Times of India: Prasad Joshi: Aurangabad: Monday, May 15, 2017.
After a desk officer attached with the Nashik bench of the State Information Commission (SIC) landed in Anti-Corruption Bureau's (ACB) net for accepting Rs 10,000 bribe for waiving off penalty and disposing appeal, the RTI activists have sought immediate overhaul of the SIC and its benches to protect the transparent act.
Terming the incident as deplorable, activists have called for an investigation by all information commissioners about the practices being followed in their offices. They want to know as to how desk officers can waive or reduce penalties considering such wrongdoings can raise questions on the credibility of the orders passed and also raise doubts about the possible involvement of the information commissioners in such arrangements.
In a letter addressed to State Chief Information Commissioner Ratnakar Gaikwad, advocacy group Mahiti Adhikar Manch has requested to rope in an accredited NGO to scrutinise the recovery of penalties at SIC and benches.
The incident also raises issues of non-compliance of orders in cases where penalties are imposed. As there are no serious follow ups, there are cases where the public information officer (PIO) has retired without the recovery of the penalty and the enquiries thereafter are just manipulated. We have suggested that an accredited NGO be given the task of follow-up and recovery of penalties which will hopefully produce results, read the letter by advocacy group convener Bhaskar Prabhu.
The group has also recommended that information commissioners should consider calling for disciplinary enquiry on defaulting PIOs and also insist that entries be made about such defaults in their service records.
Ravindra Sonar, a 34-year-old administrative desk officer working with Nashik bench of SIC, was allegedly caught red-handed while accepting a bribe of Rs 10,000 from the complainant on May 6. The first-of-its-kind case involving SIC has shocked the RTI community with more in-depth investigation sought to weed out such errant elements.
RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar, said, "Maharashtra government should carry out an inquiry into penalty recovery at SIC & its benches with the help of ACB."
"The Nashik incident could just be the tip of an iceberg and therefore SIC and all its benches must go under scanner. The government should not hesitate in taking such rigorous exercise in order to prevent SIC and its benches converting into hotbeds for corruption, he said.
Chief Information Commissioner Ratnakar Gaikwad could not be reached for his comments. The concerned senior officials from the State General Administration department were not available for comment.
The RTI activists have also sought overhauling in the functioning of SIC and its benches, alleging that a major chunk of concerned office staff do not maintain the in and out timings.
Devising manual for standard practice, mandatory biometric attendance system and maximum use of digitization are some of the measures Mahiti Adhikar Manch has recommended to bring accountability in functioning of SIC.
Total 37,148 second appeals were pending at SIC and its seven benches by the end of April. Nashik bench accounted for a maximum of 10,389 cases followed by Pune (7,660), Amravati (6,806) and Aurangabad (5,812).