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Maharashtra RTI applicants can track pleas from date of filing to date of disposal

The National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information* has welcomed the Maharashtra Chief Information Commission’s order asking the chief secretary to create an online system to enable RTI applicants to know the status of their pleas. Text of the NCPRI statement:
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The National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI) welcomes the landmark order passed by Chief Information Commissioner, Maharashtra that could greatly empower RTI users, Heads of Departments, and the Commissions to track and monitor every Public Information Officers (PIO) response to every RTI application across the state of Maharashtra. The order was passed in response to a complaint filed by the former Central Information Commissioner, Shri Shailesh Gandhi complaint under section 18 of the RTI Act that pointed out that citizens were unable to know their status of their RTI application, once it was submitted.
In its order dated 16.04.2017, the commission has directed the Chief Secretary, Government of Maharashtra to “create an online register in every office which has a public information officer (PIO) and put on a single platform all the RTI applications filed in every office at every level where RTI applications are submitted and filed and also upload this information on the websites of public Authorities so that citizens can also access this vital information. The format to be used for the RTI register is as suggested by the complainant in Annexure 1`. This platform would facilitate the compilation and tracking of RTI applications filed offline, as well as those that might be filed online with Departments. This order should be implemented by 15th June 2017.”
The Commission cites as a precedent the fact that the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) vide OM No.1/6/2011-IR dated 15.04.2013 also mandates that “All Public Authorities shall proactively disclose RTI applications and appeals received and their responses, on the websites maintained by Public Authorities with search facility based on key words”.
  • This order will enable citizens in general and RTI applicants in particular, to track the RTI application with every PIO from the date of filing till the date of disposal.
  • It will also enable the supervisory authorities including the Head of Department to monitor the status of disposal of RTI applications by respective PIOs.
  • The mechanism would greatly facilitate the Information Commission to put together the report for the state legislature as per the provisions of the RTI Act in a more timely and accurate fashion.
  • Properly followed, this format and order would allow the people and policy makers to know with far greater accuracy, the number of applications filed each year, the time taken to answer them, and some of the essential processes and timelines followed by the PIO in answering the RTI applications.
  • Finally it would greatly enable the Commission to better analyze (in terms of departments and geographical areas) many aspects related to the status of implementation of the RTI Act in the State.
The NCPRI welcomes this order, and requests the Chief Secretary of Maharashtra to implement it as soon as possible.
Based on this order, the NCPRI would also like to urge the DoPT to pass an Office Memorandum so that this landmark decision is made applicable across the country. Finally, we also urge the DoPT to incorporate this decision and format as part of the RTI Draft rules 2017 that have been put up for discussion on the web site.
The NCPRI will continue to work with RTI users and activists to ensure that similar complaints are placed before State information Commissions, and State Governments are urged to bring similar provisions in force.
By treating this order as establishing a good practice, and a precedent, Public Authorities and Information Commissions could easily ensure that these provisions become orders across the country; thereby strengthening the RTI regime everywhere.

*Signed by Anjali Bhardwaj, Nikhil Dey, Venkatesh Nayak, Bhaskar Prabhu, Rakesh Dubuddu, Joy Kumar, Dr Sheikh
***

Text of Maharashtra Chief Information Commissioner Ratnakar Gaikwad’s order on complaint under Section 18 of RTI Act, 2005 in Shailesh Gandhi vs Chief Secretary, Government of Maharashtra:

Complainant Shri Shailesh Gandhi has filed Complaint(by email) under Section 18 (1) (f) of the Act on 16 th April, 2017 with the Commission in which he has mentioned following points:
1) It is fairly difficult for Heads of Departments( HODs), and Information Commission to review the overall performance of individual PIOs and FAAs on real time basis and to take corrective actions in an ongoing basis in real time.
2) Software can easily be developed so that a dashboard showing each PIOs performance and of the public authority would be transparent for everyone to see.
3) This will also facilitate preparation of the annual report and be a very useful tool for monitoring individual PIOs and public authorities continuously.
Complainant has therefore approached the Commission with a request to treat this as a complaint under Section 18 (1) (f) of RTI Act ,with a request to issue directives to all public authorities to arrange to publish details of the RTI applications and their disposals in the format enclosed by him.
Commission appreciates excellent suggestion made by Shri Shailesh Gandhi and treats his request as Complaint under section 18 of RTI Act,2005. During last over 11 years, Commission has noted almost total lack of review of the performance of PIOs and FAAs by their superiors with the result that Public Authorities are not only required to pay huge Compensation to the Information seekers from public exchequer but Govt is also responsible for ineffective implementation of such a revolutionary Act which directly relates to Citizens exercising Fundamental Right of “Right to expression” enshrined in the Constitution.
It is pertinent to note that DOPT also vide Deptt.’s O.M. No.1/6/2011-IR dated 15.04.2013 has directed that:
“All Public Authorities shall proactively disclose RTI applications and appeals received and their responses, on the websites maintained by Public Authorities with search facility based on key words. RTI applications and appeals received and their responses relating to the personal information of an individual may not be disclosed, as they do not serve any public interest.”
Commission therefore in exercise of powers vested in it under Section 19(8)(a) of RTI Act,2005, order that Chief Secretary, Govt of Maharashtra should create an online RTI register in every office which has a Public Information Officer and put on a single platform all the RTI applications filed in every office at every level where RTI applications are submitted and filed and also upload this information on the websites of Public Authorities so that Citizens can also access this vital information. The format to be used for the RTI Register is as suggested by Complainant in Annexe 1. This platform would facilitate the compilation and tracking of RTI applications filed offline as well as those that might be filed online with Departments. This order should be implemented by 15 th June,2017 and detailed compliance should be reported to Commission by 15th June, 2015 positively.
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Text of the complaint by Shailesh Gandhi under Section 18 (1) (f) of the RTI Act to the Chief Information Commissioner, Maharashtra:

Today, all RTI applications submitted by citizens are being entered in a physical register maintained by the PIO/APIO in every office where the RTI applications are filed. As a result, while the PIO knows of the number and status of the RTI applications in his/her office, there is no mechanism by which senior officers and Heads of Departments can track the status of such applications. Even an applicant/citizen is currently forced to keep contacting the concerned office to find out the status of the application. Most importantly, the Commission is mandated under the RTI Act to present an Annual Report under Sections 25 (1) (2) (3) and (4) (Annexe 2) to the State Government to be presented to the State Assembly on the status of RTI in the State. Despite the government and the departments also being mandated to provide this information to the Commission, one of the biggest challenges in properly preparing such a report, is the lack of timely and reliable information from Departments/Field Offices about the number of RTI applications and the efficiency with which they are being processed. If such information were to be available online in real time basis, it would allow all the concerned people to track applications as well as allow the Government to monitor their disposal. Finally it would greatly enable the Commission to better analyze (in terms of departments and geographical areas) many aspects related to the status of implementation of the RTI Act in the State. It would also give the position of RTI applications received and disposed and be very useful.
I am suggesting a format in which each PIO would enter the data and the paper registers could be dispensed with. A simple software could automatically update the data in a real time basis and would be available to citizens and all officers, ensuring transparency.
Finally, such an online digital platform would help comply with the provisions of pro-active disclosure under Section 4(1)(a)(b) of the RTI Act (Annexe 4) . It would also help comply with the mandate under section 4 (2) which is as follows –
I would be very happy to assist in developing this template and software.
Suggested format

This has drawn considerably from a request by the CIC of Kerala to the Chief Secretary of Kerala.

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