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Balancing RTI While It turns 15 This Year

“The only sure bulwark of continuing liberty is a government strong enough to protect the interests of its people, and a people strong enough and well informed enough to maintain its sovereign control over its government.”

-Franklin Roosevelt, 1938

Introduction


For a democracy to thrive, it is imperative to have a government accountable to its governed. Government accountability is only achievable in practice if the citizenry is well informed of the governance to hold them accountable, contain corruption and have transparency of information. With this intended objective, the Right to Information Act (RTI) was enacted in 2005 to make a turning point in this nation’s democratic development, by promoting good governance by the elements of transparency, accountability, participation. The first grass-roots campaign for the introduction of RTI was started by Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) in 1994. Although the RTI act has a few categorical exempted information about government functions, it has empowered the citizens to request the public authorities’ for information on governmental functions.



Criticisms on RTI law.


In practice, RTI law itself is not free from infirmities. First, the luxury of information often comes at a price of other public interests, such as optimal utilization of time and resources by government offices and preserving the confidentiality of sensitive information. For instance, under the RTI Act, a query seeking details of PM Cares fund was denied on the reasons “disproportionately divert the resources of the office”. These issues can lead to inefficient operations of the government offices. In 2011, the apex court, in a case critically observed “was 75 per cent of the public staff was busy “spending 75 per cent of their time in collecting and furnishing information to applicants instead of discharging their regular duties”. Other than day-to-day management issues that surround RTI, provisions that are open to misinterpretation allow the government officials to shrug the responsibilities. The authorities often misinterpret Section 8 (Exemption from disclosure of Information) to deny information. The authorities also resort to providing inaccurate or incomplete information under false pretexts, or extensively delay the requested information. The laxity in imposing penalties on Public Information Officer (PIO) for not providing information within reasonable time let them undermine the RTI Act. Consequently, a large number of applications go unanswered, delayed or illegitimately refused, which further results into a large number of appeals and complaints to the commission. Going through the pendency of complaints as of October 11 2019, the Central Information Commission alone had more than 33,000 pending cases. Authorities are still in the process of creating the needed infrastructure in their departments to provide the information sought by any agency.

At the same time, minimal guidelines of RTI also encourage the misuse of the Act by RTI applicants who sometimes raise frivolous queries and incidences of criminal intimidation of government officials. In response to the misuse, CJI stated that “paralysis and fear” in the government and its functionaries, leads to inefficiency in taking and acting on decisions. To address the issues of the RTI, the Supreme Court recently made the categorical observation that information is sought by the people who bear no connection with the requested information.


Conclusion through Suggestions and Opinions


The information movement has been gaining momentum by the people with the required demand for openness and awareness about the right. The Second Administrative Reforms Commission suggests that complete reorganization of public records is a precondition for effective implementation of RTI. A Public Records Office should be established in each State as a repository of expertise, to monitor, supervise, control and inspect all public records which will save the time and expenditure of the government and public.

Certain safeguards should be introduced to discourage frivolous and vexatious requests so that the system is not overloaded, and discipline and harmony are not jeopardized. Plus, a roadmap is essential for the effective implementation of the RTI Act by the Legislature and Judiciary at all levels. It is to be promoted through vigorous campaigning and political will, so that openness becomes the norm. It is worth for both the government and public to remember that enactment of law needs to be in harmony with effective implementation to reinvigorate the nature of governance in the nation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Illashree Singh is Currently practising as an advocate at Allahabad High Court.

They can be contacted at illashreesingh@gmail.com

Edited By: Swathi. Ashok. Nair.

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