Information on relief measures taken up essential during pandemic, says report
21 Information Commissions of RTI in the country, out of 29 did not hold any hearing during the first three phases of the COVID-19 lockdown. Only 7 commissions made arrangements to take up urgent matters or those related to life and liberty, an analysis by the Satark Nagrik Sangathan and the Centre for Equity Studies published on Wednesday.
The Central and State Information Commissions are the final appellate bodies under the Right to Information Act, 2005, and are mandated to safeguard and facilitate the right to information.
The report further elaborate that information about relief measures such as ration, pension and health services, as well as the expenditure of public funds such as the PM CARES and the Chief Minister’s Relief Funds, must be deemed essential during the pandemic. “Without availability of information, these programmes will not reach the intended beneficiaries,” it warned.
“While in the midst of a pandemic, it is reasonable to expect some delays in processing information requests, commissions must not abdicate their statutory role in ensuring access to information, especially related to delivery of essential commodities and services,” exclaims the report, further adding that given the possibility of frequent lockdowns and disruptions over the next several months, and possibly years, information commissions must start using other options, including hearings through phone and video conference, in case physical hearings are not possible.
The commissions which were holding hearings as of May 15 were the Central Information Commission (CIC) and those in the States of Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana and Telangana. The Manipur, Punjab and Rajasthan commissions were only hearing urgent matters or those related to life and liberty, says the report.
The commissions in Jharkhand and Tripura were defunct, as their sole commissioners completed their tenures during the lockdown period. Four other commissions — in Bihar, Goa, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh — were functioning without a chief. The websites of the commissions in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Nagaland were inaccessible during the lockdown.