Following demands by Right to Information (RTI) activists, the Maharashtra State Information Commission (MSIC) has now decided to hold online hearings of appeals and complaints from June 15. The Information Commissions will initially give preference to hearing appeals and complaints from non-essential services departments but will hear urgent cases related to Covid-19 pandemic.
The decision was taken in a meeting chaired by Chief Information Commissioner Sumit Mullick last week. The hearings of the cases will tentatively commence from June 15 through audio visual conference, states minutes of the meeting.
“Taking into consideration the ongoing pandemic, hearing cases where the PIO and FAA are corona warriors may not be feasible and practical at present and hence the hearings could immediately commence with pending cases of non-essential services,” said the minutes of the meeting. “This condition will however not apply for urgent cases related to the Covid 19 which will be heard expeditiously.”
It further said the concerned parties of the cases will be intimated through e-mail about scheduling of the cases and confirmation through mobile. The appellants who may not have the facility for online hearing have been asked to approach their respective Collector office with the notice so that they will make arrangements, it added.
This comes after the RTI activists repeatedly demanded that the MSIC should start online hearings pointing out that there are over 58,000 appeals and complaints pending with the various benches of the MSIC. After the Supreme Court started holding hearings by video conference in April, Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner, wrote to Mullick requesting to hold the online hearings on any platform and clear all pendency of appeals and complaints.
“Ideally, the Commission should have taken a proactive role in holding the online hearings much earlier and should have started disposing of the huge pendency of appeals and complaints. Many of these appeals are pending for over two to three years. For a law which promises to deliver information within 30 days, a wait of years before the Information Commission makes the law irrelevant,” said Gandhi.
Mullick said that after the nationwide lockdown was announced, everything was shut till April end. “And some of the departments are involved in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. So we felt it was not right to call them for hearing. From May 21, we decided to hear only urgent appeals and complaints but we didn’t receive any application,” he added.