.