Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Most Information commissions fail transparency test

Information commissions — watchdogs for the transparency regime under theRTI Act — are some of the most opaque organizations according to an independent report. 

Of the 29 commissions in the country, only 17% have the facility of online filing of appeals and complaints, 42% do not display information on the cases that will be heard that day or that week, 58% do not display the updated status of pending appeals and complaints while 35% do not have a system of making their orders public within a reasonable timeframe. 

The report prepared by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) also revealed that there was a steady increase in the number of RTI queries in 2012 as compared to the previous year. While Gujarat and Odisha saw a 46% increase in applications, Karnataka witnessed 29% increase. There was a 19% increase in RTI appeals with the Central Information Commission (CIC). 

More than three-fourths of the commissions do not have a website in the local language. The CIC and state information commissions of Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh have local language websites. 

Only 17% of information commissions provide online facilities for submitting appeals or complaints or both. While the CIC, Gujarat and Tripura commissions accept online filing of both appeals and complaints, their counterpart in Bihar provides this facility for filing second appeals only. 

About 42% of information commissions do not display cause lists on their websites that will help the public know what cases are likely to be heard by the commission. These include commissions in Assam, Bihar, Goa, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Sikkim that continue to resist the idea of displaying cause lists on their websites, the report said. 

About 58% of commissions including Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal do not provide data on disposal of cases and pendency of appeals and complaints. 

Nineteen of the 29 commissions have made their orders public but the commissions of Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur and Uttar Pradesh do not have updated information for the last 2-4 years. Incidentally, this comes at a time when there has been a sharp increase in RTI applications. Gujarat and Odisha have seen a 46% increase in applications while Karnataka has recorded 29% increase. At 26%, Chhattisgarh witnessed the third highest increase in the number of RTI applications received in 2012 followed by Mizoram at 20%. 

Central Information Commission raps Puducherry for RTI violation

 The Central Information Commission has pulled up Puducherry government for violating provisions of the RTI Act by appointing a single person as public information officer as well as the first appellate authority in a government college. 

The case relates to some information sought by RTI activist L Selvam Flaubert from Bharathiar Palkalaikoodam, a government performing arts college in Puducherry. Information commissioner Yashovardhan Azad, who heard an appeal from Flaubert through videoconferencing on August 2, asked the chairman of the college to rectify the mistake of appointing the same person as public information officer as well as the first appellate authority. 

Azad also pulled up the government for not providing full information - year of establishment of the Karaikal branch of the college, number of employees engaged with names, salary and wages, budget allocation and reasons for closure of the branch - sought by Flaubert. 

The PIO and the first appellate authority, while providing much of the information sought by the RTI activist, said the reason for closure could not be provided as the relevant records were untraceable. The commission directed the government to conduct an inquiry to fix responsibility on officials concerned for loss of records. The government has to send the action taken report to the commission within a month. 

The public information officer, on June 15, 2012, sought three months time to furnish reasons for closure of the Karaikal branch of the college. He said the files were not traceable and he needed time to search them. An appeal to the appellate authority also evoked a similar response on October 30, 2012. 

The activist then preferred an appeal before the central information commission on November 5, 2012. In his complaint, the activist charged that the PIO was deliberately hiding information.