Only nine information commissions, including the central panel, out of the total 29 in the country conducted hearings of RTI applicants since the lockdown was imposed during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report by the Transparency International India on Sunday. The data collated by the voluntary group, which is working to promote transparency, stated that only three states have issued COVID-19 circulars and warnings on their websites. They are Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
The report has been released on the eve of the anniversary of the commencement of the Right to Information Act. The RTI Act provides for Central Information Commission to adjudicate disputes related to central government departments and Union territories. Similarly, the act set up similar panels for state governments.
“Only seven states namely Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Punjab, Uttarakhand and West Bengal have been using video and audio conferencing to hear cases of appeals and complaints especially during the pandemic. “While there are six others states which already had video conferencing facilities but have not been using it during the pandemic," it claimed.
The report pointed out to the dark underbelly of transparency regime since the RTI was enacted in 2005 — threat and attacks on RTI applicant. According to the group, only five state information commissions maintain data about such threats and attacks while no such records are maintained by remaining 24, including the Central Information Commission that receives the highest number of appeals and complaints from RTI applicants in the country.
Ironically, the CIC, which promotes transparency, does not maintain any data about threats and attacks on RTI applicants, as per the report. Uttarakhand Information Commission has recorded 405 cases where RTI applicants have received threats, the report said.
In Andhra Pradesh, 12 such cases were reported, followed by eight in Odisha and one each in Manipur and Andhra Pradesh, according to data from respective state information commissions, the report said. It said only five state information commissions are maintaining data about threats while there is no such data available for remaining 24 information commissions, including the CIC.
According to the report, over 3.32 crore RTI applications were filed in last 15 years, but about one fourth of posts of information commissioners are vacant in the country in spite of Supreme Court order against it. “Out of 160 posts, 38 posts of information commissioner are vacant at the union & state level, whereas in Oct-2019, 24 out 155 posts were vacant. Four Chief Information Commissioner Post namely CIC, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Goa are vacant," it said. PTI ABSHMB10112259NNNN.