New RTI Rules Make Information Commissioners Puppets of the Government?
Thanks to pressure from right to information (RTI) activists, finally, on 25 October 2019, the Indian government notified rules for the appointment of information commissioners.  But predictably, the appointments came with reduced tenure and status, in order that the government can control their independence and autonomous power.
 
The notified rules are titled ‘The Right to Information (Term of Office, Salaries, Allowances and Other Terms and Conditions of Service of Chief Information Commissioner, Information Commissioners in the Central Information Commission, State Chief Information Commissioner and State Information Commissioners in the State Information Commission) Rules, 2019’.
 
The tenure of chief and information commissioners in the Central Information Commission (CIC) and State Central Information Commissions (SCICs) have been reduced to three years, instead of the five years. 
 
Anjali Bharadwaj, who was in the forefront of a writ petition to the Supreme Court on this issue says, “Rule 22 states that the central government has the power to relax the provisions of any of the rules in respect of any class or category of persons. This raises serious concerns that the government could potentially invoke these powers to determine different tenures for different commissioners at the time of appointment.”
 
According to Venkatesh Nayak, Rule 22 gives the Central Government the discretionary power to relax any of these Rules with regard to any class or category of persons in future. “Rule 21 gives absolute power to the Central Government to decide on any other allowances or service conditions not specifically covered by the 2019 Rules and its decision will be binding.  Rule 23 makes the Central Government the final arbiter with regard to the interpretation of these Rules. Thus, the autonomy of the Information Commission from governmental interference as was protected by the RTI Act passed by Parliament in 2005, has been consigned to the dustbin and the stranglehold of the Central Government has been established on all 29 Information Commissions across the country,” Mr Nayak, who is associated with Delhi-based non-profit Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), says.
 
That is because, prior to the amendments, the RTI Act conferred a high status to empower information commissioners to carry out their functions autonomously, without fear or favour, and direct even the highest offices like even the PMO office, to make information accessible to the RTI applicant. 
 
The law stated that the salaries and allowances payable to, and other terms and conditions of service of, the chief and the information commissioners of the CIC shall be the same as that of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners respectively. The Chief and other election commissioners are paid a salary equal to that of a judge of the Supreme Court, which is decided by Parliament, thereby providing insulation from government control.
 
Ms Bharadwaj says, “The rules made by the Central Government have done away with the protection of stature of commissioners. The rules prescribe a fixed quantum of salary for commissioners- Chief of CIC at Rs2.50 lakh per month, Chief of SICs and information commissioners of CIC and SICs at Rs2.25 lakh per month. The removal of the provision guaranteeing equivalence to other posts (Chief Election Commissioner, Election Commissioners, Chief Secretaries) means that salaries of information commissioners will be revised only if the central government decides to revise the rules.”
 
Mr Nayak feels under the 2019 RTI Rules, the next IC who will be appointed to the CIC or the SICs will be paid more than the serving Chief IC. He says, “Until a new Chief IC is appointed in these Commissions, the new salary entitlements will not kick in for that post. This will create an anomalous situation in every Commission where the new appointee ICs will draw a much higher salary than the older appointee Chiefs. This does not augur well for the internal discipline and the collegial functioning of Information Commissions.”
 
The rules, however, do not indicate details of the post-retirement entitlements, including pensions, of commissioners. This would potentially mean that the government will decide post retirement entitlements, including pension, of each commissioner. It could use this power to vary entitlements of different commissioners and use it as a means to exercise control and influence.
 
According to Ms Bhardwaj, who is a co-convenor of the National Campaign for People's Right to Information and a founding member of Satark Nagrik Sangathan, empowering the central government to relax provisions related to tenure, salaries and terms of service for different category of persons, destroys the insulation provided in the original RTI Act, which was crucial to enable information commissions to function in an independent manner. 
 
“The autonomy of commissions is further eroded through rules by enabling the central government to decide certain entitlements for commissioners on a case by case basis. These rules will effectively make information commissions function like ‘caged parrots’. Commissioners will potentially be wary of giving directions to disclose information that the central government does not wish to provide,’’ she added.
 
  • It may be recalled that in 2019, amendments were made to the RTI law despite public protests across the country. The RTI Amendment Act, 2019 amended sections 13, 16 and 27 of the RTI Act, 2005 to empower the central government to prescribe through rules, the tenure, salaries, allowances and other terms of service of the chief and other information commissioners of the Central Information Commission (CIC) and all state information commissions (SICs). 
     
