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Thread: One More Farce

  1. #1
    C J Karira
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    Poor facilities irk state information panel

    As reported by NT Staff Reporter in The Navhind Times on 21 January 2008:
    Navhind Times on the Web: Goa

    Poor facilities irk state information panel

    Panaji, Jan 21 Although the government vows by the Right to Information Act, it is neglecting the guardian of the Act, the Goa State Information Commission. By guarding the citizens’ use of the RTI, the commission is proving to be a thorn in the side of many government departments. But it neither has proper premises for its functioning, nor adequate staff to meet the workload.

    Speaking to ‘The Navhind Times’ today, the chief information commissioner, Mr A Venkataratnam said the commission has many grievances but the main problem is lack of staff. For instance, while the commission makes it mandatory for all other departments to appoint public information officers and assistant public information officers, the commission is not in a position to appoint its own PIO or APIO.

    It simply does not have the staff. In the absence of the PIO or the APIO, the commission cannot furnish information about its own functioning.

    Also, there is no registrar for court matters and no personal staff. If there is a commissioner, he should have a personal assistant or a personal secretary. These posts are not created. They should have been created when the commission was formed, Mr Venkataratnam said.

    The commission has requested the government to provide one personal secretary, one peon and one driver but there is no response from the government. “In the Central Information Commission, the personal secretary is appointed in the scale of Rs 12,000,” said the information commissioner, Mr G G Kambli.

    The premises is another problem. The commission does not have a courtroom, no place for the appellants and advocates to sit and no place to keep the records. Every morning, the advocates, appellants and the respondents - who are often heads of government departments - queue up in the narrow corridor outside the commission office.

    Moved by the plight of the advocates and appellants, who were hanging outside “like crows on an electricity wire”, the commissioner arranged to put plastic chairs outside. Sadly, somewhere in the area is located a garbage dumping site. So the people who throng the commission are subjected to stench and mosquitoes, Mr Venkataratnam said.

    The commission has not toilets. The commissioner and the staff, including the lady staff, have to go two floors up in the building if they need to use the toilet. But the government’s careless attitude towards the commission is nothing new. When it was started in March 2006, it did not even have an office. It started from the commissioner’s residence in Porvorim. The present office was only given in June 2006.

    Said Mr Venkataratnam: “All these inconveniences are there. But our functioning by way of disposal of cases has not been affected. We do not keep the cases pending over three months.” The commission has forwarded its grievances to the government several times but the government is not acting on these.

    When asked why the government is ignoring the commission, Mr Venkataratnam said, “We can give you all the facts, the inferences are for you to draw.

    The government sources refuted the commission’s stand saying the commission is an autonomous body with an independent budget. Sources said the funds are given by the government and “the commission has to go on its own”. Despite the government denial, the commission reiterated its position. Scoffing at the claim of autonomy, the commission sources said the government has not declared the commission secretary as its head of department. The commission has to go to the finance department for concurrence and administrative approval even for small things, sources said.

    Last edited by karira; 22-01-08 at 12:00 PM.

  2. #2

    One More Farce

    One More Farce
    EDITORIAL on Navhind Times, Wednesday, January 23, 2008

    Information commissions are autonomous bodies, but they are dependent on governments for resources. Much like most such bodies in the country, the Goa State Information Commission lacks the basic resources for its effective functioning. It has not been provided with adequate staff.

    In this regard, the revelation of the Chief Information Commissioner, Mr A Venkataratnam is quite significant: “The Commission has many grievances but the main problem is the lack of staff. The Commission makes it mandatory for all other departments to appoint PIOs and APIOs, but it is not in a position to appoint its own PIO or APIO. In the absence of a PIO or an APIO, the Commission cannot furnish information about its own functioning.”

    The powers and functions of information commissions are contained in Chapter-V of the Right to Information Act, and within this framework it is supposed to receive and enquire into complaints regarding non-appointment of state PIOs, refusal by state PIOs to accept an application seeking information or refusal of access to requested information or access to information within specified time limit and giving of incomplete, misleading or false information under the RTI Act.

    Ironically, an organisation which is supposed to protect the basic rights of citizens, take democracy to the grassroots level and is also a step towards ensuring participatory governance in the country, is denied its own fundamental rights. One reason could be that officials in general would not like to see a well-staffed, well-equipped and well-functioning autonomous body asking them unpleasant and embarrassing questions, questions that could lead to exposure of the vested interests. A part of the reason could of course also be government’s inadequacy of resources.

    Yet, how could lack of resources create such farce as the absence of a registrar for court matters? Though the Goa State Information Commission is functioning and has come out with some orders, what indeed has come as shock is the Commission does not have a courtroom: it does not have place for appellants and advocates to sit and no space to keep records.

    Why has the government not provided these basic facilities to the Commission? Such failures could only suggest a lukewarm commitment to the principle of citizens’ right to information.

    If the Central Information Commissioner can summon Supreme Court officials to explain their failures in providing information to some individual and also direct the department of justice under the Union law ministry to make public a file on the appointment of Mr Justice Vijender Jain as chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, the state Commission could use its right to seek information from the government for its reluctance to mitigate its grievances.

    The government ought not to forget that the Information Commission is meant to usher in transparency in the functioning of government. A weak and poorly functioning Information Commission is eventually going to endanger the interests of the government itself.
    Last edited by sidmis; 23-01-08 at 10:12 PM.


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