RTI ACTIVISTS UNITE AGAINST ORISSA INFORMATION COMMISSIONERS

Orissa Information Commission was scanned in a recent conference of RTI activists at Bhubaneswar, where a resolution was passed calling upon the Governor of the State to ensure a time-bound schedule for enquiry and action in respect of every complaint over acts of omission and commission of the Commissioners under Section 17 of RTI Act.

The participants have even decided to stage a ‘Sit-in Demonstration’ (Dharana) in front of the Governor’s House demanding action on the complaints already lodged against the Information Commissioners of Orissa.

Presided over by Karunakar Pattanayak, a retired IAS officer, the conference held in the Red Cross Bhawan auditorium on February23 was attended to by a hundred of activists, senior citizens and complainants who expressed how severely they are injured by deliberate delay at the level of the Commissioners.

On an average, most of them alleged, the disposal of a case by the Commission takes 2 to 3 years, rendering the crux of the issue irrelevant.

Mr. Madan Chandra Mishra a Complainant citing his Complaint Case No. 481/2006 said that it was heard as many as 12 times spanning 3 years. And in the end, neither he got the complete information nor was the defaulter PIO penalized by the Commission.

Another complainant Mr.N.A.Shah Ansari, who is also an eminent RTI Activist, referring to his Complaint Case No. 967/ 2007 elaborately described his sorrowful experience as to how the Commission, without imposing any penalty on the defaulter PIO of Dept. of Youth Affairs and Sports, exonerated him in the name of Natural Justice.

Mr.Harishankar Panigrahi from Sambalpur describing his experience of hearings held in the Commission’s office. He said that on one occasion he was not allowed to speak when, on the contrary, Mr. Jagadanand, SIC threatened him to put him behind the bars. He further divulged that he has filed 11 complaint cases in the Commission, most of which related to life and liberty. The Commission without hearing his case remanded it to the 1st Appellate Authority, ADM of Sambalpur. The Ist Appellate Authority disposed of the case without ordering the supply of any information. Then the Commission abruptly dismissed the case in endorsing the decision of the 1st Appellate Authority and without imposing any penalty against the defaulting PIO.

Gopabandhu Chhatria and Kedar Nanda of Bolangir, Rabindra Das of Puri and Kedar Nath Sahoo of Boudh presented their testimonies as to how they were harassed by the Commission and how the Commission exonerated the concerned PIOs from penalty in their respective cases. They also demanded immediate enquiry into such kind of partisan behavior of Orissa Commissioners against the complainants and appellants, which favoured the guilty PIOs and shielded the conniving Appellate Officers.

To Lalit Mishra, when Orissa Information Commissioners themselves don’t disclose their property list, it is simply ridiculous on their part to ask the Govt. to disclose the property list of IAS officers in the state.

The conference was organized by Right to Food Campaign, Orissa, NAMASKAR Forum and Orissa State Vigilance Council, Cuttack.

Initiating the proceedings, Pradip Pradhan, Convener, Right to Food Campaign, Orissa, made a data-based presentation about how inefficiency and misfeasance on the part of the Commission has ruined the spirit of the RTI Act in Orissa. Referring to the dismal rate of disposal by both the Commissioners, Pradhan said, in the year 2008 State Chief Information Commissioner disposed only 42 cases per month while Mr. Jagadanand, State Information Commissioner only 36 cases per month. But their counterpart in Central Information Commission Mr. Shailesh Gandhi was found to have disposed of as many as 267 cases and Mr. Babu Rao Burge, Maharastra Information Commissioner 386 cases per month during the said year. It is distressing to know that the Commissioners of Orissa who enjoyed more or less the same status, salary and privileges as entitled to the rest of the Commissioners across the country, have fared so low leading to generation of a massive backlog of more than 5000 cases in the Commission’s office.

Whether the State Information Commissioners are above answerability is the question that kept participants agitated throughout.

Now it is time for the Government and the Governor to act.

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