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Saturday, September 8, 2007

Appeals to be heard even if RTI applicants are absent: info chief

Viju B | TNN , Mumbai: This will come as a relief to applicants who invoked the right to information (RTI) act but found their appeals rejected on the grounds that they were not present at the time of the hearing. The State Information Commission (SIC), in a landmark order, has ruled that an appellate authority cannot dispose of an appeal on the grounds that an applicant did not turn up for the hearing.
“If the applicant is not present for the hearing, the memo and papers provided along with the appeal should be taken into consideration. The hearing should be carried out and a decision arrived upon,’’ state chief information commissioner Suresh Joshi said while issuing the order.
An appeal under the RTI act is usually filed when the applicant is not satisfied with information provided by the Public Information Officer (PIO) of a government department. The applicant has to file the first appeal against the PIO’s reply within 30 days of receiving the response.
The issue of an applicant’s presence during the hearing of an appeal came up after activist Shailesh
Gandhi filed an RTI query asking the Maharashtra home department for instances when files remained with a government servant for over seven days, violating section 10(1) of the Maharashtra Government Act 21, 2006 (MGA). The MGA transfer and delays act has been been effective since July 1, 2006. “Section 10(1) states that files should be cleared in seven working days by all government servants or else disciplinary action could be taken against erring officials,’’ Gandhi said.
Responding to Gandhi’s query, the PIO replied that the information which
the applicant had sought could not be categorised as ‘information’ under the purview of the act. Aggrieved by the reply, Gandhi filed an appeal with the appellate officer of the home department. The appellate officer, however, disposed of his appeal because Gandhi was not present on two dates for thehearings.
Gandhi then went in for a second appeal before the SIC challenging this order. In the course of the hearing, the SIC clarified that the PIO had a mistaken notion of what construed ‘information.’ “The legislature passed Act 21 in 2006 which prescribed a timetable for disposal of files. The chief secretary had also given instruction to implement this act. Monitoring would have been done by the department in the form of documents and this falls within the definition of information,’’ the commission said.
Joshi also pointed out that the appellate authority had disposed of the case without looking into the merits of the appeal and even if the appellant was absent, memos and papers presented by him could be taken into consideration and a decision taken by the appellate authority.
Publication: Times Of India Mumbai; Date:2007 Sep 04; Section:Times City; Page Number 4

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