Costing more, delivering less
An article by Aditi Tandon ,Tribune News Service.
Chandigarh, September 12
State information commissions of both Punjab and Haryana seem to be delivering less and costing more. Every hearing an information commissioner conducts costs the state not less than Rs 30,000, as evident from the information some RTI activists have gathered under the RTI Act.
Punjab has nine information commissioners (six being ex-bureaucrats and chief engineers); none has held more than six hearings a month or decided more than 40 cases a month, indicating that the state can do with fewer ICs.
Each commissioner costs the state about Rs 15,000 a month by way of incidental expenses like petrol and telephone, besides salary. While chief information commissioner draws Rs 79, 170 monthly salary; information commissioners (ICs) draw Rs 56, 280. In addition, each is entitled to a rent-free accommodation, 10,000 units of free electricity, 36-kilo litre of free water and 200 litre of free fuel for conveyance per month.
Between December 2006 and January 2007, Punjab CIC held 31 hearings disposing of 182 cases - information commissioner Rupan Deol Bajaj held 26 hearings from July 2006 to January 2007 disposing of 105 cases; P.K. Verma and R.K. Gupta held 22 and 17 hearings, respectively, and disposed of 175 and 123 cases, respectively.
Interestingly, four of the serving ICs of Punjab were appointed in December last few days before elections by former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh. Terms of appointments of four ICs appointed later by the ruling government had not been notified till March 26, 2007 although the ICs had started working.
Department of IT, the nodal department for RTI in Punjab, recently admitted this in its reply to an RTI application of Hitender Jain of Resurgence India. To another of Jain’s queries about attendance by information commissioners, the department said there was no order notifying exemption of commissioners from attending office.
RTI activists like Hemant Goswami feel Punjab needs just two efficient information commissioners. “Even the RTI Act stipulates that the state can appoint a maximum of 10 information commissioners, depending on requirement. Punjab is spending hugely on the commission, which in turn is not recovering anything by way of penalty under the Act. The commission is not penalising PIOs at the rate of Rs 250 a day if they fail to provide information within 30 days,” he claimed.
Haryana is no better though it has just two information commissioners including the CIC. It has set up two separate offices, located barely 400m apart, for both. The 2007-2008 budget of Haryana State Information Commission is Rs 167 lakh, but the commission has in two years penalised only five PIOs, that too meagerly; it has compensated just one complainant.
Shocking it is that though the commission issued 78 notices to PIOs holding them responsible for lapses under RTI, it dropped proceedings in 73 cases, where it was liable to penalise PIOs in every one.
If that was less, Punjab and Haryana are yet to publish RTI guidebooks in regional languages, which they were supposed to publish within 18 months of the inception of the act.
The Tribune, Chandigarh, India - Chandigarh Stories
Re: Costing more, delivering less
RTI officers cost tax payers dearly
If you want information on the government ask the information commission.
But now, the Burning Brain Society an NGO has asked for information on the commission itself and what it costs the taxpayer.
The NGO found out through the Right to information Act that none of the nine information commissioners have attended more than five hearings a month.
''This year the budget of the Information Commission is more than three crore. Last year it was approximately Rs two crore so the per hearing cost of Punjab state information commission comes to around Rs 30,000.
And with the new Budget it comes to around Rs 5,000 per hearing and if you add to the fact that no information commissioner works for more than two days or three days or at the most five days in a month, so there are just five hearings of two hours or three hours during in the entire month,'' said Hemant Goswami, RTI activist.
Besides a salary of Rs 50, 000 a month, the job of Information Commissioner brings many perks.
There is hardly any room for nine information commissioners to function and not enough work.
- Rent free bungalows or Rs 10, 000 allowance
- Ten thousand free units of electricity annually
- About 3600 kilo litres of free water
- Government Vehicle with free fuel, private secretary, reader, driver and peon
The commission is now busy trying to see that they are gainfully employed.
''The decision to appoint commissioners is to be taken by the state government and has been taken. Under the act, so nine have been appointed the commission is to ensure that public is given full satisfaction so we are trying to see that all of them are gainfully employed right now we are sitting in five benches and we will be sitting in nine benches now.
And we are visiting all the districts so that the public doesn't have to come to Chandigarh for this purpose,'' said Rajan Kashyap, Chief Information Commissioner, Punjab.
RTI act has certainly brought about greater transparency and accountability in the working of state and central government. But surely steps can be taken by the government to make this information dissemination process less expensive after all its public money, which can be saved.