Maharashtra might have played an important role in the movement that led to the birth of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, but 15 years down the line, the law is at threat of becoming redundant. Large pendency of second appeals and failure of the state government to fill vacant posts of State Information Commissioner (SIC) has put a question mark on the status and implementation of RTI in the state.
By the end of December 2019, Maharashtra has 49,385 pending second appeals before the eight SIC benches. The SIC Bench in Pune has the highest pendency with 12,687 second appeals to be heard. As the table shows, the Nagpur bench has by far the lowest pendency. Citizens who have filed second appeals would have to wait for over three years before their appeals for information comes up for hearing before the SIC. The wait in other benches is over two years.
Second appeals are filed by citizens whose earlier attempts to get information from government offices are unsuccessful. During the second appeal the SIC calls the applicant as well as the information officers and hears the case. For common citizens the SIC is often the last court of appeal in the quest for information, and inordinate delay in hearings often dampens their quest for information.
A cursory look at the SIC benches in Maharashtra provides a clue for the reason for the large pendency. Maharashtra has eight SIC benches, including the bench of the chief state information commissioner. However, as of now three of the benches do not have a full-time commissioner.
SICs of Amravati, Konkan and Aurangabad have additional charges of Pune, Nashik and Nagpur respectively. Additional charges results in the commissioners travelling between cities to hear appeal.
Another matter of concern for the state is that the Annual Report of the commission has not been published since the last three years. The RTI Act mandates the publication of the Annual Report to take stock of the implementation and status of the transparency law in the state. The report is prepared by the commission and is placed before the state legislature, after which it is made public. The last time when this was done was in 2016.
Shailesh Gandhi, former central information commissioner, said the sorry state of affairs was a sign of total neglect meted out to the law by the political system. “Unfortunately, RTI is coveted by the political class only when they are in opposition. Once they get into power they look at it as a nuisance,” he said.
Long wait for information and delay at every stage has put a question mark on the efficacy of the law in the mind of the common man, he added. “I have written to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to take steps to address this problem,” he said.
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