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Transparency? 8 of 29 State Info Commission hearings 'open for public to attend'

By Anjali Bhardwaj, Amrita Johri* 
Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) has compiled a Report Card on the performance of the 29 information commissions set up under the RTI Act across the country. The report can be accessed here.
Highlights of the report:
There is lack of diversity in the composition of information commissions, with nearly 60% commissioners being retired government officials. Merely 9% of all commissioners across the country have been women. Currently no commission is headed by a woman. 12 ICs (41%) have never ever had a woman commissioner since they were constituted- Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Sikkim, Telangana, Uttarakhand and West Bengal.
Large number of cases are being returned by ICs: Several ICs were found to be returning a very large number of cases without passing any orders. The CIC and SICs of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Kerala returned 41% of the appeals/complaints received by them.
Tardy disposal rate: Several commissions have an extremely low rate of disposal per commissioner. The SICs of West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Chhattisgarh had low annual disposal rates per commissioner even though a large number of cases were pending before each commission. Of all the 29 information commissions, only the CIC has adopted a norm regarding the number of appeals/complaints to be disposed by each commissioner in one year. 
Lack of timely and transparent appointments: Many commissions are functioning at reduced capacity and without a Chief, due to governments not filling vacancies in a timely manner. SICs of Jharkhand, Telangana and Tripura are completely defunct as no new commissioners have been appointed upon the incumbents demitting office. 
Low disposal rates and vacancies in commissions are leading to large backlog of cases and long waiting time for information seekers. The number of appeals and complaints pending on June 30, 2023 in the 28 information commissions, from which data was obtained, stood at nearly 4 lakh. Maharashtra SIC with an alarming backlog of 1.2 lakh had the highest number of cases pending as of June 30, 2023. People are having to wait for months, even years, to get their case heard. The estimated waiting time for disposal of a new case in West Bengal SIC was found to be 24 years & 1 month. In Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh SICs, estimated time for disposal was more than 4 years. The assessment shows that 12 ICs would take one year or more to dispose a matter.
Penalty was imposed in just 5% of the cases disposed by Information Commissions.
Opaque functioning: Only 8 of the 29 ICs stated that their hearings are open for members of the public to attend. Most stated that they do not have guidelines in place regarding open hearings while 6 ICs stated that they do not allow anyone other than the appellant/ complainant and respondent (or their representatives) to attend the proceedings of the commission. Out of 29 ICs, only three ICs live-stream their hearings- Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Manipur (though only for hearings held via video conferencing).
The SIC of Tamil Nadu was found to have the worst performance in terms of responsiveness under the RTI Act, furnishing none of the information sought.
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*On behalf of Satark Nagrik Sangathan

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