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Its time to review the Right To Information (RTI) Act, 2005

  • IASbaba
  • December 20, 2022
  • 0
Governance
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Context: The Right to Information (RTI) Act was passed by Parliament in 2005, aiming to give people access to the records of the Central and State governments. It was a vital reform to help activists and individuals ensure transparency and accountability in governance.

  • The present time calls for a review of the Act and its various aspects including advantages, challenges among others in ensuring transparency and accountability in governance.

About RTI Act, 2005:

  • The RTI Bill was passed by Parliament of India in June 2005 and came into force in October 2005.
  • The Right to Information Act 2005 mandates timely response to citizen requests for government information.
  • It replaced the former Freedom of Information Act, 2002.
  • The Act aims at promoting transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority

Key Provisions

  • Any citizen can request information from a “public authority” only, so it is not applicable to the private sector.
  • The information should be given within 30 days.
  • The Act also emphasizes the need for every public authority to computerize its records.
  • If the citizen is not satisfied with the information given, he can file an appeal again within 90 days.
  • Section 4 of the RTI Act requires suo motu disclosure of information by each public authority. However, such disclosures have remained less than satisfactory.
  • Section 8 (2) provides for disclosure of information exempted under Official Secrets Act, 1923 if larger public interest is served.

Implementation of RTI Act:

  • To oversee its implementation, an institution called the Central Information Commission has been set up, which ensures that the spirit of the RTI Act.
  • CIC may also impose penalties on departments for not providing information.
  • ○ Each department now has a PIO or Public Information Officer in charge of providing information on behalf of the department concerned.

Concerns over rising RTI complaints:

  • According to a report by the Satark Nagrik Sangathan, the backlog of appeals or complaints is steadily increasing in commissions every year.
  • According to the data received from 26 Information Commissions the number of appeals and complaints pending in 2019 was 2,18,347.
  • This number climbed up to 2,33,384 and in 2021 the number was 2,86,325 with data from 26 commissions and in 2022, it was 3,14,323.
  • The highest number of pending cases was in Maharashtra at 99,722 followed by Uttar Pradesh at 44,482, Karnataka at 30,358, the Central Information Commission at 26,724 and Bihar at 21,346.

Issues associated with the RTI framework:

  • Lack of awareness: The major impediment is the lack of awareness of the law and lack of widespread adoption.
  • Non-functionality of information commissions across the country: The Satark Nagrik Sangathan report says two out of 29 information commissions across the country are completely defunct.
    • Jharkhand and Tripura have been completely defuncting for 29 months and 15 months respectively.
    • Presently 4 of 26 commissions are working without the Information Commissioners at the moment.
  • Issues of vacancies and understaffing: According to a report by the Transparency International, one-fourth of Information Commissioner posts are vacant and there are only 5% (only 8) women Information Commissioners in the country.
    • Out of a total 165 posts of Information Commissioners, 42 are vacant, including two Chief State Information Commissioners.
  • Lack of Imposing of penalties: An analysis of penalties imposed shows that the commissions did not impose penalties in 95% of the cases where penalties were potentially imposable.
  • Appeals are not addressed: The report says that till now more than 4.2 crore RTIs have been filed and 26 lakh second appeals are there before the commissions.
    • Over 32,000 RTI appeals are pending with the Central Information Commission.
  • Lack of digitization: The entire system is in dire need of digitisation.
    • Only 11 information commissions out of 29 provide e-filing facility for RTI applications or appeals, but only five are functional.
  • Major institutions such as political parties and judiciary have kept themselves out of the RTI investigation and similarly the media is also out of ambit of the RTI Act.

Challenges in Implementation of RTI Act:

  • Non-compliance in proactive disclosure by public authorities.
  • Hostile approach of Public Information Officers (PIOs) towards citizens and misinterpreting provisions of the Right to Information (RTI) Act to conceal information.
  • Lack of clarity on what public interest is and right to privacy.
  • Lack of political will and poor infrastructure.
  • Rejection of information requests made by active citizens on important matters of public importance.
  • Covert means of attacks and threats against RTI activists and applicants to suppress their voices.

Way Forward:

  • Remove the existing impediments: There is a need to remove long waiting time for disposal, tardy disposal rates and the lack of transparency in their functioning.
    • Then only the Right to Information Act will achieve social justice, transparency and to make accountable governments.
  • Curbing RTI misuse: As observed by Delhi High Court, misuse of the RTI Act has to be appropriately dealt with; otherwise the public would lose faith and confidence in this “sunshine Act”.
  • Improve governance and amend the act: A lot more needs to be done to usher in accountability in governance, including protection of whistleblowers, decentralization of power and fusion of authority with accountability at all levels.

It’s been in the 18th Year since the RTI Act came into existence, although the ACT has done tremendous help to the common citizens. However, the present times provide us a priceless opportunity to amend the law and redesign the processes of governance, particularly at the grassroots level where the citizens’ interface is maximum for a better informed citizenry and for the nation as a whole.

Source: The Hindu

 

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