In a citizen-friendly spin given to a rather serious situation, officials of the Pune bench of the State Information Commission (SIC) say the increasing awareness about the Right to Information Act among citizens of Pune district is keeping them on their toes.
However, with 7,334 cases of second RTI appeals and 272 related complaints pending since 2010, the situation has assumed grave proportions and triggered a blame game between the department and RTI activists.
“A large number of appeal cases come from Pune district, where the awareness of filing an RTI query is more than other districts in Pune bench.” (see box)
“However, what we have observed is that among the pending appeals, around 2,000 have come from RTI activists who are frequent applicants and never get satisfied even if the information is being provided by the concerned department,” said deputy secretary of SCI’s Pune bench, Raviraj Phalle.
Phalle added that the Pune bench hears around 15 cases a day. “Another reason for the high pendency on the Pune bench is the lack of a full-time commissioner. The information commissioner of Amravati has been given the additional charge of the Pune bench and he can, therefore, dedicate only 15 days a month to hear the cases pending before the bench,” said Phalle.
RTI activists, however, rubbished the commission’s claims and said that information commissioners lack proper knowledge about appeal proceedings, leading to the large number of cases being pending for four years.
“Till 2010, the then Information Commissioner Vijay Kuwalekar used to dispose of around 300 cases a month. However, the sluggish approach of information commissioners on the Pune bench in the last four years has increased the pendency of cases,” said city-based RTI activist, Vijay Kumbhar.
In the month of April, the Pune bench of SIC could dispose of only 160 cases out of the 335 appeals that it received.
Another RTI activist, Jugal Rathi, said that if Section 4 of the RTI Act is implemented effectively, citizens would not need to approach the SIC for a second appeal. According to Section 4 of the Act, it is mandatory for government offices to provide information regarding their functioning on a suo-motu basis.
“The RTI activists have to knock on the SCI’s doors frequently as they don’t get proper information through an RTI application and even after the first appeal,” said Rathi.
If a person is not satisfied with the information received in response to his RTI query or has not received it within the stipulated time period, he can file an appeal before the information commissioner of the concerned department. If his grievance is still not solved, he can file a second appeal with the State Information Commission.
These five districts make up the Pune bench of the State Information Commission: