- The transparency regime set up by the Right to Information (RTI) Act has nearly 3.15 lakh pending complaints or appeals with 26 information commissions across India.
RTI Pendency in India
- Pendency and delays:
- As per the data obtained from several information commissions (ICs), the backlog of appeals or complaints with them is steadily increasing every year (reference period 2019-2022) resulting in a long waiting time for disposal.
- States with the highest number of pending cases and appeals were Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Bihar etc.
- RTI cases filed till now-4.2 crore RTIs and 26 lakh second appeals with average waiting period of two years.
- Functioning Issues:
- Completely defunct ICs: 2 ICs in Jharkhand and Tripura (out of total 29) are completely defunct for 29 and 15 months respectively
- Lack of transparency in the functioning of ICs causes tardy disposal rates thereby violating the mandate of safeguarding and facilitating people’s fundamental right to information.
- Personnel Management: ICs are becoming parking lots for retired bureaucrats.
- Behavioral traits: Casual attitude by PIO/First Appellate Authority while rejecting RTI applications.
- Gender disparity: Only 5% of the positions of Information Commissioners are occupied by women.
- Imposition of penalties: The commissions did not impose penalties in 95% of the cases where penalties were potentially imposable.
- As per the report by the Transparency International, one-fourth (42 of the total 165) information commissioner posts are vacant.
- Four ICs in Manipur, Telangana, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh are without chiefs or heads.
Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005
- Mandate: The Right to Information (RTI) Act 2005, was enacted by Parliament to empower citizens, promote accountability and transparency in the working of the government while containing corruption.
- The Right to Information (Amendment) Act, 2019: This amendment changed the tenure of the CIC and ICs from five years and provided for the central government to notify the term of office for the CIC and the ICs. Accordingly, tenure of the commissioners has been cut to 3 years.
- ‘Public Authorities’ are institutions of self-government established under the Constitution or under any law or government notification.
- They include Ministries, public sector undertakings and regulators.
- They also include any entities owned, controlled or substantially financed and non-government organizations substantially financed directly or indirectly by government funds.
Functioning of Right to Information Act
Under the RTI Act 2005, a three-tier structure has been set up for enforcing the right to information.
- Public Information Officers: The first request for information goes to the Assistant Public Information Officer and Public Information Officer, designated by the Public Authorities.
- They are required to provide information to an RTI applicant within 30 days of the request.
- Appellate Authority: It caters to the appeals against decisions of the Public Information Officer.
- State Information Commission or the Central Information Commission (CIC): They are mandated to hear appeals against the order of the Appellate Authority.
- Information Commissions consist of a Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and up to 10 Information Commissioners (ICs).
Utility of RTI
- RTI helps in addressing the matters of constitutional rights and empowers people to seek answers from the government establishment, which forms the very basis of democracy.
- RTI has been instrumental in preventing policy paralysis and institutionalization of a more informed, equitable and robust decision-making process.
- There is an urgent need for the transparency watchdogs to function in a more effective and transparent manner.
- The entire system of RTI is in need of digitisation for better record management. e-filing facility for RTI applications or appeals should be made functional in every ICs.
- The digital RTI portal (website or mobile app) can deliver more efficient and citizen-friendly services and minimize the issues of pendency and delays substantially.
- PIOs can be trained by experts in-house mechanisms for efficient management and disposal of cases.