Panaji, June 28 (IANS) The increasing clamour over the continued non-appointment of top State Information Commission officials, who deal with appeals filed against the rejection of queries under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, has put Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar on the backfoot.
The opposition, as well as civil society groups, have now closed ranks and are trying to pressurize Parrikar into making the appointments soon or else face protests.
According to Congress spokesperson Reginaldo Lourenco, as opposition leader Parrikar utilized the RTI Act to the fullest to source information to nail the then Congress government but as the chief minster, he is trying to create an information blockade.
"He knows the importance of information and there is a lot for this government to hide. Not appointing the State Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC) and the state information commissioner only gives the government time to hide its scams," Lourenco said.
At a recent meeting of the Goa Right to Information Forum, information activists discussed ways and means by which to force the government to appoint the two key officials.
"The state CIC has not yet been deliberately appointed by the chief minister. It is as if admitting he does not want the commission to function properly," forum secretary Shrikant Barve told IANS.
A letter written by the forum to the chief minister demands the appointment of the officials at the earliest or face protests.
Barve said that there were over 506 applications pending before the State Information Commission and no officials to vet them.
A recent circular issued by the state government asking all departments to compile an exhaustive list of names and the nature of queries asked under the RTI Act has also left activists baffled. Some have begun calling it the beginning of intimidation of those seeking information under the act.
"This is nothing but the beginning of intimidation. The government wants to keep an eye on people seeking information," said Sudip Tamhankar, an RTI activist who was formerly a close Parrikar aide when the latter was the opposition leader.
The post of state CIC fell vacant on July 20, 2012, and two subsequent attempts made by the government to fill the post hit controversy.
The first appointee, Pandurang Nadkarni, was found to be unqualified for the post, while the second, P. Paduwal, was being probed by the state vigilance department.
Parrikar has, however, denied allegations that the government was trying to stifle the State Information Commission's functioning. The circular, he says, was issued because foreigners had started applying under the RTI Act.
"There are at least 4-5 foreigners who had procured information under RTI even though the Act makes it clear that only Indians can seek information," Parrikar said, adding that the vacant posts would soon be filled up.
(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)