Don't just pass resolutions on RTI, former CIC Wajahat Habibullah tells activist

State information commissions need to work together to strengthen the Right to Information Act, as passing resolutions will not help, said Wajahat Habibullah chairperson of the National Commission on Minorities and former Chief Information Commissioner.

Addressing a public hearing on implementation and issues on RTI on Thursday, Habibullah said: “Unless Section 4 of the Act is implemented effectively, which will obligate the government to educate the public about their rights and entitlements, the number of pendency cases will not decrease.”

The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) had organised the hearing on the 7th anniversary of Right to Information Act.  

As many as 400 RTI users from 16 states and officials from state and central information commissions were present.

10-day meeting

Central Information Commissioner, Deepak Sandhu said she will hold a 10-day meeting in December with state commissions to monitor the compliance of public authorities
with the orders of the commission.

“We will upload the dates soon on the website. Also, we need to increase the number of commissioners and support staff to deal with pendency issue without affecting the quality of commission’s orders,” she said.

Commenting on the recent Supreme Court judgment for amendments in the RTI Act, Sandhu asked RTI users and activists to defend the ‘simplicity of the procedures laid down in the existing RTI Act’  rather than complicating it with legal processes and formalities.

Shailesh Gandhi former commissioner added that this judgment will exacerbate the problem of pendency.

“Today, if five information commissioners are able to dispose of 15,000 cases every year, the Supreme Court’s judgment will reduce the disposal rate to less than 25 per cent of current capacity.”

Activist Aruna Roy suggested that a citizens committee comprising people interested in better governance rather than those with political interest, appointed by the commission, should be formed.

Kamal Tank from RTI Manch in Jaipur informed that 9,500 cases were pending in Rajasthan’s state information commission, while Pradip Pradhan, RTI activist from Orissa highlighted that 8,000 cases are pending with the Orissa commission. Even states like Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Rajasthan among others face pendency issues.

Pending cases

NCPRI’s Anjali Bhardwaj pointed out that even the Central Information Commission has 28,000 pending cases.

Resolutions were passed to focus on better norms for functioning of information commissions, a mechanism for time bound disposal of cases and no case be disposed of until a penalty is levied on information officers if they fail to reply to the RTI’s within 30 days as cases have been pending for two to four years in several states.

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