  • The RTI Amendment Act received the assent of the President on August 1, 2019. For nearly 3 months, the central government did not prescribe requisite rules. As a result, vacancies in information commissions could not be filled, leading to huge backlogs and concomitant long delays in the disposal of appeals and complaints of people.
     
  • The issue of the central government’s failure to promulgate rules was highlighted by members of civil society at the annual CIC convention held on October 12, 2019. On October 16, 2019 at a public meeting organised by Satark Nagrik Sangathan, retired judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Madan Lokur said that the RTI Amendments are regressive and will adversely impact the RTI Act. He also said that the law will continue to suffer till the rules are made.
     
  • A letter to the Prime Minister was sent by the National Campaign for Peoples' Right to Information (NCPRI) demanding immediate formulation of rules in keeping with the provisions of the Pre Legislative Consultation Policy of 2014.
 
Finally, on October 25, 2019, the Central Government notified rules titled, ‘The Right to Information (Term of Office, Salaries, Allowances and Other Terms and Conditions of Service of Chief Information Commissioner, Information Commissioners in the Central Information Commission, State Chief Information Commissioner and State Information Commissioners in the State Information Commission) Rules, 2019’.
 
(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”.)
 
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    COMMENTS

    P M Ravindran

    3 weeks ago

    For those who still believe that those who seek information are getting it and the information commissioners are doing a great job let me place a record the fact that I am running a campaign to save RTI. Its mission statement is as follows:

    SAVE RIGHT TO INFORMATION. USE RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT.
    GET INFORMATION OR......
    EXPOSE ATLEAST THREE IDIOTS/TRAITORS* AMOUNG PUBLIC SERVANTS!
    1. THE PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER
    2. THE FIRST APPELLATE AUTHORITY (AND THE HEAD OF PUBLIC AUTHORITY WHERE THE HEAD OF THE PUBLIC AUTHORITY IS NOT THE FAA!) AND
    3. THE INFORMATION COMMISSIONER

    * An idiot is one who does not know the job s/he is getting paid to do and a traitor is one who knows it but does not do it. Provided that even an idiot can be branded a traitor based on the consequences of his/her action

    Btw, I just got 2 notices for hearing in two of my 2nd appeals filed with the KSIC on 22/5/2015. Also I am awaiting the decision in a 2nd appeal filed on 24/10/18 and hearing conducted on 8/4/2019.

    Just to remind the activists, the RTI Act provides for giving information on priority, within 48 hours, only in matters of life and liberty. Logically this can be extended to disposal of appeals also. Otherwise , there is no reason why appeals should not be disposed off on a first in, first out basis.

    The DoPT had in 2017 invited comments from the public on some proposals for amendment to RTI Rules. The proposals were so anti-RTI that I had to suggest a totally new set of amendments. This is available at https://www.slideshare.net/raviforjustice/rti-rules-2017redrafted-by-rti-activist.

    P M Ravindran

    3 weeks ago

    That this RTI Act was another gimmick of the scamgress led UPA government has been established beyond doubt right from the beginning. In fact I had petitioned the President of India to remove the 1st CIC , Wajahat Habibullah, of the Central Information Commission and the 1st CIC, Palat Mohandas, of the Kerala State Information Commission, under Sec 14(3)(d) and 17(3)(d) , based on their decisions in my 2nd appeals which had exposed them as idiots and traitors.

    Much water has flown through the Ganges since then. And if I had to pin point one reason for such obnoxious performance of the information commissioners it had to be the conferring of the high pay and perks associated with the appointment which had made it a lucrative sine cure for the most useless babus retiring from regular employment. There is no denying the fact that the job of an information commissioner is simpler than that of a munsif in our judiciary. To put it bluntly it is these information commissioners who had literally murdered the RTI Act.

    I had in 2017 conducted press conference here in Palakkad to openly challenge the CIC, KSIC to produce at least 4 of this decisions that would stand scrutiny of logic in the procedure followed and the decision taken.

    Well, if I have to write all that I want to write, this comment column may not be sufficient. But there are enough blogs at raviforjustice.blogspot.com to support my stand on the subversion of the law by those tasked, empowered, equipped and paid to enforce it.

    Even now the status of CICs and ICs has not been brought down to the level required- of a munsif in our judiciary. The tax payers money is still being wasted without due diligence on the need for competence and motivation for enforcing the only pro democracy law of the land.

    shadi katyal

    3 weeks ago

    Why should it come of any surprise. The whole system of Democracy has been demolished and RTI was refused to many people, This is good eye wash for people that Govt will be transparent and thus you have right to enquire but whether we tell you or not is our power.
    The New India which present majority has and white impotent judiciary, nation will be told when and what they wish to tell.

