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Monday, March 9, 2009

Pending cases biggest threat to RTI: Info official

Viju B I TNN: Publication: Times of India Mumbai; Date: Mar 9, 2009; Section: Times City; Page: 5

Mumbai: Central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi on Sunday said that the three-and-a-half year old Right to information (RTI) Act has given the average citizen some hope in providing better governance, compared to the long-drawn legal system in the country.

Gandhi, in his earlier avatar as a city-based RTI activist, had used the Act to expose some of the major loopholes in the state bureaucracy—be it examining the arbitrary disbursal of the chief minister’s relief fund or procuring the medical report of convicted state minister Swarup Singh Naik who got admitted to the air-conditioned ward of JJ hospital to escape a one-month prison term.

“I feel today the greatest threat to the survival of the RTI Act is the mounting pendency of appeals. If the applicants are not provided correct information within the stipulated period, then they will lose faith in the Act,’’ Gandhi said during an interaction with senior officials with the state information commission and RTI activists at Wadala.

State chief information commissioner Suresh Joshi, while lauding Gandhi’s efforts of clearing over 2,300 appeals in five months, said that Gandhi is truly the Sachin Tendulkar of the RTI movement. “But the SIC has now caught up with this zeal. The pendency in Mumbai has now come down to around three months,’’ Joshi said.

TOI had last week done an analysis on the performance of various commissioners and found that Shailesh Gandhi and Annapurna Dixit topped in the number of disposals per month. Gandhi, for instance, has heard 670 appeals in January this year while Dixit disposed of 330 appeals in the same period.

The CIC has a pending appeals of around 10,000 while the SIC’s pendency figures is over 15,000 till date. The state has a higher number of pending appeals because Maharashtra also receives the highest number of RTI applications in the world, Joshi said.

RTI activist Bhaskar Prabhu—while welcoming the state information commissioner’s assurance of speedy disposal—said that each commissioner should dispose at least two appeals every day to clear the current backlog. “We will take up the pendency issue with the governor soon,’’ RTI activist S K Nangia said.

Gandhi said that though he was facing a staff crunch, he has managed to dispose around 500 appeals every month as he has recruited computer-savvy volunteers. “About 70% of my salary goes towards the honorary payment of these volunteers,’’ Gandhi said.

He said that it is sad that many babus at the government offices still cannot operate a computer. “In my short exposure to the working of the government, I have realised that there is a systemic problem in our bureaucracy. Only if citizens and media come forward and challenge this rot on a daily basis will there will be any effective change,’’ he said.

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