Currently, the CIC is functioning with only 5 commissioners as besides the post of the chief, five posts of commissioners are also vacant. Even as the backlog of appeals/complaints has been steadily increasing and currently stands at more than 36,500 cases in case of CIC as per the report by voluntary organisation Satark Nagrik Sangathan and Centre for Equity Studies. It is pointed that the State Information Commissions of Jharkhand and Tripura are defunct in the absence of any information commissioners.
Monday marks 15 years since the implementation of the Right to Information Act. The report shows that 1,78,749 appeals and complaints were registered between April 1, 2019 and July 31, 2020 by 21 information commissions. During the same time period, nearly two lakh cases (1,92,872) were disposed by 22 commissions for whom information could be obtained. However, the backlog of appeals and complaints is steadily increasing in commissions, as per the report. It is pointed out in the report that the non-appointment of commissioners in the Information Commissions in a timely manner leads to a large build-up of pending appeals and complaints.
When TOI sought a response on appointments and pendency, a senior govt functionary said that the process of appointment of the Central Information Commissioner (CIC) and ICs is in the conclusive stages. The PM-led selection committee had met on October 7 to consider the names recommended by the search committee for the posts of CIC and 5 vacant IC posts. However the meeting was inconclusive and a second round of meeting is expected soon. On pendency, a senior government functionary claimed that taking up RTI cases by virtual mode had expedited their disposal, and would be key to tackling pendency.
Of the over 2.21 lakh appeals and complaints pending as on July 31 in 20 ICs this year, the maximum were pending in Maharashtra (59,312), followed by Uttar Pradesh (47,923) and then the Central Information Commission (35,653).
A similar assessment by SNS in 2019 found that as of March 31, 2019, over 2.18 lakh appeals and complaints were pending in the 26 information commissions. “This time, even though data for fewer number of commissions is available, the total number of pending appeals and complaints is higher,” it is stated.
Using data on the backlog of cases in ICs and their monthly rate of disposal, the time it would take for an appeal/complaint filed with an IC on August 1, 2020 to be disposed has been computed in the report. For instance it is shared that Odisha SIC would take 7 years and 8 months to dispose of a matter. In Jharkhand SIC, it would take 4 years and 1 month, while in Maharashtra, CIC, Rajasthan and Nagaland it would take 2 years or more. The assessment shows that 9 commissions would take more than 1 year to dispose of a matter.
The report also shows that 15,738 show cause notices were issued to Public Information Officers under the penalty clause of RTI Act by 13 commissions. SIC of Gujarat issued the maximum show cause notices (9,080) followed by Haryana (3,962), Andhra Pradesh (881) and CIC (858). The data also shows that the penalty was imposed in 1,995 cases. Penalty amounting to Rs 2.53 crore was imposed by these 18 commissions; Haryana was the leader (Rs 65.43 lakh), followed by Madhya Pradesh (Rs 43.33 lakh), and Uttarakhand (Rs 35.79 lakh). CIC imposed penalties amounting to Rs 12.22 lakh.