Considering the large number of pending second appeals in the Maharashtra State Information Commission, the Supreme Court (SC) in its 15 February 2019 order had observed that the SIC (state information commission) should function at its full strength of 11 commissioners (chief and 10 information commissioners). However, one of the petitioners Anjali Bharadwaj had pointed out to the SC that the state government had failed to make appointments.
Over a year after SC slammed the Maharashtra government, currently the SIC is functioning with only five commissioners even as more than 50,000 appeals or complaints are still pending. This, despite the state government having assured the SC that it would take necessary action.
Speaking to Moneylife last fortnight, Sumit Mullick, state chief information commissioner (SCIC) of Maharashtra, has stated that he is rigorously pursuing with the state government to fill up information commissioners’ vacancies and create three additional ones. Although, the SIC has begun online second appeal hearings from the first week of June, thanks to citizens’ online campaign, he had stated that the need to augment the number of information commissioners is very critical for disposing of second appeals.
Unlike in other states, the posts of information commissioners in Maharashtra have been created as per geographical zones. Thus, IC posts have been created for Mumbai, Brihanmumbai, Konkan, Nashik, Amaravati, Pune, Nagpur and Aurangabad. Of these, the posts of Pune, Nashik and Aurangabad are pending for the past many months. All the present ICs would be retiring between 11 and 21 months’ time and as we all know time runs fast.
Last week, a group of RTI activists and prominent citizens, including former CIC Shailesh Gandhi, former bureaucrats Mahesh Zagade and Pralhad Kachare, RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar who steered this campaign through the online RTI Katta and several other activists of Maharashtra, took up this issue seriously and dashed off a letter to Maharashtra’s chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, urging him to fill up the vacancies and create additional posts with utmost urgency.
Their contention is that, "in the State of Maharashtra this sunshine law has been losing its shine day by day, at an alarming rate and it is imperative that it be corrected immediately as it is due to a huge number of 2nd appeals and complaints, pending before the Maharashtra State Information Commission (MSIC)."
The letter states: "Unlike the Central (Government’s) Information Commission and any of the state (government’s) information commissions across all the other states in India, the state of Maharashtra has adopted a unique geographical bench-wise allocation system whereby the position of an individual information commissioner has been dedicatedly allocated with respect to each revenue division namely, Mumbai, Brihanmumbai, Konkan, Nashik, Amaravati, Pune, Nagpur and Aurangabad. And presently, for a long time now, out of these aforesaid eight constituted information commission benches, the position of three benches namely, Pune, Nashik and Aurangabad bench are vacant.
"The following table summarises the present grim situation:
"The following table depicts the geographical bench-wise pendency of second appeals and complaints before the MSIC:
(Source: MSIC Website Period: As on February 2020)
"The following table depicts the present status of the existing Maharashtra State Information Commissioners including their being saddled with the burden of an additional charge:
(N.B: In the following table the Acronym CIC stands for Chief Information Commissioner and IC stands for Information Commissioner)
Sr. Name of the Commissioner Position Present Charge Additional Charge About to Retire in Months
The letter also reminds the CM that delivery of services to citizens cannot be compromised due to the COVID-19 crisis. They write: "Also, the Hon’ble Supreme Court in suo motu writ (Civil) No. 5/2020 vide its order dated: 6 April, 2020 has expressed that “The challenges occasioned by the outbreak of COVID-19 have to be addressed while preserving the constitutional commitment to ensuring the delivery of and access to justice to those who seek it.”
(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)