Backlogs in RTI

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    In News

    • As per the report Performance of Information Commissions in India, 2021, over 2.55 lakh appeals and complaints were pending on 30 June 2021 with 26 information commissions.

    Key Findings

    Issue of Pendency:

    • The report highlights the delays in disposing of cases due to both shortage of personnel and inefficient operations.
    • Based on the present strength, twelve State Information Commissions plus the Central Information Commission (CIC) would need at least a year to dispose of their appeals. 
    • The estimated time required for disposal of an appeal/complaint in the central information commission (CIC) is calculated at one year and 11 months.

    Penalties Imposed:

    • In over 95 per cent of the cases, the commissions did not impose penalties where they were imposable. 
    • An assessment of the functioning of the transparency watchdogs revealed that 21 out of 29 commissions in the country did not hold a single hearing during the first three stages of the national lockdown imposed in 2020.

    Vacant Positions: 

    • 6 out of 165 posts of Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners are vacant in states and at the centre.
    • In States such as Jharkhand, the State Information Commission has been completely defunct for 18 months. 
    • The commissions of Meghalaya and Tripura have also been defunct for seven and three months respectively and at least three more commissions are headless.

    Other Concerns:

    • The appointment of retired bureaucrats as commissioner, casual attitude by public information officers while rejecting RTI application, and RTI e-filing are still rare facilities in states.

    Image Courtesy: TH

    Right to Information

    • The right to information is a fundamental right under Article 19 (1) of the Indian Constitution. 
    • In 1976, in the Raj Narain vs the State of Uttar Pradesh case, the Supreme Court ruled that the Right to information will be treated as a fundamental right under Article 19. 
      • The Supreme Court held that in Indian democracy, people are the masters and they have the right to know about the working of the government.
    • Thus the government enacted the Right to Information Act in 2005 which provides machinery for exercising this Fundamental Right.

    Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005

    • An Act to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities.
    • It replaced the former Freedom of Information Act, 2002.
    • Functioning of Right to Information Act
      • A three-tier structure for enforcing the right to information has been set up under the RTI Act 2005.
      • Public Information Officers
        • The first request for information goes to the Assistant Public Information Officer and Public Information Officer, designated by the Public Authorities.
        • These Officers 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): 
        • Their major function is to listen to appeals against the order of the Appellate Authority.
        • These Information Commissions consist of a Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and up to 10 Information Commissioners(ICs).
      • Political parties:
        • The Central Information Commission (CIC) had held that the political parties are public authorities and are answerable to citizens under the RTI Act.
        • But in August 2013 the government introduced a Right To Information (Amendment) Bill which would remove political parties from the scope of the law.
        • Currently, no parties are under the RTI Act and a case has been filed for bringing all political parties under it.
      • Recently, the RTI Amendment Bill 2019 was presented to make certain changes.
      • For Amendment in the RTI, Please go through this link.
    • Significance
      • The RTI Act, 2005 did not create a new bureaucracy for implementing the law. Instead, it tasked and mandated officials in every office to change their attitude and duty from one of secrecy to one of sharing and openness.
      • It carefully and deliberately empowered the Information Commission to be the highest authority in the country with the mandate to order any office in the country to provide information as per the provisions of the Act. 
      • And it empowered the Commission to fine any official who did not follow the mandate.
      • Access to information can empower the poor and the weaker sections of society to demand and get information about public policies and actions, thereby leading to their welfare. It showed an early promise by exposing wrongdoings at high places, such as in the organisation of the Commonwealth Games, and the allocation of 2G spectrum and coal blocks.
      • Right to information opens up government’s records to public scrutiny, thereby arming citizens with a vital tool to inform them about what the government does and how effectively, thus making the government more accountable.
      • Improves decision making by the public authority by removing unnecessary secrecy.

    Way Forward

    • Filling up the vacancies in Information commissions will definitely help clear the RTI backlogs.
    • Constitutional Status to CIC and ICs: The constitutional status will give RTI and CIC proper sovereign backing to function in an autonomous way. 
    • Awareness Campaigns: Any empowerment or transparency drive is incomplete without the involvement of stakeholders which can be ensured by mobilising NGOs and Citizens.
    • Protection to RTI Activists: There have been incidents of attacks on RTI activists and they too should be given enough protection for whistleblowing against the corrupt.

    Source: TH