Assam chief information commissioner Himangshu Sekhar Das (left) and Jorhat deputy commissioner Solanki Vishal Vasant in Jorhat on Wednesday. Telegraph picture
Jorhat, Jan. 20: A total of 6,220 cases of RTI complaints and appeals are pending in the office of the Assam Information Commission where a post of information commissioner remains vacant.
Assam chief information commissioner Himangshu Sekhar Das told reporters and RTI activists here today that the commission has three sanctioned posts - a chief information commissioner and two information commissioners. However, one post of information commissioner has been lying vacant since the tenure of Mohan Chandra Malakar, a retired principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife), expired in March 2014, he added.
Das, a retired additional chief secretary in the Assam government, had assumed charge on December 1, 2014. His post had been lying vacant since January 2011, when his predecessor D.N. Dutt's term expired. When Das took charge, both the posts of information commissioners were vacant, following the expiry of the tenures of the previous incumbents, and more than 6,000 cases were pending.
Das said with three posts, including his, lying vacant "for some time", the pendency of cases had increased. He said he had tried to clear the backlog and had written to the government to fill up the two posts of information commissioners. Pinuel Basumatary, a retired bureaucrat, was appointed to one of the posts in August 2015 while the other still remains vacant.
Das said complaints are filed by applicants to the commission under Section 18 of the RTI Act, 2005, against specific government officials, designated as public information officers (PIO), for not providing the information sought, and under Section 19 of the act for not getting sufficient information from the PIO concerned and their superiors in a particular department.
Das said the commission, which has the power of civil judicial court, brought down the pendency level by disposing of more than 1,000 cases in the past year. "To bring down the pendency, both of us (Das and Basumatary) are hearing cases daily," he said.
However, with fresh cases pouring in, the pendency has shot up to 6,220, he added.
On date, 1,815 complaints and 4,405 appeals are pending.
Among the 1,000 cases disposed of, the commission recommended departmental action against government officials in 10 cases for not providing information to applicants sought under RTI, Das said.
Fines were also imposed on officials for delaying or not providing proper information to applicants.
Under the RTI Act, the commission's recommendation in such matters is final and binding, he added.
Das hoped the government would fill up the vacant post of information commissioner to bring down the backlog of cases and give the RTI process in the state a boost.
He said in the last 10 years, since the RTI Act came into effect, about five crore RTI applications have been filed across India, of which 1.4 lakh were filed in Assam. He said Assam's share was not very encouraging and called for greater awareness.
He said the number of RTI applications filed from the Northeast to the Central Information Commission (Delhi) was negligible and a majority of the RTI applications filed in Assam were micro (small and specific) in nature rather than macro (seeking information about larger issues and public interest).