A huge number of Right to Information (RTI) applications remain pending, as the Andhra Pradesh State Information Commission (SIC) remains dysfunctional for the past 18 months. The issue is likely to become a major cause of contention in the upcoming winter session of the Parliament.
In a public hearing organised in Visakhapatnam on November 16, hundreds of people from across the state participated, and discussed various issues related to the implementation of the RTI Act in the state. The public hearing was co-organised by the United Forum for RTI, Andhra Pradesh, and the National Campaign for People's' Right to Information (NCPRI).
After bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh in 2014, the SIC had continued to function as the information commission for both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The commission became defunct in May 2017 after the serving information commissioners retired. Since then, the commission has been non-functional.
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Speaking to Newsclick, Chakradhar, an RTI activist from the state, said, “After bifurcation of the united Andhra Pradesh, a slew of multi-crore projects have been initiated in the region including projects to develop Amravati as the state capital. Several of these projects can be seen flouting norms. For example, in Visakhapatnam, over 1,000 hectares of land were encroached upon. To look into this matter, a committee was constituted. However, its report was not made public.
Snatching the right to information means systematic dismantling of accountability.”
The Andhra Pradesh government had issued an order to constitute the SIC for Andhra Pradesh in August 2017, and has now appointed three commissioners in October 2018. However, no chief information commissioner has been appointed, and the commission continues to be non-functional. No appeals and complaints regarding violations of the RTI Act are being heard.
At the public hearing, Verma, a resident of Vijaynagram testified that he had sought a copy of the report of the SIT set up by the government to look into the land scam. His RTI application has been dismissed, and in the absence of the SIC, he is unable to appeal against the denial. Another RTI activist shared that his RTI application seeking details of foreign trips by the CM and his son was dismissed, and he too is unable to take the matter forward, as the commission has not been properly constituted.
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Chakradhar Buddha, convenor of the UFRTI, presented the preliminary findings of an audit of proactive disclosures of public authorities of Andhra Pradesh. The audit showed that most public authorities failed to meet their obligations of proactive disclosures of information under Section 4 of the RTI Act. “What is truly saddening about the state of affairs is that previously, the state was among the better performing states as far as the RTI implementation was concerned.”
With the chief information commissioner (CIC), which is the highest neutral adjudicator, has not been appointed despite serious scams in the state, the status of transparency in the state is taking a hit as the body remains largely toothless without a CIC.
At the public hearing, Anjali Bhardwaj, co-convener of the NCPRI, and B. Ramakrishna Raju, national convenor, National Alliance for People's' Movements (NAPM) urged people to continue their struggle to demand proper implementation of the RTI Act. Anjali Bhardwaj shared that during the upcoming winter session of Parliament, several protests are being planned against proposed amendments to the RTI Act.