    GLN Prasad

    3 weeks ago

    It all depends on attitude of the appointed official. It can not be said that the present ICs are not puppets, and it is also not proper to assume that future ICs may also become puppets. Those who are interested in that salary or for interest on such citizen's service genuinely take up this appointment. They are not coming for salary at that age, and ICs are aware that they are under the glare of the public and will certainly be cautious, again depending on status of appellants. The appellant's decision always depends on his own fate at all times.

    manojkamrarti

    3 weeks ago

    How getting information will be adversely affected due to low Salary, low tenure of information commissioner in the amended RTI rules --- I have been still searching. As far as loyality is concerned, since 2005, most of the commissioners have been retired bureaucrats harassing RTI applicants since beginning. So what will be adverse effect in getting information due to change in salary, tenure is yet to get established.

    As usual , appeal for review of cic/sic decision at highcourt is still open option.

    Information Commissioners Fight Shy of Penalising Errant PIOs, Which Is Gross Injustice to Citizens: RTI Study
    Last week, we highlighted the alarmingly large numbers of Central and state information commissioners rejecting second appeals to the extent of 87%. This week, we focus on their performances on imposing and executing penalties on public information officers (PIOs) which is pathetic as per the Report Card on Information Commissions of India 2018-19, released last fortnight, which reveals that most information commissioners have literally done away with imposing penalty; thus letting the PIOs go scot-free even though they do not provide the information citizens rightfully seek. 
     
    As per Section 20 of the RTI Act, the penalty clause is one of the key provisions, in acting as a deterrent for PIOs, against violating the RTI law; that is, denying information or giving half-baked information to the RTI applicant. To keep a check on them, this Section empowers information commissions to impose penalties of up to Rs25, 000 on erring PIOs for violations of the RTI Act. 
     
    However, between 1 January 2018 and 31 March 2019, only nine state information commissions out of 21 information commissions, which provided this information, imposed a penalty on PIOs; the remaining 8 SICs did not divulge information: they did not even bother to provide the information to the study group. These SICs are those of Bihar, Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
     
    To elaborate further, between 1 January 2018 and 31 March 2019, the SIC of Chhattisgarh led by recommending disciplinary action on 1,097 PIOs. This was followed by the Haryana SIC which penalised 456 PIOs. The number of PIOs penalised by other SICs are as pathetic as this: Uttarakhand – 135, Jharkhand – 29, Gujarat – 2, Telangana – 2, Arunachal Pradesh – 1, Meghalaya – 1 and, Tamil Nadu -1. As for the SICs of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura and West Bengal, zero penalty was imposed which implies that no penalty was imposed at all in any of the second appeals lodged with them.
     
    Even if a penalty is imposed, is it really extracted from the errant PIO’s salary? There is very little data to give us a complete idea. Hence,  the report card made by the Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) & Centre for Equity Studies (CES) October 2019 recommends that, "ICs must adopt a standardized format for their orders that contains at least basic information about the case and the rationale for the decision. Each order needs to be a speaking order and must include information on whether the actions of the PIO/officer attract a penalty under any of the grounds laid down in section 20 of the Act, the course of action adopted by the IC (including issuing a show cause notice), and legal basis and grounds relied on by a commissioner if a penalty is not imposed despite the existence of any of the circumstances mentioned in section 20."
     
    Interestingly, a study of 2017, (Tilting the Balance of Power - Adjudicating the RTI Act’, RaaG, SNS & Rajpal, 2017), states:  “A random sample of orders of information commissions had found that on an average 59% orders recorded one or more violations by the PIOs, based on which the commission should have imposed penalty. If this estimate of 59% is considered, penalty would be imposable in 68,900 cases out of the 1,16,780 cases disposed by the 22 ICs. Actual penalties though were imposed in 2,091 cases—only in 3% of the cases where penalties were potentially imposable! The ICs therefore did not impose penalties in 97% of the cases where penalties were imposable.’’
     
    Observations of the ` Report Card on Information Commissions of India 2018-19’:
     
    • The failure of the commissions to impose penalties in clearly deserving cases, sends a signal to the PIOs that violating the law will not invite any serious consequences. This destroys the basic framework of incentives and disincentives built into the RTI law and exasperates applicants who seek information at a high cost and often against great odds.

     

    • The laxity in imposing penalties allows PIOs to take liberties with the RTI Act, at the cost of the public. By not imposing even the legally indicated and mandatory penalties, information commissions are increasing their own work-load and encouraging delays and illegitimate denials for the public.

