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RTI Act scuttled? 6000 RTI appeals pending in Konkan division
Over 6000 second stage RTI appeals are pending with the Information Commission office in Konkan division of Maharashtra, according to various RTI activists. The reason, they believe, is the lack of a full-time information commissioner in Konkan division, which covers Thane, Navi Mumbai, Palghar and Dahanu areas.

M. H. Shaha, Information commissioner Pune division, has been given the additional charge for Konkan division since the last incumbent Naveen Kumar was transferred in August 2011. The failure to appoint a full-time information commissioner for Konkan division, according to activists is “to purposely scuttle second stage appeals so that people are frustrated and demoralized.”

“The state government hasn’t bothered to appoint the information commission because they don’t want transparency and they are worried because RTI Act forces them to work in a transparent manner,” alleged Ravi Srivastav, an RTI activist who has also written to state chief minister about the issue, while speaking to this citizen journalist .

The September 2012 Supreme Court ruling that all Commissions must henceforth work in benches of two members each, “one of whom will be a judicial member,” might have delayed the appointment, but that is not a justification for the state government to avoid appointing a full-time information commissioner for Konkon division – a growing demand of the activists in the region.

Mr. Srivastav, who is actively involved in the RTI movement in the state, however, believes that the post has been made a “parking slot” for retired bureaucrats. “This is a lackluster appointment for retired IAS officers and none of them wants to take it and you know why…,” he quipped.

The government, he added, tries its best not to provide proper information to applicants and the reason justice hasn’t been done to the post should be seen in that way only. “Given the number of appeals, people are making, how is it possible for officer to travel between two divisions and do justice to the applicants,” Mr. Srivastav questioned.

RTI Act, 2005 has become a powerful tool to keep the administrators on their toes and even the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh has stressed upon strengthening its implementation. He has advised all public servants to furnish information promptly and objectively.

The RTI activists have viewed all the recent developments – the Supreme Court’s Double Bench ruling and the vacant posts – as deliberate attempts to facilitate corruption and inefficiency in the system. They maintained that the double bench wouldn’t be able to dispose off 25 per cent of the current capacity of cases disposed every year. In a day-long hearing on October 25 last year, RTI activists from 16 different states passed a resolution: “The judgment fails to lay down norms on time-bound disposal of cases at the Commission. This will make the RTI ineffective and impede peoples’ fundamental right to information.”

The operator didn’t pass my phone over to Mr. Shaha saying that they have been instructed not to forward any call from a journalist to him. But, an assistant refuted that a huge number of appeals were pending with the office. When asked about the exact number of appeals pending, he asked this citizen journalist to get in touch with the Joint secretary by the name of Mr. Kamath. Despite trying repeatedly, nobody picked up  calls. Also, nobody responded to calls in Chief Information Commissioner Ratnakar Gaikwad’s office.

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