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PWC Recommendations for Improving INFORMATION COMMISSIONs’ Functioning

Excerpted from the “Recommendations” section of PriceWaterhouse Coopers Report

(which can be downloaded here: http://www.box.net/shared/996nfrby16 )

 

5.5.8. SIC to ensure compliance from Public Authorities

The implementation of the RTI Act is the responsibility of the concerned Public Authorities. The PIOs act as the liaison between the Public Authority and citizens and are representatives of Public Authorities.

Depending on the situation, the Information Commissioner should ask the Public Authority to compensate the complainant for any detriment suffered as per section 19(8)(b) and/or take a disciplinary action against the PIO.

To make the Public Authorities more accountable, SIC should maintain a published list score for each Public Authority for any action taken against the PIO and instructions issued to Public Authority sheet (to take on responsibilities under section 19(8)(a) and (b ) and to ensure compliance from Public Authorities). Further the SICs should take appropriate action mandated under the Act, on Public Authority for any non compliance of RTI Act including:

       Lack of Proactive disclosure

       Non-Updation of Proactive disclosure

       Non-implementation of State rules

       Non disposal of RTI requests in stipulated time period

       Denial of the RTI request for incorrect reasons

       Provided incomplete/incorrect/ misleading information etc.

 

5.6. Improving efficiencies at Information Commission

Recommendation: Improving the disposal rate of complaints/ appeals by information commission through following recommendations

·        Creation of more offices and using Video Conferencing for Hearings

·        Passing order on merit of the case without hearing (to be used only when the order is in favour of appellant)

·        Composition of Information Commissions

·        Induction Period for new Commissioners

·        Usage of Standard Templates for passing order

 

Assessment summary

As per the RTI Act, any person who does not receive a decision within the specified time frame or is aggrieved by a decision of the Public Information Officer, may within thirty days from the receipt of decision, appeal to an officer who is senior in rank in each Public Authority – commonly referred as the First Appellate Authority (Section 19(1)). A second appeal against the decision is possible within ninety days from the date on which the decision was made/received, by the Central/State Information Commission (Section 19(3)). However there are significant challenges observed by the Information Commission. The findings of the study were as follows:

·        Delay in getting the appeals heard and disposed – Large pendency of cases with a wait time of 3-12 months in most of the States. This discourages people to file appeals.

·        Limited cases of penalties imposed on PIOs (Penalty imposed was 1.7 % of the cases decided in 2007) as per Section 20(1)).

·        Information seeker survey pointed out that 47% of the citizens did not receive replies to their RTI application within 30 days

·        Appellants had to incur expenses to attend the hearing of second appeals, which had to be compensated (as per Section 19(8)(b)) – however this was rarely enforced

 

The adjudicatory role of the appellant authority is critical in making this Act a success. Being impartial (in “perception” also!) and efficient are important aspects of this role. As per the projected numbers, the secondary appeals would grow to 2.5-3.0 lakhs by the year 2011. This would require developing innovative ways to dispose off cases, without diluting the rights of either party.

 

Recommendations

       The recommendations for improving the disposal rate of appeals and complaints at the Information Commissions could be categorized as follows:

a.     Creation of more offices and using Video Conferencing for Hearings

b.     Passing order on merit of the case without hearing (to be used only when the order is in favour of appellant)

c.      Composition of Information Commissions; with people from diverse backgrounds

d.     Induction Period for new Commissioners

e.     Usage of Standard Templates (given below) for passing order.

 

5.6.1. Creation of more offices/Using VC for Hearings

       The appellants have no/scanty time and money to reach the State capital/ Delhi (as the case may be) for second appeal. As per Section 12(7) and Section (15(7)) the CIC or SIC (as the case may be) should open offices at other locations, so as to reach out to the masses, with the approval of the appropriate Government.

       It is recommended that the Government of India and State Government assess the requirement of creating more offices.

       In order to resolve this issue, many Information Commissioners travel to districts to hear cases rather than calling the appellants. This saves the expenditure of the appellant and also contributes to speedy disposal. However, often the PIOs and the applicant are from different locations and travelling to the districts frequently by the Information Commissions may not be feasible. In order to resolve the above issues, the Information Commissions could consider e-hearings through video conferencing (VC) facility. Under the National e-Governance Plan for Government of India, video conferencing facilities have been set across all the districts in India. It is suggested that the Information Commissions should utilize these facilities in holding e-hearings.

       The Information Commission should make their reach convenient to the masses, using the two approaches mentioned above.

 

5.6.2. Passing order on obvious cases without hearing

It has been noticed there are cases where the decision to be taken by the Information Commissioner is obvious and there may not be any need to meet the concerned PIO or appellant. Examples of such cases exist where information has not been provided to the applicant within 30 days. In such cases, the Information Commissions can use their discretion and pass the order on the basis of merit of the case without a formal hearing. However, such orders should be passed only when the orders are in favour of the appellant. A clear guidelines needs to be developed based on which the SIC can use its discretion.

 

5.6.3. Composition of Information Commissions

       The Information Commissioners who are ex-bureaucrats play an important role in the commission by bringing in Administrative/Quasi Judicial expertise. However they also bring in the perception that they are “soft” while passing orders on the PIOs. As per the Section 12(5) and 15(5), the composition of the information commissions should be such that it should have people with wide knowledge and experience in law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media or administration and governance. To implement these sections in spirit, it is recommended that the people who have worked in Government should be restricted to 50%(if not less) as recommended in the ARC report.

