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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Info chief invites activists’ wrath for going soft on babus

As reported in Publication: Times of India Mumbai; Date: Mar 29, 2009; Section: Times City; Page: 2

Info chief invites activists’ wrath for going soft on babus
Viju B I TNN

Mumbai: Pandemonium broke out at a public meeting on governance and Right to Information (RTI) Act on S at u rd ay when activists accused state information commissioner Ramanand Tiwari of soft-pedalling appeals filed by citizens.

The activists burst out in outrage when Tiwari said he showed leniency to public information officers (PIO) who did not provide data within the prescribed 30 days because he felt that even they had families to look after and levying a penalty of Rs 5,000 would be too harsh on them. He was participating in a question-answer session with RTI activists, who urged the state information commission to tackle the issue of huge pendency of appeals that is “slowly killing the RTI Act’’.

Tiwari faced a volley of grievances from RTI applicants who participated in the discussion on the role of the Act and better governance at a seminar organised by Janhit Manch on Saturday. While some of the queries questioned his order, in which he was reportedly soft on the PIOs, others related to his inaction against officers who disregarded SIC orders. Tiwari brushed aside most of the queries, saying they were “personal in nature’’.

“I know there have been complaints like me being too soft on PIOs, but my disposal rate has been good. For me, the priority lies in providing information, but since the issue has been raised, I will try to improve and impose more penalties in future,’’ Tiwari said. The number of complaints and appeals with SIC touched over 15,000 till last year.

RTI activist Mohammed Afzal said he was shocked at the stance taken by the state information commissioner. “He has not yet dealt with most of the complaints against PIOs not providing information even after SIC ordered to furnish details. This way, applicants are losing faith in the efficacy of the RTI

Act,’’ he said. Consumer activist Rajan Alimchandani claimed that Tiwari had passed an order, in which he has excluded the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa from the RTI Act purview. “But I have got a copy from the CIC, which says the bar council comes under the purview of the Act,’’ he said.

Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi told TOI that all commissioners should immediately look into the pendency of appeals. “I have disposed of 2,600 appeals in the last six months,’’ Gandhi said. “The Act may become ineffective if the commissions did not address the issue and be strict with PIOs and the appellate authority.’’

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