Maharashtra might have played a crucial role in the movement which paved way for the Right to Information (RTI) Act, but subsequent governments have failed to strengthen it on various fronts. Five months since Ratnakar Gaikwad retired as the State Chief Information Commissioner, the state government is yet to fill the post.
Presiding over the information commissionerates in the state, the SIC plays a crucial role in the implementation of the Act. Other than hearing second appeals, the SICs also have the power to issue instructions to the state government to enhance the transparency provisions of the law. The State Chief Information Commissioner, in turn, heads the bench and runs the body in consultation with other commissioners. The annual report prepared by the SIC gives an idea about the state of transparency law.
With the post of the chief SIC vacant, appeals have started piling up at the bench. Ajit Kumar Jain, the SIC of Greater Mumbai, has been given the additional charge of the bench.
Till August 2017, the bench had a pendency of 1,872 cases. Gaikwad, during his tenure, had managed to improve the efficiency of the bench, and pendency had come down substantially. The state has over 39,000 pending second
In 2011-12, the state had faced a similar situation when the then Congress-NCP government had dragged its feet over appointment of the Chief SIC. The matter had attracted considerable criticism from the BJP, which was then in the opposition.
SICs are selected by a special committee led by the chief minister that also includes the leader of opposition in the state. Eknath Khadse, who was the leader of opposition then, was critical of the government for not convening the meeting.
RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar opined that the process of appointing a new Chief SIC should have started well before the post was due for vacancy. “On paper, the government tries to portray that it is pro-transparency, but its actions speak differently,” he said.
Kumbhar was also critical of the manner in which the government has tried to implement the online RTI system in the state. That system, the activist claimed, was ineffectual to meet the needs of the people.