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Report Card on the Performance of Information Commissions in India

According to a “Report Card on the Performance of Information Commissions in India” prepared by Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) and Centre for Equity Studies (CES), transparency is a key to promoting peoples’ trust in public institutions. The assessment found that several ICs were non-functional or were functioning at reduced capacity, despite large backlogs, as the posts of commissioners, including that of the chief information commissioner (CIC), were vacant during the period under review. In many cases, the appointments of information commissioners were found to be set aside by courts due to lack of transparency in the process of appointment and for being in violation of the provisions of the RTI Act and directions of the Supreme Court.
In addition, the Report, says, “By failing to disclose information on their functioning, ICs continue to evade real accountability to the people of the country whom they are supposed to serve. The legal requirement for the central and state information commissions to submit annual reports every year to Parliament and state legislatures respectively, is to make, among other things, their activities transparent and available for public scrutiny. However, very few ICs fulfil this obligation, and even fewer do it in time”. 
As part of the assessment, and in order to access information about the functioning of information commissions, both SNS and CES filed RTI applications with the 28 state information commissions (SIC) and the Central Information Commission (CIC). A total of 169 RTI applications were filed seeking identical information from all the 29 information commissions. The RTI applications were tracked to assess how each information commission performed as a public authority, in terms of maintaining and disclosing information. Three information commissions from Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu did not respond to, or even acknowledge, the RTI applications filed within stipulated time.
"Several ICs, like from Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh rejected requests for information invoking provisions seemingly in violation of the RTI Act. In all these cases, an appeal was filed against the denial of information. However, till the time of publication of this report, the requisite information had not been disclosed," the report says.
Apart from Tamil Nadu, three State Information Commissions (SICs), Odisha, Sikkim and Kerala returned the RTI applications citing procedural deficiencies.
Only 13 out of 29 ICs provided full information in response to the RTI applications filed as part of this assessment. Of the 107 chief information commissioners for whom data was obtained, the overwhelming majority (84%) were retired government servants including 67% retired Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers and another 17% from other services. Of the remainder, 10% had a background in law (5% former judges and 5% lawyers or judicial officers).
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Resistance from banks in revealing Loan details to corporate entities

The RTI query, sent to the Ministry of Finance, sought details on individual exposure of various PSBs to corporate borrowers. The questions that were asked in the RTI query sought information on the loans given to the Reliance Industries, Adani Group, GVK Group, GMR and Jaypee Group. The RTI was first directed to the Finance Ministry, which then forwarded the RTI request to various banks asking them to provide the information. The RTI had questions on the money loaned to big industrial houses by government-run banks. However, all public sector banks except Andhra Bank and Allahabad Bank have refused to divulge information citing either the 'personal nature' of questions or how they don't fit under the provisions of the RTI Act. 
In their reply to the RTI query, the banks have said that the information available with banks under "fiduciary relationship" is exempted from disclosure.
Read about: Fiduciary Relationship under RTI
While Andhra Bank and Allahabad Bank have disclosed the loans given to big corporates, all other lenders refused to do so. Banks which did not disclose any detail in their reply to the RTI query include State Bank of India (SBI), Bank of Maharashtra, Corporation Bank, Indian Bank, Canara Bank, UCO Bank, Indian Overseas Bank, Central Bank of India, Bank of India and Syndicate Bank. Earlier this month, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley informed the Rajya Sabha that loans worth Rs 81,683 crore were written-off by public sector banks (PSBs) in 2016-17.
Country's largest public sector lender, the SBI, said, "The information sought by you under point number three to eight is the third party personal information held by the bank in a fiduciary capacity, the disclosure of which is not warranted for any larger public interest and as such is exempted from disclosure."
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Upper limit of Rs 50 imposed on RTI Fee by Supreme Court

The Supreme Court fixed on Tuesday an upper limit of Rs 50 as application fee that government authorities can charge those seeking information under the right to information (RTI) act, the country’s transparency law.
Also, a bench of justices AK Goel and UU Lalit said public authorities cannot ask for more than Rs 5 for each page as photocopying charge, and an applicant need not mention the “motive” while filling out the application form.
The order came on petitions challenging high fees set by different public bodies, including high courts and state assemblies.
The decision can be downloaded from here:
 
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43 years for RTI case finalisation in West Bengal- study

A biennial study conducted by Satark Nagrik Sangathan and Centre for Equity Studies has revealed a grim picture of RTI Act implementation with waiting time at information commissions running in years and commissions in several states becoming non-functional owing to unfilled vacancies. The study has found that if an RTI appeal were to be filed in West Bengal state information commission on November 1, 2017, it would be disposed of in 2060 – after 43 years. In Kerala, it would take six years six months and Odisha 5 years 3 months. The main reason for such a long waiting time is the reduced number of information commissioners that commissions are working with. 
The report has brought out, what it calls a “concerning trend”. The information commissions, which are the last resort for the common man to complain against wrongful denial of information, are increasingly returning cases. The highest number of cases have been returned by CIC, followed by Gujarat, Assam and Uttarakhand.
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ganpat1956

Govt directed to fill vacant posts of SICs

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ganpat1956

Chronicle News Service

 

Jabalpur, Sep 18: Madhya Pradesh High Court has directed the State Government to submit a report on the action taken for appointment of vacant posts of State Information Commissioners (SICs) as per the provisions of Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI) on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL).

 

A division bench comprising Chief Justice Anang Kumar Patnaik and Justice Ajeet Singh while hearing the petition of Sunil Kumar Tiwari of Bhopal, challenging the State's inaction for appointment of State Information Commissioners, as per the RTI Act, issued the directives to Administration Department to file their reply within four weeks time.

 

Petitioner's counsel submitted before the Court that provisions of RTI Act states about mandatory appointment of 10 State Information Commissioners but the Information Commissioner had not made suitable recommendations for any such appointment to the appointing authority, the Governor of Madhya Pradesh.

 

The counsel contended that due to non-appointment of State Information Commissioner the pendency of appeal under RTI Act has increased and public is suffering.

 

The petitioner prayed the Court to issue directives to the officials concerned to complete the formalities and necessary procedure for appointment of State Information Commissioner to fill the vacant posts as soon as possible. In the matter, the Court on August 13 had directed the State Government to furnish details of all the required steps taken in the direction of appointment of State information Commissioners vacant posts.

 

Central Chronicle--Madhya Pradesh

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colnrkurup

Inadequacy of ICs/other staff is one of the excuses generally possed by certain SICs. For Example in the writtem reply furnished it to me, the Kerala SIC has replied that hehas 4 ICs including its chief, a Secretary, a Legal Advisor, SPIO and ASPIO, separate staff for each ICs. I have personally seen 4 Clerks, PAs, 5 Peons, Security staff and Car Drivers, a centrally air conditioned office, a separate web site and modern office infrastructures which can make a multi-national company envy. Still complaints of more than 18 months are pendingwith them. Even my own 25 complaints/second appeals pending; some of which are more than 1 year old. When the dismal performance of theSIC is complained to His Excellency the Governor of Kerala, the "Hindu" so far silent has come out with an halfpage article painting a very rosy picture of RTI in Kerala and the next day the SIC hold a Press meeting amd re-affirm in a line what is stated in the Hindu article. In addition he claims that the complaints/second appeals are promptly attended to despite SHORTAGE OF MAN POWER. I don't think that the SIC has projected his problem to theChief Minister of Governor other than spreading disinformation justifying his dismal performance publicly Any solution to the above state of affairs ?

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ganpat1956

Colonel Sir,

It is possible that the "Hindu" might have mistaken the plush condition of the SIC office to paint a rosy picture of RTI in Kerala. Or it might have been an "inspired" article to counter your complaint to the Governor. Did you promptly send a rejoinder to the Hindu disputing their claims. If it did not work, I think you may have to hold a press conference yourself to counter this disinformation.

 

Alternatively you can also write periodical letters to the ediors of various news papers highlighting all these dismal features. This technique was advised to me by the late Shri M R Pai (of Forum of Free Enterprise) thirty years ago when the consumer movement was in its beginning stage. In many instances, it has really worked wonders for me.

 

You can also consider moving a PIL in Kerala on the lines of Sunli Kumar Tiwari of Bhopal.

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colnrkurup

I had gone through all those stages except PIL which I donot want to indulge for many reasons including my mindset as an old soldier. In all cases my various methods were working and I could get what Iwish to have. But in the case of RTI, nothing seems working. There appears a strong stone wall just in front of me. You maynot believe that the journalist who wrote the rosy article had earlier send words that he is keen to meet me. May be by knowing my sturn principles he dared not approach me. One year back there was a meeting arrrnged at Tellicherry where the SIC Mr.Pallat Mohanas and another IC attended. On entering the hall the first thing Mr.Palat Mohandas the SIC did was enquiring of me and coming to me. Had few niceties and he told me that I should meet his Secretary who had also accompanied him. Of cource the whole lot vanished just after he spoke givinmg me no chance to interact.

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ganpat1956

I am very sorry to hear that you had already gone through all the other stages of external activism without any of them yieldong any fruitful result. May I venture to make one more suggestion. You have to build up an army of several youngsters to carry on this fight under your guidance(in case you had not already done it). I know an officer of your background will never give up. The present battle might have been lost. But the war is still on.

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SomeGuy
Petitioner's counsel submitted before the Court that provisions of RTI Act states about mandatory appointment of 10 State Information Commissioners but the Information Commissioner had not made suitable recommendations for any such appointment to the appointing authority, the Governor of Madhya Pradesh.

 

 

Section 15(2) of the RTI Act states that The State Information Commission shall consist of—

(a) the State Chief Information Commissioner, and

(b) such number of State Information Commissioners, not exceeding ten, as may be deemed necessary.

So I am curious as to the basis of the reported claim by Petitioner's Counsel that the RTI Act requires the mandatory appointment of 10 SICs. Is he claiming that because of the backlog, all 10 have to be definitely "deemed necessary"?

 

Further, the statement about "the Information Commissioner" failing to recommend names is so far off from the stipulations of section 15(3) that it has to be a gross transcription error at the newspaper.

 

regards,

SomeGuy

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ganpat1956

This is an old news report that appeared nearly two years ago. If you are really curious, you may to take up the matter directly with the peitioner's counsel and also the Central Chronicle. Good luck.

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