What is the scope and role of the State Information Commissions?
The RTI Act envisages the role of a watchdog to the State Information Commission in ensuring the implementation of the Act both in letter and spirit. But apart from this the Commission plays an important role in ushering in a regime of information sharing between the public authorities and the citizens at large which is bound to lead to a better decision making at all levels apart from participative governance.
Do you see the RTI Act 2005 as a potent weapon in ensuring transparency and accountability and thereby reducing corruption in government departments?
Yes. The provisions of the Act especially concerning proactive
disclosure of information pertaining to public authorities will ensure
transparency and accountability on the part of the officers/officials of different departments. The very knowledge that their decisions will be under constant scrutiny of even an ordinary decision is bound to make them more accountable and responsible in their functioning. One of the major reasons for corruption is the veil of secrecy that surrounds the decision making process in government and once this is made transparent it is bound to reduce corruption to a large extent in Govt. departments.
What are the different kinds of cases that are coming up to the Commission under RTI?
It is early days yet but the experience so far has been that nearly 75% of the cases coming up before the commission are in the form of complaints under section 18 of the Act. There is a reluctance to approach the departmental first appellate authority by way of first appeal for which there is a provision in the Act. Cases are mostly in the context of lack of response, giving partial or misleading information etc. Nearly 60 percent cases are from Govt. employees serving or retired. The applicants from the general public are mostly from urban areas, clearly indicating inadequate awareness about the Act in the rural areas.
How important is IT for Information Commission to simplify its processes?
The process even now is not very complicated in the Commission. We are not adopting the formal procedure of a court of law and discourage the presence of advocates. However, I T would definitely simplify the process of ensuring supply of information since the Act envisages a regime based on Information Technology. I.T. is bound to lead to a better monitoring of work and cases filed in the commission and greater transparency of its functioning.
What are the challenges faced by the Information Commission in its effort to honour RTI needs of the citizens?
The basic challenge is to change the mindset of the public authorities
to show more openness and share the information with the citizen. While the knowledge that the RTI Act has come to stay and there is no escape from making information available is slowly sinking in there is a tendency to deny the information on flimsy grounds. The Commission has to use persuasion as well as taking recourse to some of the punitive measures prescribed in the Act to ensure that the needs of citizen are honoured.
What are the steps being taken for awareness creation regarding RTI among general public?
There is a lack of awareness of the RTI especially in the rural areas.
This is evident from the correspondence I get in the commission. My interaction with the functionaries at the district level further confirms this view. Basically it is the duty of the State Govt. to take steps to create awareness in the general public. The Commission has asked the State Govt. to conduct seminars on the RTI Act, at panchayat, block and district levels apart from devoting sometime to this act at other functions. A suggestion has also been given by me to the Deputy Commissioners to devote some time in the monthly grievance committee meetings to complaints under the RTI Act. The Commission is also encouraging steps taken by NGOs in
creating awareness about the Act.
How do you rate the success of the implementation of RTI Act in your state?
It is rather too early to make an assessment about the success of the
Act. The basic necessity is to create more awareness about the Act in the State. The response of the public authorities has been by and large positive even though there are areas, which need correction. The Commission is taking up these issues seriously with the State Government.