Right to Information – Master key to good governance

Right to know, but who’s going to tell you? Staff shortage hits panel

Posted by rtiact2005 on July 6, 2006

Right to know, but who’s going to tell you? Staff shortage hits panel

 Set up in October 2005, State Commission remains understaffed; activists, residents protest delays in obtaining information
mahesh langa

Ahmedabad, July 6 Want to exercise your Right to Information? Getting the information you seek might be a tough ask in Gujarat.

For nine months after the Act came into force, the State Information Commission remains shockingly understaffed.

The Commission was set up in October 2005, and when it was constituted only nine staff members, including the CIC, were sanctioned.Incidentally, all requests seeking information — wherever they are made — are forwarded to the Commission. The panel then sifts through them all, and takes appropriate action: asking for the required information to be released or denying the demand.

However, progress has been slow in the State on the RTI front. With hundreds of applications pouring in, and not enough staff to deal with them, work’s on at snail’s pace.

For a month now, the Commission has been without a Chief Information Commissioner (CIC). P K Das, the former CIC, retired on June 10 and R N Das, who was to succeed him, has not been relieved from his posting in New Delhi.

What about the rest of the staff sanctioned? There’s one secretary, one deputy section officer, one accounts officer, three peons, one driver and two personal assistants to the CIC. There isn’t even a full-time stenographer in the office so after hearings are conducted, judgements are — most often than not — not delivered on time.

Incidentally, according to the rules, the Commission has to consist of ‘‘the State Chief Information Commissioner, and such number of State Information Commissioners, not exceeding 10, as may be deemed necessary. Gujarat doesn’t have even one information commissioner as yet.

What does the secretary, B M Vyas, have to say? ‘‘Our office is new, that’s why we dont have more staff. But we have appointed consultants to help us carry out our work.’’

He maintains that the limited staff has ‘‘not affected’’ the work of the commission, but refused to divulge details regarding the number of pending applications and appeals before the commission. ‘‘I do not remember how many applications are pending before the commission.’’

But sources say the lack of staff has led to applications and appeals piling up. ‘‘My three applications are pending since the last three months. The process is extremely slow as there isn’t enough staff,’’ Mahesh Pandya of Paryavaran Mitra says.

Rahul Mangaonkar, an RTI activist, agrees. ‘‘A hearing was held regarding one of my applications a month back, but I am yet to get a copy of the judgement as it hasn’t been typed as yet,’’ he says, adding that the staff crunch had forced former CIC P K Das to conduct hearings as well as shoulder administrative responsibilities.

NGOs, who have launched campaigns about RTI, have demanded that apart from the CIC, region-wise subordinate information commissioners should be appointed to facilitate ‘‘speedy delivery and smooth functioning.’’

‘‘Like Maharashtra and Karnataka, Gujarat Government should also appoint subordinate commissioners so that people can obtain information on time,” says Harinesh Pandya of Gujarat Initiative to RTI, which has launched the campaign at Kochrab Ashram in the city.

Activists also say that with awareness rising among citizens, more applications will pour in and mean more work and more people are going to use it to get information which would result in more work for the commission. “At the moment, it appears that the state commission is not equipped at all,” Pandya says.


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