Q. How do you intend to bring down over 5,000 appeals, which are the second highest as of March?
A. We are hearing second appeals as old as 2012. There are over 1,000 of them. The chief information commissioner and I intend to clear all the appeals of 2012 by July. After that, the backlog of 2013 cases will be taken up. The second appeals of that period is huge — over 3,000. We will try to complete them as soon as possible.
Q. What is the target you have set for yourself?
A. I started by hearing 10 appeals per day. That has increased to 15 now; by May, 20 appeals will be heard daily. A target of clearing 300 appeals in a month is set. With five days a week, 400 can be touched; but some cases are complex. They may take time, but 300 can certainly be achieved. As of now, 148 appeals are cleared in a month.
Q. As per the RTI Act's preamble, applications should be minimum. That is possible only through suo motu disclosures. What are the ways you envisage through which that can be achieved? Mostly, the applications have been for personal details.
A. Voluntary disclosures under section 4 is the crux of the Act. We will soon try to put up all letters and orders on the website too. The state government has issued guidelines to ensure that information like duty and other things be put up on the RTI Act. If people want ration card details, all of it cannot be suo motu declared; but there are a lot of applications that are grievance-based. Complaints are not acted upon, hence, applications are filed. Public authorities should take care of grievances to avoid this.
Q. In the appeals you have heard, have PIOs justified denying information? Have you seen first appellate authorities (FAA) shirking their responsibility?
A. It's been a mix bag. Sometimes, PIOs have been able to justify. With respect to FAAs, while I have not seen them shirking responsibility, improvement is needed at that level. They are executive officers and at times they pass orders without going into details of the case or applying their mind. They are an important level at which appeals can be reduced. If FAAs are given guidance, appeals can reduce. We are thinking of writing to government departments concerned through the chief information commissioner on that.
Q. You have just been out of the government. How do bureaucrats/officers view this Act? It's said they resist it.
A. There is no resistance. People are overburdened but they are committed to transparency. Whether someone likes it or not, the Act cannot be resisted. But I do not think there is any resistance.
Q. The Act has become an interface and leveller of sorts between the government and public. Your comment.
A. It is certainly a game changer in a way. What has been completely confined within the four walls of the government is now open and transparent. This has added to the accountability manifold.