For seven months now, since the term of Mohan Chandra Malakar as State Information Commissioner came to an end, the Assam State Information Commission has been “functioning” without any Commissioner. And, appeals have been piling up, with officials in the Commission putting the latest figure at 4147. The last Chief Information Commissioner on the other hand had retired two years ago.
The State Information Commission in Assam, which has provisions to appoint two Commissioners apart from the CIC, has been mostly functioning with just one Commissioner. The list of persons occupying that post comprises only of retired bureaucrats and IPS officers. Malakar however is a former PCCF (Wildlife).
“While the State Information Commission has remained defunct for seven months now, public authorities are least bothered to provide information in response to RTI applications. They know that there is no appelate authority at the top, and nobody can pull them up for this,” said Saito Basumatary, coordinator of the People’s Rights Forum (PRF).
“Common people at the grassroots level have been blatantly denied information related to PDS, food and other benefits for BPL families,” Basumatary said.
Attempts by the Forum to seek the governor’s intervention to make the Commission functional has also found no response. The Forum is now contemplating filing a PIL. “It has been over six weeks that we applied for an appointment with the governor by specifically mentioning the status of the State Information Commission. But there has been no response,” Basumatary rued.
IH Borbora, a regular RTI user however says he is not surprised that the Congress government kept the Information Commission defunct.
“Though the chief minister often takes pride in saying that Assam was one of the first few states to have had its own RTI Act even before the central Act came, keeping the State Information Commission in a non-functioning state only makes it clear that the government either has things to hide or has no respect for law,” Borbora, also a State Resource Person for RTI, said.
Nilima Chayengiya Mipun, recently appointed secretary of the State Information Commission admitted that the number of appeals has been accumulating. “As on date there are 4174 appeals lying with the Commission,” she said. When Malakar term ended in March, there were roughly 1500 appeals pending disposal.
That the state government’s interest towards the Commission has been lackadaisical is also evident from the fact that officers were sent as Secretary to the Commission mostly on a temporary basis until Mipun took over recently. While Md Jiauddin Ahmed retired as Secretary in June 2013 after serving for seven years, three officers were posted on temporary charge one after the other, till Mipun joined.
“It is very unfortunate that the state government has not bothered to let the Assam State Information Commission function smoothly. By depriving the citizens of information, the state government has done a criminal act,” said Debajit Goswami, secretary of the Assam RTI Forum.
“RTI applicants are not just denied information, but are threatened, coerced, assaulted and even killed. But the government is not bothered,” complained Goswami.
While former IPS officers like S Mooshahary, DN Dutt and retired bureaucrats like BK Gohain and MC Malakar have found post-retirement postings as State Information Commissioners in Assam, the name of another IAS officer on the verge of retirement is doing the rounds as the next SIC.
“The selection committee has recently met and an announcement appointing a Commissioner will be made very soon,” Rajiv Kumar Bora, principal secretary, personnel, told The Indian Express today.
Bora said though the state government had made its move to appoint a successor to Malakar in January itself, the announcement of Lok Sabha elections and subsequent election of Sirajuddin Ajmal, leader of AIUDF (the largest opposition group) to Lok Sabha had delayed the entire process.
“The Committee comprising the chief minister, a senior cabinet minister and leader of the AIUDF has already made the selection, and a formal notification will be out soon,” Bora said. He however did not mention the name of the person selected.