Demand of the question:
It expects students come to a decision based on the overall analysis of the pros and cons backed by evidence about the efficacy of Right to Information as a tool of accountability and transparency in governance.
The path-breaking Right to Information Act came into effect in 2005 with the objective to ensure accountability and transparency in governance. It has been heralded as the most significant reform in public administration in India since Independence.
Transparency and accountability through RTI:
- Empowerment of people: RTI Act has lent voice to the aspirations of ordinary citizens in issues of governance. It gave the common people a defining power to shape the government schemes and policies. It empowered the people to question, audit, review, examine, and assess government acts.
- Checking corruption: RTI is the most effective instrument to check corruption where the citizen has the right to take the initiative to seek information from the state and thereby promotes openness, transparency and accountability in administration by making the government more open to public scrutiny.
- For instance, It played a big role in exposing the Adarsh scam, irregularity in MGNREGA and other schemes.
- Awareness: RTI Act empowered the people to seek definite and direct answer from the officials of their works or lack of it. RTI applications have annually increased by 8 to 10 times.
- Around 13.70 lakh RTI applications were received in 2018-19 by the registered Central Public Authorities (PAs) which shows how people have become aware of this powerful act.
- Increasing ambit of RTI: SC judgement in 2019 opened office of CJI to RTI. An effort is underway to bring political parties under RTI also but it is vehemently opposed by the political parties.
- Suo moto disclosure of information has become a trend in many ministries and government offices.
- Every year, an estimated 5-8 million RTI queries are filed. Around 45 RTI activists have been killed so far, not counting the many attacked.
Hence, it can be deciphered that RTI has almost successfully achieved not all but many of the objectives of it. In spite of these efforts and reforms some lacunas still remain where RTI has failed to ensure transparency and accountability, which needs to be addressed:
- High pendency: The Information Commissions were envisioned as the watchdogs in the implementation of the RTI act. 15 years later, the commissions seem to be going the way of the Judiciary in terms of pendency. CIC currently has more than 30,000 pending cases.
- Delay in appointments of Information Commissioners and opacity: Despite the SC direction, four vacancies continue to remain unfilled in the CIC since January 1, 2019, in addition to thousands of vacancy in State Information offices. There is opacity in appointment procedure of CIC and other Information Commissioners.
- RTI Amendment Bill 2019: which seeks to amend Sections 13, 16, and 27 of the RTI Act. The amendment threatens RTI through provisions such as: CIC’s fixed term of 5 years has been changed to “term as may be prescribed by the Central Government”
- The salaries, allowances and other terms of service of the Chief Information Commissioner and the Information Commissioners “shall be such as may be prescribed by the Central Government” which were earlier equivalent to Chief Election Commissioner.
Due to these emerged challenges over the time RTI Act seems to have lost its way of transparency and accountability. Following Steps can be taken to ensure transparency and accountability through RTI:
- Transparency in the process and quick appointment of Information Commissioners.
- Reducing the pendency in RTI disposal.
- Simplification of processes for filing of RTI Requests and Appeals to central Government Authorities.
- Establishing an institutional mechanism for collaborative working with CSOs and Media and included consultation meetings of the National RTI Committee, RTI Fellowships, etc.
Since its inception in 2005,one can conclude that RTI has made its impact felt in the functioning of Government bodies and the larger governance discourse, as the staff has become active, conscious, regular, punctual, accountable and responsible. However, some structural challenges and new emerged challenges posed a question on the transparency and accountability through RTI. Hence, independent institution of RTI needs to be preserved in its original form to realise true meaning of democracy.