Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Some General Updates

My recent posts have been about specific issues, and so a the regular work I do has been missed out. I will try to cover them here. All through the last 6-8 weeks I have been trying to get the State Information Commission to look at follow-up of Show Cause Notices seriously. In reply to an RTI application I filed with the State Information Commission, I got the following Information.

Month, Year
Number of Appeals & Complaints
Number of cases disposed without hearing
Number of cases disposed after a hearingNumber of Show Cause Notices
Number of Penalties
Jan '09
Feb '09
Mar '09

The discrepancy in the last two columns is because SCNs are not followed up by the commission. I raised this issue with the registrar, and he too said that, that was a weak area. I asked him to begin with follow-up right away and as a start, he can begin with Show Cause Notices of Jan 2009. He said that finding out the cases where a SCN has been issued is difficult. I offered to him, that I can get him the list of cases of Jan 2009 where a Show Cause Notice has been issued, and that he can do a follow-up of them. This list I gave him the very next day and he asked me to give him a week for that. I gave him two weeks. Since the registrar gave me proper details I also tried to find him the details of the backlog of cases. He said that the problem was with the lack of clerical staff. On Jun 19th he told me that appeals/complaints that had come till May 2009 have been seen by the commissioners. But it was typing of these orders that were causing the delays. He also said that if only they worked on saturdays too, could they clear the backlog. I went to meet him again yesterday and he said that last saturday all the staff had come to office and worked and that this will continue this saturday also. That was some good news.

As for the follow-up of Show Cause Notices, he himself had asked the staff to draw up the list of cases from Jan in which show cause notices were issued, and he told me that he would do something about it by the first week of July.

Everytime I meet the registrar, I make it a point to raise the issue of web updates, since that is the only way that that the public can keep a tab on the quality of decisions of the Information Commission. So far decisions till Feb 2009 have been uploaded to the website. This is a huge improvement over what the scenario was, a few months back.

In the meanwhile I have also done an analysis of the January 2009 jugments of the State Information Commission. In a discussion yesterday regarding isuing Show Cause Notices to all cases where it is due, or at least, if the commissioner decides not to issue a Show Cause Notice, an explanation, as to why SCN was not issued, the Chief Commissioner said that similar orders have already been passed both in written and orally, but that the other commissioners were not heeding him. I will take this up with each of the commissioners tomorrow and the following week.

On 17th June I was invited to participate in a discussion on the functioning of the Information Commission in WIN TV. The anchor had based on the statement of the Chief Central Information Commissioner, that the government is trying to stifle the act, by not allocating enough funds. Elango from Makkal Sakthi Iyakkam with whom I worked on the protest, and another lawyer, whom I had not met before, was part of the discussion. I somehow felt, that the whole discussion was not really focussed. It seemed that the anchor was trying to sensationalise the whole thing. The lawyer, who was part of the discussion, did not really have much experience with RTI, but was there just because she was a lawyer. The anchor too kept jumping from one issue to another without discussing the details of one specific issue fully. Discussing the condition of the State Information Commission, would have been a useful topic, and that is what I thought, at the beginning of the session, would be discussed. I somehow, at the end of it all, felt that the discussion was pointless and it would have been much better, if there had been a pre show discussion with the participants on the issues to be discussed and the direction the discussion should take.

The following incident in the programme, will sum up the level of discussion. At the end of the phone call to the State Information Commission, the anchor asked the Registrar, if the Registrar knew that this specific program that has been running on WIN TV, has been espousing the cause of the Right to Information, the registrar said that he didnt. After the phone call, the anchor made a statement that went like "If the Commission does not know about this program on WIN TV, that has trying to spread the word about the Right to Information, that shows the how well the commission was functioning". I wondered how knowledge of the TV program could in anyway be an indicator of the functioning of the commission. In fact, before I was called for the program, I had no idea that such a program was on.

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