The Bombay High Court on Saturday (26th September) rapped Maharashtra Government and expressed surprise at the fact that during the period of six months after lock-down was announced, the State did not consider it appropriate to provide for the hearing of the First Appeals under RTI Act in Virtual Mode.
The Court was also displeased with the prayer of the Maharashtra Government seeking some more time to make the system operational.
Notably, the Bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G. S. Kulkarni was hearing a petition filed by RTI activist and former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi and others, seeking directions for the RTI apparatus in the state to adopt video-conferencing technology to resume its functioning
The petitioners prayed for directions to the respondents to issue appropriate guidelines or directions to all the public authorities in the State of Maharashtra to adopt an appropriate online video conferencing platform for conducting hearings pertaining to proceedings under the diverse statutes applicable to such public authorities as well as for conducting hearing of First Appeals under the Right to Information Act, 2005.
While considering the PIL petition on Tuesday (September 15), the Court had requested Ms Shastri, learned Additional Government Pleader for the State to take instructions on the issue as raised in the PIL petition.
On Saturday (26th September) Ms Shastri submitted today a letter dated September 22, 2020, issued from the office of the Chief Secretary, Government of Maharashtra.
The Court noted that,
"It appears, on the reading of such letter, that the Government of Maharashtra is inclined to adopt appropriate online video conferencing platform for conducting hearing of quasi-judicial/administrative proceedings; however, the procedure may take some time as a meeting will have to be convened with the concerned Departments including the Finance Department and that necessary guideline and directions would be issued to all the public authorities thereafter. It also appears that some of the authorities are already conducting the hearing through video conferencing." (emphasis supplied)
Quite reluctantly, the Court adjourned the hearing of this PIIL petition for three weeks, as prayed for by Ms Shastri, expressing hope and trust that on the returnable date, she would apprise the Court regarding the steps taken by the Government and thereby not leave any room for the complaint to be voiced by the petitioner.
Matter has been posted for further hearing on October 15, 2020.
Case Title: Shailesh Gandhi & Ors. v. Maharashtra State Information Commission
Case No.: Public Interest Litigation (L) No.3144 Of 2020
Quorum: Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G. S. Kulkarni
Appearance: Advocate Sunil Ahya (for the Petitioner); Advocate General A. A. Kumbhakoni with AGP Geeta Shastri (for the Respondent/State).
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