21 February, 2011: An RTI application by activist Mohammed Afzal to the Maharashtra State Information Commission (Maharashtra SIC) has revealed how the State government is choking the RTI Act. By keeping nearly 50% of the posts vacant at the SIC (including stenographers and typists), and starving it of adequate office funds, Maharashtra government is stopping Information Commissioners from doing their job i.e. writing orders, sending out notices and effectively disposing of cases.
There are long queues of appellants before the Information Commissioners, awaiting hearings and orders. In end-November 2010, the numbers of appeals pending before all the seven divisions of Maharashtra were 14,648. Hassled by activists unearthing skeletons in its backyard, the government is blaming activists for clogging the Information Commission with appeals, and pushing for rules amendments to clip the wings of RTI activists.
But look at what the government has been quietly doing all along: the SIC has been functioning with a long-standing shortage of 47 essential staff, at both junior and senior levels! Considering that the SIC’s current strength is 48, including seven Information Commissioners, that means that roughly 50% of the posts are remaining vacant!
Breakup of Staff Vacancies in different divisions of Maharashtra SIC:
• Chief SIC’s office – 2 assistants, 1 junior stenographer, 2 clerk-typists, 1 driver and 3 peons
• Greater Mumbai Division – 1 deputy secretary, 1 junior steno, 2 assistants, 2 clerk-typists and 1 driver
• Nagpur Division – 1 senior and 1 junior steno, 1 assistant, 1 clerk-typist and 1 driver
• Aurangabad Division – 2 desk officer, 1 junior steno, 2 assistants, 2 clerk-typists and 1 driver
• Konkan Division – 1 senior stenographer
• Amravati Division – 1 desk officer, 1 senior steno, 2 clerk-typist, 1 driver, 2 peon
• Nashik Division – 1 deputy secretary, 2 desk officer, 1 senior steno, 1 junior steno, 1 assistant, 1 driver, 3 peons
Total staff shortage – 2 deputy secretaries, 5 desk officers, 4 senior steno, 5 junior steno, 9 clerks-typists, 8 assistants, 6 drivers and 8 peons. i.e. 47 vacancies.
Of the annual fund requirement of Rs 6.11 crore for 2010-11, the government gave grants of only Rs 4.59 crore. The fund crunch is so pressing that the Commission staff in Mumbai confidentially told Mohd. Afzal and other activists who went to receive the reply, about how they frequently dug into their own purses to meet petty cash expenses and bring stationery items like stenographers’ pads from home, in order to keep the office going!
The Information Commission has repeatedly written letters to the State Government, including the General Administration Department, the Chief Secretary, the Chief Minister and others. The most recent is Chief State Information Commissioner Vilas Patil’s plea to Governor K Sankaranarayanan for adequate staff, written on February 2, on the back of an earlier letter. So far, it has been a case of apply-apply-no-reply!
SIC’s repeated pleas for adequate staff and funding: http://www.box.net/shared/p1k2nnajip
Mohd. Afzal’s RTI Application to Maharashtra State Information Commission (SIC):
Will the Government break its sphinx-like silence, release its tight-fisted grip and allow our Information Commissioners to breathe? Or will it continue its stranglehold on Maharashtra’s ultimate appellate authority for RTI activists? Dekhiye, iss dharavaahik ki ‘ugly’ kadee!