INFORMATION COMMISSIONER SHAILESH GANDHI MEETS RTI APPLICANTS

M K. Gupta

In the first meeting of its kind to review the working of Information Commissioner, Shri Shailesh Gandhi by the RTI applicants, the issue of non-compliance of CIC’S decisions became the main point of discussion. Shri Shailesh Gandhi, Information Commissioner assured the participants that he will do sething concrete about it and may hold special hearings every month to hear such grievances and the details for this will be made available shortly. He agreed to call the appellants also in the hearing of show cause notices so that no misrepresentation is made by any party. Shri Gandhi said that he has brought the pendency from about 11-month to only two-month by disposing 400-450 cases every month. He informed that about 40 to 50% penalties were imposed by him during the last two year of his tenure against the total penalties imposed by all the CIC during the last five years but imposing penalties is not the solution. Mr. Gandhi opined that if the case is not heard and decided in about two months, in that case, the RTI Act will be meaningless and the public may refrain to use it. He said that he is facing staff crunch and has repeatedly written to the government to give more staff and he therefore has to employ some staff on his own and paying their salary himself. He is also making efforts that the information should be provided by speed posts and is making it clear frequently to the CPIO’s that if the appellant complains of non-receipt of letter sent under UPC, he will accept his version. Participants suggested that cases should not be closed immediately after the delivery of decisions till the information is supplied and for this, views of the appellants should be taken before the closure to which he agreed. One participant said that the stamp to fix on the certificate of posting (UPC) is easily available at the counter of the Post Office and any body can easily manage to fix the stamp on the Certificate without sending the letter. Mr. Gandhi said he does not claim that all his decisions are 100 per cent perfect but believes that are 80-85% right but no body is perfect and he is open on the issue. He also said that he has issued arrest warrants many times during his tenure for non-compliance of orders.

Shri Arvind Kejriwal of Parivartan said that strict actions taken by him will substantially bring down the new cases before the CIC. He also said that now it has almost been taken for granted across the country that we cannot ask question starting with when, why, what, which and how etc. or seek reasons under RTI Act but this presumption is not correct. Though we cannot compel the Public Authorities to record each and every information but even than we can raise queries if that is worth answering. Mr. Kejriwal narrated an example that in one case, Municipal Council has said that due to non-availability of the police force, it cannot demolish the unauthorized constructions but when the applicant asked about it from the Police, they informed that the Municipality has never asked for the Police help and hence there the question of refusal does not arise.

The participants also demanded that the cases should not be transferred at the last stage wherein he has already hold some hearings before issuing the final order as by then, Commissioner came to know the details of the case. Some participants said that the imposing penalty is not the solution as some PIOs pay penalty happily but do not give information though the giving information is mandatory even after the payment of penalty and therefore more strict action like recommending disciplinary action should also be taken.

On the occasion, Shri Manoj Sisodia of Kabir organization brought some anomalies in the orders issued by Shri Gandhi as in some cases, he issued show cause notice and in other cases, just issued order to provide information without issuing the Show Cause Notice. M. K. Gupta of Dwarka Forum and RTI consultant asked directly from Mr Gandhi and Kejriwal whether the imposition of penalty is mandatory or discretionary. He also thanked Mr. Gandhi for providing the scanned copy his letter instantly to Dwarka Forum sent to the Chief Secretary of Delhi Government on the games related activities. The participants appreciated the prompt action by clapping. Though there was no direct answer to the query put by Gupta but during the course of discussion, Information Commissioner said that in the case of grave violations, he imposes penalties and every month, about 10 compensations to the aggrieved are also awarded. However, penalties are not imposed where there is minor or unintentional delay or the official responsible for delay/ non-supply of information is not clearly identified. Meeting was organized by Public Cause Research Foundation on 11th at Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi.

After the meeting, in a TV interview to DD-2, TV channel, Mr Gandhi said that he was not aware that the magnitude of non-compliance issue and he will take it up shortly. He also said that he would like that the public should insist with the Public Authorities for the implementation of Section-4 of RTI Act on the suo-motu disclosure of information.

It will be useful if such meetings are also organized by the other Information Commissioners for direct interaction with the RTI applicants.

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