Context: The Supreme Court has directed the Centre and State governments to take immediate steps to fill up vacancies in CIC and SICs before the commissions become “defunct” and render the citizen’s right to know a dead letter.
About RTI Act 2005
- The RTI Act provides for setting up of the practical regime of Right to Information for citizens to secure the right to access to information held by or under the control of public authorities.
- RTI act was brought with an intent to foster transparency and accountability in the functioning of public authority.
- Every citizen has the right to information subject to the provisions of RTI act.
- Organizational structure is as follows:
- Tier 1: The Public information officer is responsible for providing information to an RTI applicant within 30 days of receipt of request.
- Tier 2: It is designated as First Appellate Authority, the applicant who does not receive the required information or is aggrieved by the decision of CPIO can file an appeal within 30 days.
- Tier 3: At third tier, Central Information Commissioner has been appointed as the apex body under RTI Act 2005. If the applicant is not satisfied or does not receive any order from First Appellate Authority, he/she can file Second appeal within 90 days.
Benefits of RTI Act
- Accountability: Empowers Citizens to hold government accountable for non- performance of their duties by providing citizens access to government files and records.
- Participative Decision Making: Allows citizens to participate in decision making process and shape public opinion through access to important information.
- Accessible to marginalized: Helps marginalized and vulnerable sections in demanding their basic rights and access to important government services and welfare schemes.
- Proactive governance: Discloses steps taken by governments in times of crisis – e.g.: food, medicines, healthcare facilities provided during pandemic or disasters, steps taken during COVID, natural disasters.
- Empowers citizens: Citizens and NGOs in the past have used information to file writ petitions in Courts against instances of misgovernance, non- implementation of various rules or laws or even schemes, lack of access to government services etc.
- Clean Governance: Expose extent of criminalization of politics and helped in de-criminalizing Indian politics through important SC judgments.
- Exposes corruption and scandals: Adarsh Housing Society Case, 2G case, Commonwealth Games Case etc.
- Universalized regime of rights: RTI Act has ensured application of Article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- Bridges the gap between information seeker and information provider.
Issues arising in the functioning of RTI Act
- Amendment in 2019: Amendment in 2019 have considerably diluted the powers of CIC/SICs with respect to appointment, tenure, and service conditions. (Earlier CICs conditions of service were similar to the Election Commissioners).
- Pendency: There is a pendency of more than 19,000 complaints with CIC as per the recent data, which account for average waiting period of 2 years for disposal of cases.
- Vacancy: Vacancy of seats against the sanctioned strength of 10 (CIC), at state level, 25% of the posts of information commissioners are vacant.
- Recruitment of retired bureaucrats: Commissions have become parking lot of retired bureaucrats considered as close to ruling party. Since most bureaucrats are accultured in secrecy, they tend to favour non-disclosure of information.
- Low disposal rates and opaque functioning: SICs have been accused of low disposal rates in the appeal matters.
- Defunct offices: The offices of SIC Jharkhand, Tripura and Telangana have been defunct of over three years.
- Lack of digital infrastructure: Only 11 information commissions out of 29 provide e-filing facility for RTI applications or appeals, but only five are functional.
- No imposition of penalties: A study on penalties imposed found that the commissions didn’t impose penalties in 95% of the cases where penalties were potentially imposable.
- Improper file management: Ineffective record management system particularly in state field offices/departments.
- Conflict of interest of PIOs: PIO is a functionary of the office from which the information is sought. This often prevents him to divulge critical information affecting his colleagues.
- Conflict with OSA: Legislations such as OSA restrict the free flow of information.
- Suo moto disclosure: Reluctance of authorities, especially at state level for Suo moto disclosure, maintenance of records which is duly catalogued and accessible.
- Intimidation and threat by the person in power and by political parties
- Open data regime: Government should follow Open data policy and proactive disclosure to increase transparency at maximum possible instances.
- Capacity building: through continuous training and issuance of guidelines to CPIOs to dispose of information at the first stage itself.
- E-courts and video conferencing: for early hearing of second appeals/complaints.
- Digitization of records: electronic receipt of cases to enhance efficient delivery of information.
- Social audits can be carried out with respect to the functioning of CIC/SICs.
- Public Spirited individuals as Information Commissioners: The need is for the commission to have public spirited individuals as information commissioners.