     

    • In effect, this near universal violation by information commissions is threatening the very viability of the information regime in India. If a penalty is imposed each time an RTI application is ignored or illegitimately denied, there would hardly be an application that would be delayed, ignored, illegitimately denied, or otherwise illegally dealt with. Thus, it would most likely change the whole incentive base of PIOs and significantly tilt the balance in favour of the public and of transparency.

     

    • Often, commissioners cite lack of adequate powers to ensure compliance with the law. However, information accessed as part of this assessment shows that ICs are, by and large, reluctant to use even the powers explicitly given to them under the RTI Act—not just imposition of penalties but also the power to recommend disciplinary action against persistent violators. 
     
    Agenda for Action
     
    • Information commissioners across the country must collectively resolve to start applying the penalty provision of the RTI Act more rigorously. There needs to be a serious discussion among the ICs to resolve their hesitation in imposing penalties envisaged in the law.

     

    • ICs must adopt a standardised format for their orders that contains at least basic information about the case and the rationale for the decision. Each order needs to be a speaking order and must include information on whether the actions of the PIO/officer attract a penalty under any of the grounds laid down in section 20 of the Act, the course of action adopted by the IC (including issuing a show-cause notice), and legal basis and grounds relied on by a commissioner if a penalty is not imposed, despite the existence of any of the circumstances mentioned in Section 20.

     

    • Applicants and complainants must persistently pursue the issue of imposition of penalty where any violation of the RTI Act has taken place. They need to insist that the ICs detail in each order the reasons why penalty is not being imposed. 

     

    • The commissions should maintain a detailed database of the penalties imposed by them, including the name and designation of the PIO, quantum of penalty imposed and date of imposition. This would enable commissioners to identify repeat offenders, so that they can recommend the initiation of disciplinary proceedings against erring PIOs as per the provisions of Section 20.

     

    • In cases where PIOs or PAs refuse to comply, the ICs must initiate appropriate legal proceedings, including approaching the courts, if necessary, for recovery of penalties and enforcement of their directions.
     
    (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”.) 
     
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    COMMENTS

    P M Ravindran

    3 weeks ago

    Actually I am confused with some data given here. Elaborating on the data given in the Table 6 it has been stated '...the SIC of Chhattisgarh led by recommending disciplinary action on 1,097 PIOs. This was followed by the Haryana SIC which penalised 456 PIOs...' The table itself states that it is data pertaining to the number of cases where disciplinary had been recommended. Now recommending disciplinary action and imposing penalty are two entirely different situation. The former is applicable when the PIO has been found to be 'without any reasonable cause and persistently' failing in his duties. This is mandated under Sec 20(2) of the RTI Act. The 'presistently' is missing in Sec 20(1) and applies to penalty which the information commissioner is empowered and mandated to impose in case of default, even for the first time and for as straight forward a reason as delay in providing even part of the information sought.

    On agenda for action, there is no gainsaying the importance of imposing penalties. But it would be futile to expect the ICs to reform. The need is to prosecute a few of them under Sec 219 of the IPC which reads as :
    Section 219. Public servant in judicial proceeding corruptly making report, etc., contrary to law
    Whoever, being a public servant, corruptly or maliciously makes or pronounces in any stage of a judicial proceeding, any report, order, verdict, or decision which he knows to be contrary to law, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, or with fine, or with both.

    Right now even those who approach courts against the orders of the ICs do so only for reversing the order and do not seek to get punishment for the defaulting ICs. In fact I myself could have done it for each and every decision of the ICs I have in my possession, if only...I had an iota of faith in the efficiency and fairness of our judges. (I believe the judiciary to be the greatest impediment to rule of law, not only by their failure to deliver decisions promptly but also in ensuring that justice is not only done but seen to be done. This being a topic in itself, and my favorite at that, I will refrain from going on a tangent except to state that if the quasi judicial authorities are following the example of our courts they cannot be blamed for it.)

    The point about speaking order and a standard format is easy to do but again the question is can you expect the ICs to do that? NO. The simplest standard format could be to list the information sought and state whether it had been given and if given, the date on which given. If not given, what is the valid reason for not giving. The importance of 'valid' need not be over stressed. A simple ' the public authority does not have it' is definitely not a valid reason.

