MUMBAI: If you have filed a complaint with the Chief Information Commission (CIC) under the Right To Information Act, seeking details about, say, your income tax refunds, there is every possibility that you may have to wait for several months altogether to get a response.
The CIC is the final forum of appeal for thousands of pending complaints under the RTI Act. Under the act, CIC has powers to direct various central government bodies, including income tax, customs, railways, CBI and PMO, to provide information to applicants across the country.
Data available reveals that as many as 3,171 complaints and appeals were pending with the CIC till the end of March 2007. A pendency of over 200 complaints has been building up every month over the last one year even though the CIC has been clearing nearly 400 complaints and appeals in the same period.
In January this year, the number of complaints received was 743, the number of complaints disposed of was 353, and the number of pending appeals and complaints tallied up to 2,425. Incidentally, the CIC has five information commissioners to hear appeals and complaints, which is considered an adequate number to tackle the workload.
The information commission does not have any legal binding to dispose of second appeals and complaints within a specific time period, but RTI activists say that if the commission itself delays in giving orders, then it will have no moral authority to impose time limits on public information officers in various government departments and appellate authorities.
"The public information officer usually has other duties besides answering RTI queries and so does the appellate authority. Yet, the RTI act states that they must do their duty within 30 days. The sole reason for the existence of the information commission is to ensure that the RTI Act delivers the promise to the citizens," RTI activist Shailesh Gandhi said.
Gandhi has now written to chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah for resolving bottlenecks and clearing up appeals on an urgent basis. "Applicants are finding it tough to get information due to huge pendency," Pratap Shah, an RTI applicant, said.
The statistical forecast, according to Gandhi, indicates a likelihood of a pendency of 6,837 cases by the end of December 2007. "The solution lies in stricter action against defaulting PIOs and a faster disposal of cases," he said.