GUWAHATI, Aug 30 - The COVID-19 induced lockdown has not only affected the socio-economic sector of the State but is also posing a challenge for the citizens to enjoy their democratic rights, especially the right to information.
The functioning of the Assam State Information Commission was severely affected when there was a total restriction in inter-district movement. This led to a rise in pending cases in the Commission.
During this period, the Commission had arranged virtual hearings for RTI appeals filed by the public from across the State. Unfortunately, as stated by a source, only 40 per cent of such cases could be disposed of.
�The main reason behind the low rate of success in virtual hearings is poor internet connectivity in most parts of the State. Moreover, most people, including both petitioners and officials, were found not to be techno-savvy. So in most cases, the attempt to dispose of cases through virtual hearings went futile,� the source said.
During virtual hearings, the Commission mainly failed in disposing of complicated cases related to various State government departments. Till July 31, around 2,000 cases were pending with the Commission. Interestingly, among those cases, around 1,200 were filed by RTI activist Dulal Bora.
At present, by following all COVID-19 related norms, the Commission is conducting three virtual hearings and eight physical hearings every working day.
The source said that during the lockdown period, filing of appeals also came down drastically. Before the medical emergency situation, the Commission used to receive around 140 appeals every month. But during the period from April to July, it received only around 250 appeals. As the number of pending cases is very high, so for cases filed during the lockdown period, the Commission is expecting to start hearings from November.
When contacted for his comments on the challenges faced by the Commission amid the pandemic situation, State Chief Information Commissioner AP Rout said, �Some challenges will always be there, but we have to work hard. Now our prime concern is to dispose of a case within the shortest period.