After CIC’s Meeting for Compulsory E-filing of Complaints and Hearings, Maharashtra Govt Swings into Action
As directed by the Supreme Court in its order of 9 October 2023 and by the department of personnel & training (DoPT) subsequently, the central information commissioner (CIC) convened an online meeting with information commissioners of all states on 17th November, directing each one of them to implement the hybrid mode of hearings before 31st December.
 
The general administration department (GAD) of the Maharashtra government has got into action. Through its circular of 23rd November to all departments, it states that the state chief information commissioner (SCIC) has requested a comprehensive list of email addresses of all public information officers (PIOs) and all appellate authorities (AA) of all public authorities (PAs). The deadline set for this is 11th December, to be sent to GAD and to be compiled by it.
 
While the hybrid mode of second appeal or complaint hearings is trending in state and central information commissions, since the COVID-19 pandemic period, the objective now is to have a 100% implementation of this system. This would be a boon for all RTI applicants. In places where internet connectivity is low or unavailable, enterprising information commissioners have been conducting hearings through the applicant’s audio mobile calls.
 
The Supreme Court, in its order of 9 October 2023, has tightened the noose on all central and state information commissioners (SICs) as well as Central and state governments, by directing the following:
 
All SICs across the country must provide hybrid modes of hearing to all litigants for the hearing of complaints as well as appeals. All SICs must provide an option for availing of a hybrid mode of hearing which shall be at the discretion of the applicant, or as the case may be, the appellant. The links for availing of the option must be stipulated in the daily cause list of the information commissions across the country. This shall be operationalised no later than 31 December 2023.
 
All SICs must ensure that e-filing of complaints and appeals is provided in a streamlined manner to every litigant. Steps should also be taken, having regard to the provisions of section 26 of the RTI Act, to ensure that service is effected on the PIOs (see box) through the electronic media. This shall also be implemented by 31 December 2023.
 
All Central and state ministries shall take steps within a period of one month from the date of this order to compile the email addresses of the Central and state PIOs which shall be furnished to the CIC and to all the SICs, as the case may be.
 
We direct that the secretary, department of personnel and training, shall convene a meeting of all the Central and state information commissioners within a period of one month from the date of this order. Comprehensive modalities for the implementation of the above directions shall be set up.
 
All the state governments shall cooperate in the implementation of the order. The state governments shall, where funds are required, ensure the provision of necessary funds to all the SICs for setting up the infrastructure for conducting virtual hearings. The CIC and SICs would be at liberty to avail of the facilities which have been provided by the NIC for setting up the websites on the S3 WAS platform which provides for ease in the electronic media.
 
Summary of section 26 of the RTI Act
 
Section 26 of the Right To Information Act, 2005, states that the appropriate government has the responsibility to prepare programmes for educating the public, especially the disadvantaged communities, about their rights under this Act, and to encourage and train public authorities to participate in and disseminate accurate information about their activities. The appropriate government also has to compile, update and publish a guide in its official language that contains all the necessary information for a person who wants to exercise any right specified in this Act, such as the objectives, procedures, fees, remedies, and assistance available under this Act.
 
 
 (Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also the convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain Award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book "To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte" with Vinita Kamte and is the author of "The Mighty Fall".)
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