It appears that the first and second appeals under the Right to Services Act will be heard by serving babus and third appeal will be heard by a retired babu
The chief commissioner or commissioners of the Maharashtra Right to Public Services Act shall be persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in administration in government or public authority, according to Section 13 (5) of MRTPS. This effectively means that that the field will be open to only babus. Maharashtra would have one State Chief Commissioner for Right to Service and one State Commissioner in each of the seven Revenue Divisions of the state. The state chief commissioner and state commissioner would be appointed by a committee including the chief minister, leader of opposition and a cabinet minister, chosen by the chief minister.
RTI Activist, Vijay Kumbhar, who has been pursuing the cause of making this Act accountable to citizens, says “We all know how the babudom is stifling RTI. Though the RTI Act states that the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information Commissioners (IC) shall be persons of eminence in public life with a wide knowledge and experience in law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media or administration and governance’, throughout the country, we have seen that all the CICs and IC’s are chosen largely from the bureaucracy. In MRTPS, they have deliberately eliminated candidates from all other fields except ‘governance’ for the post of commissioners for the Right to Public services Commission that is to be established under MRTPS.’’
The Committee established for the finalisation of the Act was meant to define clearly on the following areas. Quantum and nature of services that are to provided; fixing responsibility of delay; Appeal mechanism; penalty; use of IT; dedicated machinery; quality check mechanism; cost of service, award and other implications.
Under the MRTPS Act therefore, bureaucracy will govern and strangulate the spirit of transparency and citizen-friendly governance as the first and second appellate mechanism under this Act is with senior officers of the same public authority or the department only, and third appeal is with Right to Public Services Commission. Kumbhar says, “This means the first and second appeals will be heard by serving babus and third appeal will be heard by retired babu.’’
As per section 2 (j) of the MRTPS Act, which is almost a copy of the RTI Act,
Public Authority” means,-
(a) any Department or authorities of the Government;
(b) any organization or authority or body or institution or a local authority, established or constituted,-
(i) by or under the Constitution of India, in the State;
(ii) by any other law made by the State Legislature;
(iii) by notification issued by the Government;
(c) and includes,-
(i) any institution , a co-operative society , Government Company or a authority owned, controlled or financed by state government ; or
(ii) any non-Governmental organisation receiving financial aid from the State Government.
What about the trending nature of the state government, which is depending more and more on private entities to provide public services? Will they come under the Act or will be outside the purview of the MRTPS Act?
Kumbhar who has analysed the Ordinance feels that the services, which are increasingly being given through public-private-partnership will remain a grey area as, “bureaucracy thinks that system has already been overloaded. They are also speaking of dedicated machinery, outsourcing and outside funding for providing public services. In this case, terms like ‘private institution financed by the state government’ or ‘NGOs receiving financial aid’ may harm the very cause of the Act. Here one can see that the term, ‘directly or indirectly financed by state government’ is missing. That means institutes providing public services with outside finance or managing the services with the fees for providing public services will not attract provisions of MRTPS Act.”
While there is no provision of any compensation or cost if an applicant does not receive desired service in stipulated time, the Act lets the officer go with an undefined penalty. Section 10 (1)(a) says, “Where the First Appellate Authority is of the opinion that the Designated Officer has failed to provide notified service without sufficient and reasonable cause, then he shall impose a penalty subject to such maximum amount as may be specified by the State Government from time to time by notification in the Official Gazette.”
“This is the trick to kill the Act before its inception. If penalty provision is not fixed in the Act itself, babus will time and again try to minimize or remove it completely by mere notifications. And what is not provided in the Act cannot be added or changed by mere notifications. We also should not forget that babus have tried to weaken the RTI by mere office orders, circulars and notifications,’’ Kumbhar says.
In addition, the provision of penalising the officer or deducting the amount it from his salary is meaningless as a corrupt officer would not mind paying the penalty if he is saved from public dent of his image.
In short, opaqueness has been advocated and legalised in the name of transparency. Whichever the government, making weak laws with a deliberate attempt to stifle open governance, is the norm, no matter which political party is in power.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of
Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall