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RTI: 9 of 29 information commissions headless, backlog of cases 'steadily' increasing

By Our Representative
Marking 15 years of implementation of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the Satark Nagrik Sangathan, a civil rights organization, has said that nine out of 29 (31%) information commissions in India are headless, i.e. they are functioning without a chief. “These include the Central Information Commissioner (CIC) and State Information Commissions (SICs) of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Goa, Manipur, Telangana, Jharkhand, Tripura and Nagaland”, it notes in a new report.
The report says, two SICs – of Jharkhand and Tripura – are “completely defunct” as no new commissioners have been appointed upon the incumbents demitting office, regretting lack of persons in the commissions' top positions at the Centre and states has led to a situation where “number of appeals and complaints pending on July 31, 2020 in the 20 information commissions, from which data was obtained, stood at 2,21,568.” 
Pointing out that "the backlog has been steadily increasing as compared to the findings last year”, the report further says, as many as 1,78,749 appeals and complaints were registered between April 1, 2019 and July 31, 2020 by 21 information commissions for whom relevant information was available. “During the same time period, nearly two lakh cases (1,92,872) were disposed of by 22 commissions for whom information could be obtained”, it adds.
“Using the average monthly disposal rate and the pendency in commissions, the time it would take for an appeal/complaint to be disposed was computed. The estimates shows that Odisha SIC would take seven years and eight months to dispose a matter. In Jharkhand SIC, it would take four years and one month, while in Maharashtra, CIC, Rajasthan and Nagaland it would take two years or more. The assessment shows that 9 commissions would take more than 1 year to dispose a matter”, the report asserts.
The report finds that “penalty was imposed in just 2.2% of the cases disposed by information commissions”, lamenting, such state of affairs continues when the law has “empowered millions of people to seek information and hold the government accountable.”
Calling information commissions the final appellate authority and are mandated to safeguard and facilitate people’s fundamental right to information, the report examines the performance of all 29 commissions in India in terms of the number of commissioners working in each commission; the number of appeals and complaints registered and disposed by them; number of pending cases; estimated waiting time for the disposal of an appeal/complaint; frequency of violations penalised by commissions and transparency in their working.

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