Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Monthly meeting with the Commissioner - Dec 2008

I have also been feeling that though many people working on RTI give suggestions to the Commissioners in various fora, there is no proper mechanism to do follow-up of these suggestions made to the commissioners and the commitments they make in return. So I have formed a group of people and organisations in Chennai who are keen on RTI and have started a mechanism wherein we meet the Commissioners every month and discuss issues related to the functioning of the commission. Then we try to get the commissioners to commit to some steps and ensure that they take the steps during the month. At the next meeting there will be a review of the commitments made previous month. The first meeting happened on 23rd December 2008. I am of the opinion that this has the potential to bring in changes in the commission quickly.

The first meeting was happened on 23rd Dec 2008 with the Chief Information Commissioner alone. The people who were part of the meeting were

Mr.S.M.Arasu (ACM),
Ms.Rama and Ms.Saroja (CAG),
Somu Kumar (AID US)
Mr.Vijayanand and his colleague (5th pillar),
Mr.Elango (Makkal Sakthi Iyakkam) and me.

the following were the commitments that we could get from the commissioner for the following month of Jan.

1. The commissioner said that hard copies of the SIC decisions and cause lists will be put up in a public place in the reception section so that people who want to look at the copy of the decisions or at the cause lists can just walk in have a look and walk off. This was suggested following the Commissioner's claim that though he was ready to put up the decisions on the internet, the NIC was not responsive.

2. When it was pointed out that the SIC must be more severe towards penalty imposition, he said that the commission is indeed being stricter nowadays. So as evidence we asked for statistics from now and the commissioner promised that starting Jan 1st monthly statistics like number of appeals, complaints, penalties, show cause notices (along with the list of cases where penalty has been imposed) will be made available. This would give us a good idea on how strict the commission really is.

3. That he will consider the idea of having guidelines for passing judgments for the whole commission. He also pointed out he tried a similar thing before but due to non-cooperation from the other commissioners it was becoming tough. He also suggested that we draft a set of guidelines and present it to him over which he will seek comments from the other commissioners.

4. For reducing the delays in appeals, he again repeated that by january he will clear the present backlog, and from then on he will have hearings for cases within a month of the appeal coming to the commission. For this we pointed out that this sounds very unrealistic since even within the group that met the commissioner, appeals from may and jun were pending without any response from the commission. So we suggested to him that if he could give us the status of our appeals from these months to him, that would gives us some indication as to whether really the backlog will be cleared by january.

5. When the issue of the commission itself not meeting the requirements of the RTI act like section 4 and PIO and AA appointment, he said the sub registrar was the PIO and the registrar was the appellate authority. He also said that work was on to put up a board in the office regarding the PIO and AA. But he did not mention anything about section 4 disclosures.

Apart from these, there were also discussions on how the government is trying to stifle the commission by not providing sufficient personnel. This led to lack of follow-up of SIC orders on penalty and information supply. There was the usual story of the the SIC being a sheep dog and not a biting dog, the act being only a sapling right now upon which we cannot yet lean and how we must all have patience etc etc.

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