    Right now, the only use of RTI Act is for exposing the idiots and traitors among public servants, as per this mission statement of Save RTI Campaign:

    SAVE RIGHT TO INFORMATION. USE RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT.
    GET INFORMATION OR......
    EXPOSE ATLEAST THREE IDIOTS/TRAITORS* AMOUNG PUBLIC SERVANTS!
    1. THE PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER
    2. THE FIRST APPELLATE AUTHORITY (AND THE HEAD OF PUBLIC AUTHORITY WHERE THE HEAD OF THE PUBLIC AUTHORITY IS NOT THE FAA!) AND
    3. THE INFORMATION COMMISSIONER

    * An idiot is one who does not know the job s/he is getting paid to do and a traitor is one who knows it but does not do it. Provided that even an idiot can be branded a traitor based on the consequences of his/her action

    REPLY

    Praveen Sakhuja

    In Reply to P M Ravindran 3 weeks ago

    Your versionsaare true to anextent I know. Authorities turn back to noe the corrupt idiot working under him, then what is required to be done? I using RTI since 2010 exposed such incident where a corrupt officer naming SK Saxena is appointed as Director Inspection and Quality Control under Ministry of Commerce in 2009. Exposures unde RTI at latter stage proved him to be corrupt misusing governemtn funds for personal benefits using juniors to act as per his wishes. CAG also reported in its reports in 2016, but nothing harm could be done to him BECAUSE all corrupts sitting in ministry supported him to reapy his obligations of recruitments, lavish gifts and many more. So this is our culture, till we sweep uder our own carpets and make authorities act in a transpatrent manner we cannot acheive any thing. Corruption prevailed and is still at large. Bolo Jai Shree Ram. Bharat Mata Ki Jai.

    vinod kumar garg

    In Reply to P M Ravindran 3 weeks ago

    A naked truth about to expose the implementation of RTI Act by the PIO, Public authorities and Information Commissioner's.
    Now on deep studies of various decisions given recently by information Commissioner's of Central Information Commission, New Delhi, certainly may be challenging effectively.

    BR

    4 weeks ago

    Air India Ltd, Chennai & HQ in N. Delhi deliberately deny infmn & care less for Dharma or Responsibility or Correctness. PIOs in it jointly deny & dodge. FAAs also support it as they are employees back scratching to save & promote each other. Yet, if an employee wants infmn it will be denied even in court. They have money of Public taxes to waste on Lawyer, Court, etc., Unduly High Salaries, benefits, tours, Star hotel stay for gumaasthaas, avoidable OT wage, etc. An Indian Airline Director Finance daughter was being visited by a groom to select bride. He got a SKODA Car kept in front of his Chennai house that time to pretend as if he owned it. IAL paid its rent Rs40, 000/- to hire company. That is why AIL has become bankrupt & begging Govt to pay for daily money.

    REPLY

    vinod kumar garg

    In Reply to BR 4 weeks ago

    This situation do exists almost in all public authorities and not performing according to RTI Act as they know now Central Information Commissioners/State information commissioner's have become a teeth less official's and pro PIOS instead appeallent/complainant.

    gcmbinty

    4 weeks ago

    Not giving information by PIOs is another scam sort of, being manipulated by the by the corrupt, I am probably not wrong in saying so. I would also like to compare the INC Government and the RSS-BJP governance who have opposed the RTI right from the beginning. Now, who is corrupt? The citizens must raise united voice for penalising the PIOs and others in the line for not providing information to the citizens.

    jaideep shirali

    4 weeks ago

    The RTI Act should have excluded retired and serving bureaucrats from being part of ICs, babus will always protect their own anyway. Had the ICs been normal citizens, they would have understood the citizen's anger and penalised the PIOs. Babus cannot be paid from the common citizen's taxes and then refuse to answer him.

    Rajesha Giriyappa

    4 weeks ago

    The strict rules should be followed in RTI act, penalty is must for default PIO. By following this identity and aim of introducing this act should be maintained..... All Information Commission should think about the RTI act.

    Rajesha Giriyappa

    4 weeks ago

    The time period for each activities in RTI has been fixed, but PIOs are very casual they won't give reply with in time and also won't give information. After seeing this condition by Information Commissions never impose any penalty who is not following as per act. The strict agenda mentioned in this articles are very important.

    vinod kumar garg

    1 month ago

    Really great guidelines for appeallent/complainant not to give up before IC/CIC , while passing any orders on matter before them must give reasons for not awarding the punishment to errent PIO.

