Mumbai: The office administering the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund (CMRF) in Maharashtra says it is yet to receive any records to begin reconstructing a file about a policy decision to bring the fund under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Worse, the State Information Commission, with which details of the decision were shared, told the CMRF ‘orally’ that no such record was available with it.
The decision to make the transparency law applicable to the fund was taken in 2008 when Vilasrao Deshmukh was Chief Minister. The file was among the documents destroyed in a fire that ravaged Mantralaya, the state secretariat, in 2012.
The Free Press Journal had reported a direction by the State Information Commission (SIC) to the CMRF in May to reconstruct the file of the decision. Ironically, it is the city bench of the SIC that made the oral communication while the main bench, to which the information was reportedly communicated back in 2008, has no mention of it.
On the contrary, in June 2022, the headquarters bench issued a circular reminding all benches of the SIC of an earlier circular about the duration for which records are to be maintained.
The applicant for information had cited a Feb 2008 news report of Chief Minister Deshmukh’s secretary writing to the state’s then Chief Information Commissioner, Suresh Joshi, at the headquarters bench, to inform him that the CMRF was being brought under the transparency law in the public interest. The letter was written after an uproar when information held by the fund was denied under RTI to Shailesh Gandhi, former central information commissioner.
Gandhi had then gone in appeal to the SIC. Before the commission could decide the matter, however, the government decided to bring the fund under the RTI and the news report appeared.
While there has been no change in the policy and the CMRF continues to provide information under RTI to this day, in Feb 2019 it got a shield of sorts to deny information following another order by the information commission.
The 2019 order was passed when an applicant failed to get information from the Chief Minister’s Medical Relief Fund, another fund under the CMRF. He approached the commission which ruled that the medical fund was not under RTI.
Activists said this leaves room for the government to withhold information selectively. So RTI applications were filed to seek details (and records) of the 2008 deliberations and legal opinions sought before bringing the CMRF under the transparency law and the consent given by the then Chief Minister.