Right2Information

Right to Information – Master key to good governance

‘My immediate agenda is to make the CIC functional’

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 5, 2006

‘My immediate agenda is to make the CIC functional’

Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah concedes that much remains to be done

http://www.tehelka.com/story_main16.asp?filename=Ne031106My_immediate.asp

By Mihir Srivastava

Teething Trouble: Wajahat Habibullah

‘You must understand that right to information is not meant to be used as a stick to beat the bureaucracy’

Are you satisfied with the functioning of CIC so far?

I can’t say that. As per the Act it should have been administratively functional by October 12, (2005). I was posted on 26 October. It effectively began its work from November.

Are there still some areas of concerns?

We are still short of staff. We only have 18 instead of the sanctioned staff of 89, which is also not enough.

Do you mean to say that government is not serious?

No, I am not saying that. I set up the Panchayati Raj ministry; it took time. There are several procedural expediencies to be settled. When I joined I didn’t have a personal secretary.

I went to the commission office. I thought it would be a busy place, but it wore a deserted look.

At the moment we are working from a guesthouse. We have hired a place in August Kranti Bhawan in Bhikaji Cama Place for three years. During this period we will decide whether to buy this space or some other place.

There is one conference room that is shared as the courtroom between five information commissioners.

We have evolved a semi-formal way of functioning where the stress is not on the courtroom kind of dispensation of justice.

There are reports that files were lost.

Only one file got lost (which belonged to) Madhu Bhaduri. We informed her and she sent another copy. Afterwards, we found the original too.

There are others. Many applications are missing from the list of cases prepared by the commission.

Yes, their names might not have featured in the list but they are not lost.

In one case the application was not produced when demanded by the applicant?

It is not lost; it just got misplaced.

So no file has been lost by the commission?

Yes.

What about the tardy functioning? Only 10 cases have been decided so far out 216.

Decisions have been taken in 10 cases but the work is in progress in all other cases. We will start mentioning on our website, not just the cases where a decision has been taken, but also those which are being processed. But there is a need for things to pick up. We are incorporating e-governance practices to speed up the processes.

But don’t you agree that to appoint former bureaucrats as information commissioners is not good? The Act provides for commissioners form different backgrounds.

That is a matter of opinion. As a matter of fact one member was an academician.

Don’t you see a conflict of interest here? People might seek information from a paRTIcular department from a period when a paRTIcular information commissioner was heading that department. Most of the sics have former chief secretaries as their head.

I get the point. Initially I allocated the positions to commissioners taking into account their experience. Then this question of conflict of interest was raised. We redid the whole thing. I do not look at cases related to panchayati raj and textiles ministries. My area of work here is Delhi and Chandigarh; I do not know anything about these states. We have made the required adjustment. As far as the former chief secretaries heading sics is concerned, things did happen under them in the government when they were the chief secretaries but they were not directly responsible for those acts.

Right to Information Act is about a new approach, new mindset in the way the government functions. If the same bureaucrats become commissioners, will they allow things to change? Some of the commissioners are invariably seen to argue on behalf of the government agencies during the hearing.

A colleague once told me that we do whatever is assigned to us by the government with fullest commitment, whether it is to be a stern master or submissive servant (smiles). In service we deal with different issues from culture, to development, to law and order.
When I was called by Jagmohan to Jammu and Kashmir, he assigned me the job of maintaining law and order. I told him that I am a development and, art and culture chap, and I have never handled law and order.

He told me that I would do well. Now I am (regarded) as an expert in law and order. We have this skill to take new roles with ease.

What has been your personal experience? You have served as a civil servant for more then 30 years. Don’t you feel the hangover of being a bureaucrat in your dealings as the Chief Information Commissioner?

I have never felt the conflict. You must understand that right to information is not meant to be used as a stick to beat the bureaucracy. The essence is to have access of information; democratic government is for the service of the people. There is no contradiction. As a whole there is a hangover of the colonial bureaucratic set up.

Do you think it is right for every organization to have its own RTI form? You have said in your judgement that it is okay for DDA to have its own RTI form?

I have already said that in my judgement. DDA is a big organization with many departments. It is actually easier to lay down what information you need in the simplest possible form.

This would not bar people from seeking information by writing the question or information sought on a piece of paper?

(If there is a bar) then it will be against the Act. They can do it by writing an application.

Then why have this form system at all? Will it not bureaucratize, complicate a simple system?

That remains to be seen.

But the dealing clerk does not know this, he will insist on the prescribed form.

Here there is no clerk. Here one has to deal with the information officer.

What is your agenda for the CIC?

My immediate agenda is to make the CIC functional, efficient and responsive. It has to happen in this order, because without being functional we cannot be efficient. It is essential to be efficient for being responsive.

Mar 11 , 2006

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