RTI second appeals redirected to lower rung

Information Commission Pune bench returning second appeals to appellate authorities, activists cry foul.

The Pune bench of the State Information Commission has been directing second appeals of RTI applicants back to the appellate authorities instead disposing of the applications on its own through hearings.

Strongly objecting to the referring of applications to the lower level of the grievance redressal mechanism, RTI activists called it 'arbitrary' and in 'stark contravention' of basic tenets of the Act.

M H Shah, State Information Commissioner for Pune bench, however, defended it saying he was employing it only when the appellate authorities were totally unresponsive to RTI rules that spell out their duties.

"Section 19(8) of the RTI Act empowers the Information Commissioner to take any such steps as may be necessary to secure compliance with provisions of the Act. To this effect, we have been asking appellate authorities, who were unresponsive to applicants in first place and simply forwarded applications to divisional bench, to do their part," he told Newsline on Thursday.

As per procedure followed in the appeals and complaints under RTI Act, the Information Commission receives second appeals against the orders of appellate officers under Section 19 of the Act. The Information Commissioner disposes of second appeals. The applicant, the Public Information Officer or Assistant Public Information Officer and Appellate Officer (where required) are called for hearing of the second appeal and their say is considered by the Information Commissioner while deciding the case.

Commenting on the issue, civic activist Vivek Velankar said Shah was misinterpreting the Act and it would hurt the interest of RTI applicants. "What if the applicants do not get satisfactory information after being referred back to the appellate authorities? The Act has no provisions at all on this aspect and also on what would be time-frame for appellate authorities to respond when approached a second time," he said.

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