    Praveen Sakhuja

    1 month ago

    This is a factual and real picture printed. None of the PIO is afraid of penalty, as CIC has no powers to recover the imposed penalty if PA is not interested. I filed application on o/o DGFT seeking information of a suspended employee, Saxena of EIC, both department under ministry of commerce. Application and appeal filed took rounds for over more than three months but I couldn't get the information from DGFT. Reasons none is afraid of CIC due to government policies. Bolo Jai Shree Ram

    REPLY

    Rajesha Giriyappa

    In Reply to Praveen Sakhuja 4 weeks ago

    Yes penalty may be imposed to careless PIO. ICs should impose penalty to PIO who don't follow rules.

    selva raj

    In Reply to Praveen Sakhuja 1 month ago

    Absolutely no use of RTI, for a needy common man. RTI Comm decides a 2nd Appeal after years by which time a court case ends against the petitioner and need for that information is lost.

    GLN Prasad

    1 month ago

    How horrible it is to say that complainant can only pray and can not insist and involve in the penalty proceeding, and it is left to the discretion of IC alone? ICs are also mostly bureaucrats and if you look into further data, that bureaucrat ICs generally never penalize PIOs and those nonbureaucratic ICs may penalize one or two. Unless a show cause notice is issued based on the affidavit of the complainant to PIOs, immediately on receipt of a complaint from the complainant to speed up the process, a citizen can not expect any fruits from RTI Act. Unless they bring systematic improvement of forming issues immediately on receiving second appeals and confining to the issues, focusing on speedy disposal, the situation certainly continues forever. The level playing field is always there when compared with powerful PIO, the ordinary citizen can not fare better during hearing.. In some cases, more than PIOs, it is IC that cross-examines and passes strictures. I still doubt as to how many ICs really dictate the decisions, and it is mostly left to the subordinates.

    REPLY

    vinod kumar garg

    In Reply to GLN Prasad 1 month ago

    This is a factual analysis and interpretation brought on article. Even in corruption matter where 2nd Appeals/Complaints filed Information Commissioner making on interpretation and not performing according to provisions of RTI Act while clear provisions do exists.

    Harish

    1 month ago

    Good Article.

    Ranbir Lamba

    1 month ago

    Spare the rod spoil the child
    Public servants must be severally punished for Dereliction of duties else government & public will move distant apart
    in acting as a deterrent for PIOs, against violating the RTI law; that is, denying information or giving half-baked information to the RTI applicant. To keep a check on them, this section empowers information commissions to impose penalties of up to Rs25, 000 on erring PIOs for violations of the RTI Act.

    84% Appeals out of 28,174 Returned by CIC between January 2018 and March 2019: Report
    While close to 0.3 million (280,288) appeals and complaints were registered, and a little over two lakh (2,16,354) were disposed, the Central Information Commission (CIC) during the same period returned a whopping 23,791 second appeals out of the 28,174 it received, amounting to over 84%, as per the report by Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) and Centre for Equity Studies (CES) in October 2019, released last week.
     
     
    The assessment by the study group, titled `Report Card of Information Commissions 2019’ reveals that apart from the CIC, the SICs of Gujarat and Chhattisgarh returned a large number of appeals/complaints, without passing any orders, during the same period. The SIC of Gujarat returned 2,117 cases while it registered 13,534 cases during the period under review. 
     
     
    The report states that the trend of a large number of appeals or complaints being returned by the CIC began in 2015, leading to several RTI activists writing to the then Chief Information Commissioner of the CIC urging that “the commission proactively and publicly disclose information on the number of appeals/complaints being returned and also the reasons for returning them.” 
     
    All deficiency memos, which record the reason for returning an appeal/complaint, were then publicly disclosed on-line. Subsequently, however, these memos, have again been made inaccessible to the public and can be accessed only if the appeal/complaint number is known.
     
    States the Report,  “Since June 2018, the CIC has started disclosing additional details about appeals/complaints returned by providing a break up of how many were returned due to deficiencies and how many were returned because they were ineligible for registration- either because they related to the jurisdiction of a state IC or were premature, time barred or duplicates. In addition, the CIC is now also disclosing how many appeals/complaints were re-submitted to the CIC after addressing the deficiency.
     
    The data on the CIC website for June 2018 to December 2018 showed that only about 22% of cases which were returned due to deficiencies were re-submitted to the CIC.’’
     
     
    Although the Information Commissions are approached by RTI applicants for second appeals only in 5% of the total RTI applications, the study states that, “this does not mean that in 95% of the cases people get access to the information they sought. The RaaG & CES 2014 assessment estimated that only about 45% of RTI applications were successful in terms of obtaining the information requested. Therefore, of the remaining 55%, less than 10% actually end up filing a second appeal or complaint - perhaps because many of those who file RTI applications do not have the resources or skills needed to approach ICs.’’
     
