As he prepares to demit office tomorrow after a nearly four-year stint at the Central Information Commission,Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi feels that biggest threat to RTI regime in the country is from Information Commissions themselves.
Gandhi also says rising pendency of cases with Information Commissions would leave the citizens disenchanted with the transparency law.
The 65-year old Information Commissioner,who paid interns from his own pocket for ensuring quick and efficient processing of case files,said in an interview to PTI that RTI faces three major threats – lowest from the government,then judicial processes and highest threat is from Information
“The highest threat is from the Commissions where already there are cases that are pending for two and three years for a law that is seven years old. If it continues like this,in the next five years the pendency is likely to be three to five years at which point the common man will run away from this just as he has run away from most of judicial and quasi judicial processes.
And if that happens,RTI is dead. RTI will continue to remain just for commissions and commissioners which would be very sad,” Gandhi said.
An entrepreneur-turned-activist and IIT alumnus Gandhi,would be demitting his office tomorrow after nearly four year stint with the Central Information Commission during which he decided 16,000 petitions,maximum among all Information Commissioners.
During his tenure,Gandhi pushed for some progressive ideas in the CIC like Citizens’ charter,digitisation of records,paperless offices,rationalisation of administrative man-power to ensure pendency of cases is reduced but did not get much support from within the Commission.
Gandhi had underlined the problem of increasing pendency of appeals and complaints at the Commission and had suggested that panel should make a commitment to dispose 90 per cent of cases within three-five months.
He has also warned if pendency kept increasing like this,the waiting period would increase to five years.
Gandhi said he has been writing within the Commission on the pendency of issues but did not get “adequate response”.
“Negligible ideas have been accepted. I don’t think people are willing to accept this issue at all. There has been unwillingness to face up this,” he said.
Gandhi said he hoped that the Commission would make a commitment that the pendency would be between three to four months,if not now,in the next three years,five years.
“I have proposed this in the Citizen’s Charter which initially had found favour but ultimately the Commission refused to accept the Citizen’s charter. It has not been willing to make commitments to citizens,” Gandhi said.
He said everybody recognises pendency issue but the general attitude is someone else’s problem and government would do something.
The maverick Commissioner who did not hesitate to issue show cause notice to the CIC officials with regards to an RTI plea said,”We need to bring accountability to all these Commissions,if we have to have a better government,a better nation. Nation is spending lots on these.”
“Most of these Commissions,again if I broaden it to slightly beyond Commissions,I would say Judicial and quasi judicial processes in India are operating as if time is of no consequence. We blame political class and bureaucrats but if we do not correct this we cannot get any justice.
“Nobody who does anything wrong needs to fear anything and he can live life without any worry or fear,” Gandhi said.
When asked about future plans,Gandhi said he would start working as RTI activist from Mumbai after a two month vacation with family.