Is the RTI Act fulfilling its purpose?
Polity & Governance
23rd Dec, 2022
The Right to Information (RTI) Act was aimed at giving people access to the records of the Central and State governments.
In this article, we shall be taking stock of what’s working and the issues that appear to be weakening the law.
What is the Right to Information?
- RTI is an act of the parliament that sets out the rules and procedures regarding citizens’ right to information.
- It replaced the former Freedom of Information Act, of 2002.
- Under the provisions of the RTI Act, any citizen of India may request information from a “public authority” (a body of Government or “instrumentality of State”) which is required to reply expeditiously or within 30 days.
- In case of a matter involving a petitioner’s life and liberty, the information has to be provided within 48 hours.
- The Act also requires every public authority to computerize their records for wide dissemination and to proactively publish certain categories of information so that the citizens need minimum recourse to request information formally.
Governing of the RTI
- The Right to information in India is governed by two major bodies:
- Central Information Commission (CIC) – Chief Information commissioner who heads all the central departments and ministries- with their own public information officers (PIOs). CICs are directly under the President of India.
- State Information Commissions (SIC) – State Public Information Officers or SPIOs head over all the state departments and ministries. The SPIO office is directly under the corresponding State Governor.
Benefits of RTI
- Greater accessibility to information
- Efficient governance
- Citizen’s participation
- Government obligation
- Maintenance of public record
- Lack of awareness of this law and lack of widespread adoption.
- Lack of accountability: Public information officers use words like this division does not have the information.
- Under RTI Act, liability is on the officer to find out who is holding the information and transfer the RTI application.
- Large numbers of denials where people are just told that this information cannot be provided to them, which is an illegal denial.
- Maintaining datasets and information: putting information in the public domain has become a big problem.
Why is RTI empowering legislation for people?
- Obligation on the government to respond to them in a time-bound manner
- To get the information to hold the government accountable.
- Balance of power in favour of those governed.
RTI Act fulfilling its purpose
It has fulfilled its purpose to some extent:
- The majority of the RTI applications are filed by people who are asking about their basic rights and entitlements.
- It enabled exposure to big-ticket scams such as the Adarsh, Commonwealth Games and Vyapam scams.
- It has also made it possible to expose human rights violations, and then force accountability in those cases as well.
- The Act is still effective despite the widespread attempts to dilute its efficacy
What are the challenges faced by the RTI Act?
- Resistance by bureaucracy: The public information officers these days use excuses like this division does not have the information.
- Resistance to sharing of information: Within the government, asking for information is not encouraged.
- Vacancies: Huge vacancies in information commissions means that appeals and complaints keep pending.
- Dilution of law– Successive governments have tried to whittle down this law.
- The Digital Data Protection Bill, 2022 proposes to amend the RTI Act.
- Clause 30(2) of the draft proposes an amendment to Section 8(j) of the RTI Act, which will have the effect of totally exempting personal information from disclosure.
- Section 8 (1)( j ), which is criminally misused by the bureaucrats to deny the information. The new law proposes an amendment to increase its purview, giving officials the right to deny access to most information.
Section 8(1) (j) of the RTI Act, 2005 encapsulates that information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual, unless the CPIO or SPIO or the Appellate Authority is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information should be exempted from disclosure.
- Some States with an RTI application within 150 words: Condensing the question, especially for those who might not have the benefit of formal education.