       It is relevant to highlight a recommendation made by the ARC report to amend Section 12 of the Act, regarding the selection of Information Commissioners. The ARC Report had suggested that the appointment should be made with the consensus of:

-         Chief Justice of India (for appointment of Central Information Commissioners) along with Prime Minister and Leader of Opposition

-         Chief Justice of High Court (for appointment of State Information Commissioners) along with Chief Minister Leader of Opposition

 

5.6.4. Induction Period for New Commissioners

       Many Civil Society Organizations have highlighted the fact that new Information Commissioners coming from non judicial/ quasi-judicial face challenges, while conducting hearing process and passing orders. It was also highlighted that, at times while passing orders, such Commissioners deviate from the spirit of the RTI Act. Hence it is recommended that newly appointed Information Commissioners (with non Judicial/Quasi judicial experience) should undergo a three month “induction” into the role. In such cases, the new Commissioner may work with one of the existing the Information Commissioners to understand the procedure and processes. During this period, the Information Commissioner should not pass orders.

 

5.6.5. Usage of Standard Templates for passing order

       Given that the RTI Act provides very little scope for varying opinions, it is suggested that a standard template should be used for framing of orders by the State Information Commission and First Appellate Authority. The standard templates have been suggested in Annexure 6. The usage of these templates would ensure that the orders passed are “reasoned” orders and in line with the RTI Act.

       Once these templates have been used effectively, these could be used for the developing applications for the Information Commission as proposed in Section 5.5.5

 

Standard Template for Information Commission’s Orders (from Annexure 6) is below:

 

Schedule 3 Information Commissioners

Part 1: To be completed by Appellant/Complainant and/or Assisting Staff

Stage I of RTI Process

        Reference no. of RTI Application:

        Date of Application:

        Date of receipt of reply from PIO:

Stage II of RTI Process

        Date of filing 1st Appeal:

        Date of receipt of 1st Appellate Authority’s Order:

Final Stage of RTI Process

        Date of filing 2nd Appeal:

        Name & Designation of PIO:

Grounds of Appeal (Tick one or more):

a.       Not receiving, acknowledging or entertaining RTI application

b.      Delaying in providing information

c.       Not giving information

d.      Giving incomplete, misleading or false information

e.       Not allowing inspection of files and documents

f.       Demanding unreasonable charges for information or inspection

g.       PIO did not comply with orders passed by FAA

h.      Other grievances or complaints specified as under:

 

Part 2: To be filled up by Information Commissioner

1.      Is PIO present at hearing? Yes/No

Is FAA present? Yes/No

Is Appellant present? Yes/No

2.      Is the RTI application sufficiently clear? Yes/No/Partly

3.      The below grievances and complaints Have Substance (Tick one or more):

a.       Not receiving, acknowledging or entertaining RTI application

b.      Delaying in providing information

c.       Not giving information

d.      Giving incomplete, misleading or false information

e.       Not allowing inspection of files and documents

f.       Demanding unreasonable charges for information or inspection

g.       PIO did not comply with orders passed by FAA

h.      Other grievances or complaints specified as under:

 

4.      Did PIO make Written Submission Justifying Denial of request as per Section 19(5)? Yes/No

[If Yes, please attach copy of the same. Justification of PIO in necessary condition under the RTI Act.]

5.      Is the PIO’s justification Correctly Reasoned as per RTI Act 2005 as per the opinion of the Commission                              Yes/No/Partly

 

From the above, it is concluded that:

 

A. Show-Cause notice is to be issued to PIO   Yes/No

i.        PIO is eligible for Penalty of Rs. ___________________________________ under section 20(1)

ii. Disciplinary Action to be recommended under section 20(2) as under:

 

B. Negligence/contributory negligence/abetment of negligence by PIO, FAA and/or others responsible for giving information is noted.               Yes/No  (Strike what is not applicable.)

 

Reprimand to __________________________________________ person(s) responsible for:

i.

ii.

iii.

… and Reprimand is hereby ordered to be noted in the Annual Confidential Report and Service Record of persons held responsible above.

 

C. PIO is ordered to provide Information to Appellant under section 19(8)(a)(i) & (iv), 18(3) and 7(9). Yes/No

If YES, then details of information to be provided for following queries of the RTI Application:

i. Query no. ______________ :

ii. Query no. ______________ :

iii. Query no. ______________ :

Last date for providing the above information is __________________________________

 

D. Compensation to be awarded to appellant under section 19(8)(b) Yes/No

If YES, then amount to be paid to appellant by Public Authority is Rs. _______________________

Last date for providing compensation is __________________________________

 

E. Further enquiry into the matter and/or suo moto directions to Head of Public Authority as per sections 18 and 19(8)(a) is ordered as under:

 

F. Compliance Report to be submitted within ___________ weeks to signify compliance with these orders of Information Commission.

 

G. This 2nd Appeal/Complaint stands dismissed because:

a.       Reply/Information provided by the PIO and/or FAA is justified under RTI Act.

b.      Denial by PIO is justified under RTI Act.

c.       The RTI Application was not as per RTI Act.

d.      Other valid grounds for dismissal of 2nd Appeal under RTI Act specified as under:

 

Name, Signature & Stamp of Information Commissioner:

Date:

 

Posted in RTI Act 2005.


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