AWARD MANIA HARMS RTI MOVEMENT: WILL INFORMATION COMMISSIONERS STAY OFF THE TRAP?


Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

The Right to Information movement in India is in severe jeopardy because of award mania created by a private combine styled as ‘Public Cause Research Foundation’, hereinafter called the foundation, comprising three persons, Arvind Kejirwal, Manish Sisodia and Abhinandan Sekhri. This combine has, in name of the nation, instituted awards in three segments in RTI implementation mechanism, such as (1) Information Commissioners, (2) Public Information officers and (3) citizens active in use of RTI Act.

When the Information Commissioner selected as “most outstanding” for having enabled access to correct and complete information to maximum appellants and enforced RTI Act in its true letter and spirit would be awarded with Rs.2 lakhs cash and citation as the best IC of the year, two Public Information Officers marked for providing complete and correct information in maximum number of RTI applications within the prescribed time limit and/or for having made special efforts in providing information to the applicants, would each receive a citation, a plaque and prize money of Rs. 2 Lakhs where as prizes of the same pattern would be awarded to two of the citizens who should have created maximum public impact by using RTI Act, the Foundation has declared.

The awards are “an effort to celebrate honesty and openness in public service”, claims the Foundation. This is saying in other words that the RTI implementation machinery is infested with dishonesty and clandestinity. From this perception the Foundation proceeds to find out if there is any exception.

It has floated a body with misleading title like the National RTI Awards Secretariat.

And, the so-called secretariat has hand picked preferred persons to act as “National RTI Awards Jury” as if it enjoys national approval with the power to select the “winner(s)”!

And, what they have done?

They have made a report of selection, which, according to Central Information Commissioner Prof. Dr. M.M. Ansari, “is so flawed that it is not worth even the paper on which it was written”.

Putting his reactions to the revealed ranking under the caption “Flawed Logic and Specious Conclusions”, Prof. Ansari has noted that the parameters adopted for valuation of Commissioners “can best be described as voodoo statistics and methods which will not stand scientific scrutiny even for a moment”.

Suggesting that the Foundation’s exercise is obviously an act of award-fixing, Prof. Ansari has cited some instances. Such as, he says,

“Mr.V.V. Bhorge (Information Commissioner, Maharastra) has disposed of 4593 second-appeals, out of which in 989 cases, he had issued affirmative orders in favour of the appellants. He had imposed 126 penalties on errant public officials. Mr.Bhorge has been ranked as one of the five worst Commissioners.

Now contrast this with the indulgence with which the authors have treated Mr.D.N. Padhi of Orissa. Mr.Padhi has decided 423 cases, out of which in 361 cases, he has decided the appeal in favour of the appellant. He has imposed 40 penalties. Mr.Padhi has been ranked as one of the best five Commissioners.

Now contrast Mr.Padhi’s performance with the performance of Mr.Bhorge and you will find how lopsided and erratic have been the self-appointed evaluators of the performance of the Commissioners. Mr.Bhorge has decided a much larger number of cases than Mr.Padhi. He has imposed a far larger number of penalties than Mr.Padhi and the number of cases in which he has decided in favour of the appellants are about as many as Mr.Padhi’s own. And yet in the estimation of the authors, Mr.Padhi is one of the five best Commissioners and Mr.Bhorge is one of the five worst under Pro-disclosure category and Overall Public Satisfaction category”.

The award-fixing was so certain that the so-called Secretariat of the Foundation had congratulated Padhi for having been adjudged “best” amongst CICs. As Prof. Ansari’s analysis hit the internet and RTI activists started censoring the report of the jury, the so-called Secretariat of the Foundation has issued a Press Statement to say that it had not congratulated a CIC on being adjudged “best” in ranking.

The statement begins thus: “National RTI Awards Secretariat denies it has “congratulated” some information commissioners for being “best” or “topping the rankings” of information commissions

… and clarifies that rankings, released by the Secretariat to the media on October 21, 2009, are interim rankings, subject to change in the coming days; final rankings will be decided by the Jury on November 27, 2009”.

This quoted portion of the statement being the Foundation’s official version, one is at loss to understand as to why certain words are suppressed under dots in the second paragraph. Read with a State Commission tampering with its own website as exposed in these pages under our caption “Orissa CIC embarrasses the State by suspected self-glorification” on November 10, 2009, these undefined dots in the preceding paragraph generate fear that a few RTI activists, hand-in-glove with fellows suffering obviously from recognition crisis amongst the implementation executives , have taken the nation for granted and have used the fine art of manipulation in the award fixing business, all in the name of democracy.

Whether or not the so-called Jury changes its earlier decision on November 27, the RTI movement has already been injured under the award mania.

It would be proper for Government of India to instantly ban any award of cash prize and / or citation for any Information Commissioner by any individual or outfit. It would also be proper to ban acceptance of any such cash prize or honor by any in the RTI implementation machinery. But it would be more appropriate for Information Commissioners to stay away from receiving any such award from any private or official entity as sanctity of RTI movement needs to be protected in the greatest interest of democracy.

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