Mumbai, June 01 The Right to Information Act may have been meant to empower citizens by providing accurate information and data. But the lengthy court proceedings and pending cases under the sunshine law are now a cause for concern for users of the Right to Information tool as well as activists promoting this Act. Till March 2008, as many as 3600 odd appeals and complaints under the RTI are pending with the State Information Commissioner in Mumbai. Across the State, there are around 16000 applications and appeals are pending.
According to information collected by activists from the Information Commissioner’s office, various public information officers across the State received more than over 3 lakh applications in 2007, making it the leading state in the RTI usage. At this rate, the number is expected to cross 10 lakh by 2009, which means the number of pending cases would also multiply, said activists.
“In fact, common citizens seek information through the RTI as it’s considered hassle-free. With the rate of pending applications shoots up, getting information under the RTI is becoming as slow as litigation process in the courts,” said Shailesh Gandhi, an RTI activist. RTI activists believe that piling up of appeals leads to delay in getting sensitive information that may make an impact if obtained soon.
While the state is still attempting to clear the backlog of old applications, the Pune Information Commissioner recently set a record by resolving as many as 250 cases within a month’s time. Information Commissioner of Pune VV Kuwalekar said: “I have tried some experimental techniques. I don’t claim that my techniques are infallible, but they worked out in my territory.” Kuwalekar and some activists recently shared their thoughts at a seminar on the rising problem of pending cases while using the Right to Information Act.
Kuwalekar suggests that an informal discussion between the applicant and the PIO is the first tool to resolve pending cases.
“The most essential thing is that the problem of the applicant should be solved. For genuine complainants, a solution could be arrived at through the RTI or even a discussion,” said Kuwalekar.
The second most common cause for pending RTI applications or appeals is, surprisingly, misplacement of relevant files by the government officials. A law against PIOs and other government officials who are unable to trace lost files should be implemented in Mumbai like in Pune, said Kuwalekar, who simultaneously stresses the need to deal with applications considered irrelevant. “Some people file applications without seriousness just because the Act gives them the right to do so,” said Kuwalekar. Important applications suffer due to such applications, he added.
Finally, a regular discussion after every 15 days between the PIO and the appellate authority, and a systematic recording of an action-taken progress report will help clear the application quickly.
Situation at Delhi is no better. I filed an appeal at CIC in last Sept 2007 and still waiting for action on it. MY RTI application was for getting information of MCD sweepers for the month of May 2007 and it will be of no use if I get it after one year.