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Clear pendency of cases, improve training quality: RTI activists appeal to government

In his letter to the CM, former CIC Shailesh Gandhi sought appointment of six more information commissioners to overcome the pendency of over 50,000 cases.

In his letter to the CM, former CIC Shailesh Gandhi sought appointment of six more information commissioners to overcome the pendency of over 50,000 cases.  

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Transparency in appointments, display of queries, responses on website also sought

As the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government assumes charge, Right to Information (RTI) activists have put forth a list of their demands to shore up the efficacy of the RTI Act.

While former Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) Shailesh Gandhi has written a letter to the Chief Minister regarding the massive pendency of RTI cases and the need to appoint more information officers to clear them, city-based RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar has expressed concern over the quality of training being imparted to officers.

In his letter, Mr. Gandhi sought appointment of six more information commissioners to overcome the pendency of more than 50,000 cases. “There are around 52,000 cases pending in the Maharashtra Information Commission which has only five information commissioners. There is an urgent need to appoint six more commissioners if the RTI Act is to remain relevant,” he said, adding the administration should ensure that all RTI applications and responses are displayed on the website.

Mr. Gandhi stressed on the need to adopt a transparent process to select these information commissioners. “These [authorities appointed as Lokayuktas and information commissioners] are selected with no criteria, and usually as a favour or reward. It must be ensured that proper criteria are laid down for the job requirements and a transparent process adopted for their selection.”

The State at present has only five information commissioners, including current CIC Sumit Mullick.

Casting aspersions on the quality of training on the RTI Act which is imparted to officials and elected representatives at the city’s Yashavantrao Chavan Academy of Development Administration (YASHADA), Mr. Kumbhar said it is essential for the government to disclose how many actually benefited from this training and how many cases were successfully disposed of by the officials being trained here.

“The idea behind YASHADA’s RTI cell was to give officials and bureaucrats ‘third-party training’ on the fundamentals of the Act and its application. Former CIC Ratnakar Gaikwad, the man behind the RTI cell, had introduced this sound concept which was thereafter rapidly jettisoned. So now, instead of specialists on RTI, we find Pune civic body officials imparting training to corporators. This raises a big question mark on the quality of training being given,” Mr. Kumbhar said.

Activist Vivek Velankar of Sajag Nagrik Manch said the training being imparted on the RTI Act should not be the exclusive province of bureaucrats, officials, and politicos, but should be extended to the common man to make them aware of their rights.

“Despite provisions in the RTI Act, the training is only given to government officials and not to the common man. Furthermore, there is no performance review of these ostensibly ‘trained’ officials. As a result, not only is their knowledge regarding the Act shallow, but their fundamental attitude of ‘insensitivity’ remains the same,” Mr. Velankar said.

He urged the respective departments which are sending their officials to be trained to take a periodic performance review.

“These department heads must appraise their performance in dispensing cases and check whether these officials are indeed providing information or not. Else, this time and expenditure spent on their training [YASHADA] which is funded by the taxpayers’ money will be wasted,” Mr. Velankar said, urging the MVA government to allot some portion of the budget to ensure that the common man, too, would be trained in using the RTI.

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2019 11:36:15 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/states/clear-pendency-of-cases-improve-training-quality-rti-activists-appeal-to-government/article30133219.ece

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