Staff Correspondent

"There have been delays in hearing applications"

First hearing of a case held only three to four months after application was filed Under RTI Act cases must be decided within 30 days of receipt of appeal CIC says its staff strength has been improved

NEW DELHI: Six months after the Central Information Commission was constituted, its record in dealing with complaints and appeals under the Right to Information (RTI) Act came in for severe criticism.

Addressing a meeting on the RTI Act, organised here by the All-India Management Association in collaboration with the IC-Centre for Governance here on Saturday, Arvind Kejriwal from Parivartan, an organisation that has been spearheading the RTI campaign in Delhi, said the Commission's performance had become a matter of serious concern. Pointing to delays in hearing applications, he said the first hearing of a case filed before the Commission was held only three to four months after the first application was filed. "This renders irrelevant the requirement in the RTI Act for cases to be decided within 30 days of the receipt of the appeal," said Mr. Kejriwal.

No penalties

Mr. Kejriwal said the Commission was yet to impose a single penalty on Public Information Officers (PIOs) who had refused to provide or given misleading information. Under Section 20 of the RTI Act, if the CIC was of the opinion that a PIO had, without reasonable cause, refused to entertain an application for information, or had given misleading information, it had to impose a penalty of Rs. 250 a day till the information was supplied.

Chief Central Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah said that he welcomed public criticism of the functioning of the Commission but an evaluation of the CIC had to be done over an extended period. He said the Commission had received over 600 appeals and it had taken decisions in 99.

On the implementation of the RTI Act's penalty clause, he said a show cause notice had to go out and an investigation conducted to determine if the PIO was in the wrong "without reasonable doubt."

"There are two to three cases where such investigations are being conducted," he said.

Mr. Habibullah said the CIC's staff had been strengthened, and included an officer of the secretary level and a judicial officer.

Speaking at the seminar, Convenor of the National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI) Shekhar Singh said the Government must ensure awareness about the contents and scope of the RTI Act. He said Section 2(f) of the Act effectively expanded the scope of the Act beyond public and Government bodies to include private bodies as well.

Section 2(f) defines information as relating to "any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any law for the time being in force."