Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"I am seized of the matter"

Thanks to the elections, the hearings at the State Information Commission have been put on hold for a month. They will begin again on May 20th. I went and met the Chief Commissioner the day before. And tried to followup my demands of guidelines for judgments and follow-up mechanism. For the follow-up, he said that he knew that he had to do something about it and that he was seized of the matter . It was frustrating. But It also reminded me of this conversation from Yes Minister.

James Hacker: What's an official reply?
Bernard Woolley: It just says "The Minister has asked me to thank you for your letter"; then we say something like "The matter is under consideration", or even, if we feel so inclined, "under active consideration."
James Hacker: What's the difference?
Bernard Woolley: Well, 'under consideration' means we've lost the file; 'under active consideration' means we're trying to find it.

Regarding the format for judgments, he initially said that guidelines are illegal and that guidelines should not be given. I then pointed out how the CIC has issued guidelines. But he said that CIC has done several things that are legally questionable. On pressing further, he said that he already tried sending one such note to other commissioners which contained the details that a judgment should have, but that the others felt that he was trying to treat them like schoolchildren. When I asked him for a copy of that, he asked a staff to bring it. That person could not locate it and asked me to come the next day. When I went the next day, he still could not locate it and said that he could not remember seeing any such note.

Then I raised the issue that web upload of decisions stopped at Sep 2008 and there was no improvement after that. He said that his contact point in NIC was moved and hence he is finding it difficult to upload decisions.

I doubted what he said, since, the last time I talked to the staff who actually do the upload, they told me that NIC has given them a web interface through which they can upload decisions directly. NIC has automated the whole thing, without their having to interfere with each upload. So I went and tried to enquire as to who actually does the upload. That led me to a lady who was doing it till sometime back. I was very polite to her, and asked her as to what the exact reasons for the delay is. I enquired whether this is because of some problem at NIC or due to some problems in the commission itself or due to some technical issues. She told me that there were no technical issues and that she had all the soft copies with her, but just that the registrar, who has to allocate work to her, has not given her the task of uploading. She also clearly told me that NIC need not do anything for the upload. This clearly contradicted what the Chief says, exposing the fact that the Chief had no idea of how the upload was happening. Of course the other option is that the Chief was lying, but I really cant think of any reason why he has to lie for such a petty issue. He probably had no idea about it but still wanted to give some reply.

The next day, I went and met the Registrar. He was a new person. I pointed out to him that there is an eight month backlog in uploading the judgments to the website. Even he did not know about it. He immediately called another lady who was also doing the upload and asked her why decisions were not uploaded to the website. She said that he allocated her a different work and so she could not do it. He immediately asked her to upload these decisions right away. Let me see if that happens.

The two most important issues that need to be addressed next is the imposition of penalties and follow-up mechanism for SCNs and penalties. The latter one is a slightly easier one to achieve with the State Information Commission. I am going to push hard for that hard, rightaway.

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