Out of 29 Information Commissions in the country, 21 state panels did not hold any hearings to adjudicate complaints and appeals of RTI applicants during lockdown, a study by voluntary groups Satark Nagrik Sangathan and Centre for Equity Studies showed.
The study assessed the status of Information Commissions, adjudicating bodies in RTI matters, during lockdown, which was imposed nationwide on March 25.
The study said 21 commissions of Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal did not hold hearings.
"Only seven commissions, made provision for taking up urgent matters or those related to life and liberty during the period when normal functioning was affected due to the lockdown. These were the Central Information Commission and the state information commissions of Arunachal Pradesh, Haryana, Manipur, Punjab and Telangana. The SIC of Rajasthan made provision for hearing such matters, though only from May 4, 2020," it said.
The commissions also known as transparency watchdogs mandated to enforce proactive disclosure of information from government were found wanting on their website, according to the study, with websites of 11 commissions did not showing any information about the functioning of the IC during lockdown.
The appeals and complaints against public authorities of the Central government and Union Territories, Supreme Court and High Courts besides Public Sector Undertakings and autonomous Institutions set by Centre are heard by the Central Information Commission while those of State are heard by respective State Information Commissions, according to the Right to Information Act.
The functioning of the state information commission is almost like the Central Information Commission.
When an RTI applicant is not satisfied with the response of the officer handling his query or with the appeal within the department against the decision, a second appeal is filed before the Information Commission, independent bodies to adjudicate the matter.
Eleven Commissions referred in the study are Assam, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura, it said.
"The websites of 3 ICs - Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Nagaland - were not accessible during the lockdown even though attempts were made to reach the websites on different days between May 1 and the May 11, 2020, when the web analysis was undertaken," a statement from Anjali Bhardwaj and Amrita Johri of SNS said.
The study also found that Jharkhand and Tripura did not have any commissioners for varying lengths of time and were completely defunct as the serving information commissioner in both retired during the period of the lockdown.
Four State Information Commissions were functioning without a Chief Information Commissioner- Bihar, Goa, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, it said.