     
    Therefore, “the practice being followed by the CIC and several SICs, of returning a very large number of appeals and complaints without passing any orders, creates an apprehension that this is perhaps a way of frustrating information seekers in a bid to reduce backlogs in ICs since many people, especially the poor and marginalised, would feel discouraged and often give up if their appeal/complaint is returned.’’
     
    The Report suggests the following plan of action for the government:
     
    · Appropriate governments must examine the rules made by them under the RTI Act for filing appeals and complaints with ICs and ensure that the procedures prescribed therein are in conformity with the law and are people-friendly.
     
    · RTI rules should not allow for returning of appeals/complaints due to minor or procedural defects. They must place an obligation on ICs to assist people in filing appeals and complaints, rather than summarily returning them due to a deficiency.
     
    · The websites of ICs and public authorities must prominently display information about the procedure for filing an appeal/complaint.
     
    · Commissions must adopt mechanisms to assist and facilitate people in the process of registering their appeals/complaints. All ICs must provide a helpline and facilitation desk where people can seek advice and assistance.
     
    · In cases where a substantive deficiency is noticed, for instance if a second appeal has been filed without exhausting the first appeal process or where an appeal/complaint which should lie with the CIC has been filed to the SIC or vice versa, the commission should, to the extent possible, facilitate remedial action by forwarding the appeal/complaint to the appropriate authority, with a copy to the appellant. Returning an appeal/complaint should be a last resort adopted by ICs.
     
    · Further, wherever appeals and complaints are returned, the deficiency memo which enunciates the reason for the return must be made public, in addition to being communicated to the appellant/complainant. This is, in any case, a requirement under Section 4 of the RTI Act and would enable public scrutiny of the process.
     
     “Report Card of Information Commissions in India” (2018) assessed the performance of information commissions across the country during the period January 2016 to October 2017 and its  findings of the report became the basis of a public interest litigation (PIL) filed in the Supreme Court (SC) to ensure timely and transparent appointment of information commissioners in the country.  The 2019 Report also contains the performance report cards of all 29 information commissions in the country for 2018-19.
     
    Anjali Bharadwaj, a member of the group which compiled this report, states,  “this report has found that despite the directions of the Supreme Court in February 2019 to appoint information commissioners to the Central and State Information Commissions, many appointments have not yet been made. In fact currently four posts of information commissioners in the CIC are vacant even as the backlog of appeals/complaints is more than 33,000.’’
     
    RTI used for compiling this report:
     
    The report is primarily based on an analysis of information accessed under the RTI Act from Information Commissions (ICs) across India. For the purpose of the assessment, all 29 ICs set up under the RTI Act, 2005, were covered. A total of 129 applications under the RTI Act were filed with state information commissions (SICs) and the Central Information Commission (CIC). The information sought included:
     
    • Number of appeals and complaints registered, disposed and returned by each IC for the period January 2018 till March 2019;
     
    • Number of appeals and complaints pending before each IC on 31 March  2018 and 31 March 2019;
     
    • Number of appeals or complaints in which ICs imposed penalties, quantum of penalties imposed and the amount recovered, for the period January 2018 till March 2019;
     
    • Number of appeals or complaints in which ICs awarded compensation and the quantum of compensation awarded by each IC, for the period January 2018 till March 2019;
     
     • Number of cases in which disciplinary action was recommended by ICs, for the period January 2018 till March 2019;
     
    • Latest year for which the annual report of each IC was published;
     
    • Details of backgrounds of past and present information commissioners;
     
    • Number of appeals and complaints filed before ICs stating that the information sought relates to the life or liberty of a person, during the period January 2018 till March 2019.
     
    (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”.)
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    COMMENTS

    Rakesh Modi

    1 month ago

    Just yesterday only Mr.K.R.Margaj of State Information Commissioner office at New admin bldg, 13th floor, opp Mantralaya, Mumbai has returned after more than 4 months delay, my 2nd appeal original application submitted on 3/06/2019 by speed post reasoning incomplete documents provided as I had not provided RTI & 1st appeal applications hard copy with it inspite of sending by email to them on 13/08/2019.
    1st of all delay in hearing (more than 4 months & after that returning with original application for irrelevant reason. I request if someone can fire these officials/staffs or tell me how I can remve them from their jobs who harass common people who are already harassed from Govt.officials.--Rakesh Modi - 9819993972

    P M Ravindran

    1 month ago

    An informative report. But what has disturbed me is this sentence: “Report Card of Information Commissions in India” (2018) assessed the performance of information commissions across the country during the period January 2016 to October 2017 and its findings of the report became the basis of a public interest litigation (PIL) filed in the Supreme Court (SC) to ensure timely and transparent appointment of information commissioners in the country.

