Mumbai: RTI activist Anil Galgali on Friday petitioned Prime Minister Manmohan Singh accusing the Maharashtra government of neglecting the State Information Commission (SIC) by not filling various key posts.
"Despite our repeated requests, vacancies to various key posts are not filled by efficient officers, which has severely handicapped the SIC work," Galgali told a news agency.
He said that the posts of three out of seven information commissioners, one secretary and over 40 percent of other SIC posts are lying vacant for over six months. These include the crucial posts of information commissioners for Mumbai, Konkan and Amravati regions.
"The consequence of this is that peoples` RTI applications are suffering undue delays and we do not get replies for months and even up to two years. The very purpose of RTI, so proudly espoused by the Congress government at the centre and the state, has been defeated," said another RTI activist, Krushnaraj Rao.
According to RTI activist Bhimrao Rathod of Yavatmal, the biggest hindrance to the success of the SIC are the public information officers (PIOs) in various government offices in the state.
"A large majority, up to 75 percent applications, are not given replies, compelling the applicant to approach the higher level, the first appellate authority. The appellate authority, barring stray cases, keeps matters pending for months, forcing us to go in for second appeal with the information commissioners (ICs)," Rathod maintained.
With a time lag of nearly 18-24 months for the second appeal to come up for hearing, Rathod pointed out that "the whole purpose of RTI is defeated and people have to resort to filing court cases".
Thane-based RTI activist Pushkar Damle said that these delay tactics at various levels -- from the stage the first RTI application is submitted till the pending appeals with the first appellate authority and the information commissioners -- have resulted in a backlog of over 21,000 applications in the state.
"A majority of these pending 21,000 applications are bound to end up in courts of law. While on one hand, the courts are struggling to clear their own backlog, the Maharashtra government appears bent on increasing it," Damle said.
Galgali has also requested the state government to install franking machines in all the eight state information commission offices to reduce delays and costs when sending notices of hearing to PIOs, first appellate authority and the appellants.
Rathod and Damle urged that unless the applications are treated seriously at the lower levels by the concerned departmental PIOs, the appeals will continue to grow and bring down the credibility of the whole RTI exercise.
The SIC was formed in 2005.