Over 35,000-second appeals were pending before information commissions across the state by the end of September 2018, with Pune seeing the highest number of such appeals, 8,987, reveals available data. The state information commissioners are currently clearing appeals that are over two years old. The high pendency rate has prompted former central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi to seek the appointment of additional state information commissioners (SICs).
Second appeals are filed by applicants who have exhausted their efforts to get information from government offices via Right to Information (RTI) appeals. Filed before the state chief information commissioners, this is considered the last avenue of appeal for many in their quest for information.
Maharashtra has eight such information commissioners, headed by State Chief Information Commissioner Sumit Mullick. Dilip Dharurkar is in charge of both the Nagpur and Aurangabad benches, while Ravindra Jadhav is the SIC of Pune.
The information commissioners — who are supposed to be the custodians of the transparency law — have a wide range of powers, which includes fining errant officials, summoning witnesses and calling for documents, and giving orders for proper implementation of the RTI Act. But the information dissemination process in Maharashtra doesn’t evoke much confidence, with 35,315 pending appeals.
The data shows that except the SIC benches of Nagpur, Greater Mumbai and Aurangabad, the other benches have a significant backlog of appeals. The large number of second appeals also shows that information sought through RTI applications was not being provided in a large number of cases, forcing the applicant to file a second appeal.
It is time to take urgent measures to tackle the situation, said Gandhi, whose tenure as the CIC was marked by the speedy disposal of second appeals. “Every commissioner has to be given a target of hearing a certain number of appeals per day,” he said.
Gandhi had earlier met Mullick and urged him to appoint additional information commissioners, but no step seems to have been taken in this regard.