    Is that a joke? After assessing the performance of the ICs a PIL for ensuring timely and transparent posting of ICs?

    I have been a persistent activist in this field and the only motivation for me to continue is the truism that 'you do not fail till you give up'. So I continue to file applications, on a campaign mode, with the following mission statement:

    SAVE RIGHT TO INFORMATION. USE RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT.
    GET INFORMATION OR......
    EXPOSE AT LEAST THREE IDIOTS/TRAITORS* AMONG PUBLIC SERVANTS!
    1. THE PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER
    2. THE FIRST APPELLATE AUTHORITY (AND THE HEAD OF PUBLIC AUTHORITY WHERE THE HEAD OF THE PUBLIC AUTHORITY IS NOT THE FAA!) AND
    3. THE INFORMATION COMMISSIONER

    * An idiot is one who does not know the job s/he is getting paid to do and a traitor is one who knows it but does not do it. Provided that even an idiot can be branded a traitor based on the consequences of his/her action

    I dare say that the failure of the ICs to follow the law in letter, forget its spirit, has not only subverted the law but, if investigated by appropriate authorities, could turn out to be a scam that could be bigger than 2G, Coalgate and Vadragate put together.

    REPLY

    BR

    In Reply to P M Ravindran 1 month ago

    Many PIOs reply only if they like. They choose whom not to reply. If Petitioner is known to them as meek or decent, no reply goes. If it is a rowdy or politician of standing a reply goes. Lies are told but hidden in smooth words. It is in fact DENIAL of infmn. AirIndia does it often. If the issue is serious or will help to expose its officials, it dodges & lies. Officials discuss with Head Office & get consent on what & how to reply.1st Appellate Authority also connives in reply to save ones own job, promotion, transfer, etc. What solution can we get from it ? We spend much time, money & effort to send petition & Appeals but get no good result. The next stage of our effort to get our aim is based on Infmn but is set back. How to PREVENT it under the act? Action against PIO/CPIO, etc., by the superior is not taken even if CIC orders it, because, all in the orgn are hand in glove. PIOs do as FAA & colleagues told them. Crooked nature & culture cause it. At the most, we can get an order passed to give us infmn. If it is late, our purpose is spoilt. IT IS DONE BLATANTLY even to those in service in the same orgn.

    Rajesha Giriyappa

    In Reply to BR 4 weeks ago

    You are 100% right. CIC and SIC mush make this law very strong by following the imposing of penalty on crossing the time limit while giving reply.

    GLN Prasad

    In Reply to BR 1 month ago

    The simple fact is that PIOs think providing information to the citizen is obliging a common man, and they do not like to be questioned. They can not still distinguish between providing information on record and questioning on accountability. If there is any law that is hated by officials, it is RTI.

    Harish

    1 month ago

    Good Article.

    GLN Prasad

    1 month ago

    A very excellent article stating the pathetic implementation of the RTI Act though every official proclaims that they are sincere in implementation. The public blames the Central Govt., including PM as though he has advised the PIOs not to implement the RTI Act. There should be a complaint redressal mechanism at Information Commission also. They have brought Transparency Officers just for eyewash, and there is no data on their duties and functioning. Almost many officials/staff were long-standing and ICs have to depend on them for discharging the duties. Except for delivering the decision part, the other work is entrusted to Dy. Registrars of IC and they are more powerful and they prefer PIOs over unknown citizens. Those who are experts, exceptionally good fighters they can get any information they require. The entire CIC work must be streamlined by repatriating the long stating officials who dominate CIC. There should be a controlling mechanism over CIC, and the cost incurred per appeal/complaint should be published. Once the penalty clause is strictly implemented in deserving cases, the number of appeals can drastically be reduced and a time may come that CIC can become self-sufficient with penalties. The experts I have come across expressed the opinion that the law lost it's power long back and just remaining as a paper tiger and one Mahaguru in RTI stated that it is on ventilation. Except for the deterioration of standards, I have not seen any improvement in the functioning of CIC. There is a time, where IC personally studied appeal, granted an interview, ordered for prior hearing in deserving cases. Now approaching even a Dy. Registrar and getting information on a file made it difficult. Let us not blame the government, when it is the officials that has to implement the Act. Even DOPT's role is not prominent.

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