Maharashtra has the highest number of second appeals in the country, when it comes to Right To Information (RTI) queries. Second appeals not being heard is one of the biggest factors killing the RTI Act.
Though the Central Information Commission (CIC) receives the maximum queries, a study of state information commissions (SICs) placed Maharashtrain a dubious first. Karnataka, Kerala, Gujarat and Odisha followed the state.
The highest number of appeals in Maharashtra pertained to urban development department replies. The study by Common Wealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), however, acknowledged that Maharashtra receives the maximum RTI queries among states. The state has a good record in clearing backlog also, but much more needs to be done, it observed.
"The high proportion of second appeals and complaints filed in Maharashtra indicates the high level of dissatisfaction among RTI users with the decision-making processes involving Principal Information Officers (PIOs) and First Apellate Authorities (FAAs)," said Venkatesh Nayak, who was part of the study.
"While the three commissioners (Gaikwad, Jain and P W Patil) and are doing a good job, the state's pending figures are not encouraging. The answer may be lying in the information that PIOs are giving," he said. In 2014, Maharashtra saw over 7 lakh applications – second only to the CIC, whose figures were over 8.3 lakh. Karnataka's and Gujarat's comparative figures were 4.5 lakh and 1.4 lakh, respectively.
Ratnakar Gaikwad, chief information commissioner, Maharashtra, has created an all-India of clearing 803 appeals in a month. Ajit Kumar Jain, information commissioner for the Brihanmumbai bench has cleared 550 appeals.
When contacted, Gaikwad, said: "The total receipt of appeals in Maharashtra per year is over 30,000. Pendency of 24,000 clearly means average pendency is less despite a large number of positions lying vacant during the last three years or so. It is only recently that the post of SIC was filled up. Had there been no vacant posts (greater Mumbai bench was vacant for over three years), the pendency rate would have been perhaps below 5,000," said Gaikwad.
Nayak has some more suggestions. "It may be a good idea for them (PIOs, FAAs) to know what sections are cited for rejecting appeals. It is something that the commission should be compiling but they have not been doing. The commission could also look at introducing more benches to reduce pendency," he said.
Of the 29 SICs, CHRI compared only 11 as others did not either publish their annual reports or failed to provide details. The study was called 'State of Information Commissions and the Use of RTI Laws in India, a rapid study 3.0', based on annual reports of information commissions for 2012-2014.