Rajasthan’s Chief Information Commissioner, Mr. MD Kaurani, had to beat a hasty retreat when he came to face the information seekers at a packed social audit event at the auditorium of the Humanities Department of Rajasthan University in Jaipur on Monday. The hall was packed to capacity with people who had gathered there to voice their grievances in the presence of the Commissioner.
The biggest complaint of the information seekers, who had filed their petitions against non-compliance by the government babus was that the Commission has not been serious about its duties. The charge against him: short working hours of his office. It turned out that the Information Commissioner’s office is enjoying extraordinarily brief working hours despite a huge pile of petitions and complaints.
A suggestion paper prepared by Suchana Ka Aadhikar Manch said that the Commission should work from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. instead of current practice of working from 12.00 noon to 3.00 p.m. that includes time for lunch.
In the year 2007-08, out of 418 cases registered, only 194 i.e. 49 percent could be handled. Delays are being practiced by the Commission since the inception of his office three years back. Many participants said that the Commissioner Kaurani is taking recourse in the time tested bureaucratic malaise of deliberate delays. A large number of the respondents in the survey done by Adhikar Manch said that they were called more than once for hearing but were not given enough time. What is worse is that the guilty PIOs were neither issued notices nor fined.
According to Kamal Tak, a RTI activist, the number of complaints made is increasing over the years and the RTI campaign is not lacking in spirit. Nikhil Dey of the MKSS, who was present at the gathering of the petitioners, said that by not punishing the guilty PIOs, the Commission was actually discouraging people from pursuing their cases and eroding the gains of the hard earned RTI Act. Special invitee and Jansatta Editor Prabhash Joshi told im4change that people in the government who earlier opposed the RTI campaign were now being made in charge of running its affairs.
Following are some of the salient features of a survey conducted by Suchana Ka Adhikar Manch, Rajasthan:
Objectives of the Survey: To know the work culture of the Information Commission. To determine the actual situation of the appeals received by the Commission and to find out if the appellants were satisfied and if they actually benefited in the process.
Methodology: Nearly 700 applicants, who had earlier submitted their complaints to the Commission, were sent specific questions. Out of 700 petitioners approached about 200 replied. 177 respondents were selected for the study since the rest of the replies were not in the required format.
1. Despite working for more than three years, the Commission failed to clear more than 58 percent of the complaints made in any of these years.
2. About 61 percent of applicants said that they were called more than once for the hearings by the Commission.
3. About 51 percent of the applicants felt that the days for the hearings were fixed according to wishes of the PIOs against whom the complaints were made. The Commission did not keep in mind the petitioners’ availability or their convenience.
4. About 68 percent of applicants have said that the Commission gave clean chits to the PIO even if s/he had given misleading or incomplete information.
5. About 48 percent have found that they were not given enough time to represent their cases properly.
6. About 50 percent have said that even after second appeal to the Commission, they were not given any information. 30 percent have found that the information given to them were incomplete.
7. About 63 percent have found that the Commission did not issue any notice to the PIOs guilty of furnishing incomplete or misleading information or to those who did not disclose any information at all as demanded by the seeker.
8. About 89 percent of the respondents have found that the Commission did not fine the PIOs guilty of wrongdoings.