According to a report released by the NGO, Satark Nagrik Sangathan, nearly 3.15 lakh RTI complaints or appeals are pending with 26 information commissions across India and the backlog of appeals or complaints is steadily increasing in commissions every year.
The growing backlog of complaints/appeals
- According to statistics gathered from 26 information commissioners, there were 2,18,347 complaints as of 2019.
- The number increased to 2,33,384 in 2020, from 23 information commissions.
- And from 26 Information commissions, the number was 2,86,325 in 2021 and 3,14,323 in 2022.
Highest Pending Cases
- Maharashtra has the most cases pending, with 99,722
- Uttar Pradesh with 44,482
- Karnataka with 30,358
- Central Information Commission with 26,724 cases
- Bihar with 21,346 cases.
Dysfunctional Information Commission
- Only 5% of the posts in the country’s 29 information commissions are held by women, four of them are now headless, and two of them are completely dysfunctional.
Reluctance to Impose penalties
- In 95% of the situations where fines could have been applied, the commissions chose not to apply sanctions, according to a study of the ones that were.
Maximum RTI request at Centre
- The four information commissions getting the most RTIs were the Central government (1.19 billion), Maharashtra (86.06 million), Tamil Nadu (36.99 million), and Kerala (32.82 million).
vacancies of CICs and ICs
- In comparison to 36 vacancies in 2021, there are currently 41 open Chief Information Commissioner and information commissioner positions out of 165 total positions.
About RTI Act
- The RTI Act came into force with effect from October 2005.
- The Right to Information (RTI) is an act of the Parliament of India which sets out the principles and techniques in regards to citizens’ right to information. It supplanted the previous Freedom of Information Act, 2002.
- It is an initiative taken by Department of Personnel and Training, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions.
- The basic object of Act is to empower the citizens, promote transparency and accountability in the working of the Government, contain corruption, and make our democracy work for the people in real sense.
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 thirty days.
- In case of 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 for information formally.
- Section 13 of the original Act: It sets the term of the central Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners at five years (or until the age of 65, whichever is earlier)
- The Public Information Officer (PIO) or the First Appellate Authority in the public specialists performs semi-legal capacity of settling on the application and appeal individually.
- To document the request, pay Rs. 10 in cash or through bank draft or cash request or court expense stamp.
- It protects the fundamental rights to Freedom of Expression and Speech under Article 19(1)(a) and Right to Life and Personal Liberty under Article 21 guaranteed by the Constitution.
- The authorities under RTI Act 2005 are called public authorities. The Public Information Officer (PIO) or the First Appellate Authority in the public authorities perform quasi-judicial function of deciding on the application and appeal respectively.
A Brief Timeline of the Introduction of RTI
- 1994: A grassroots campaign for the right to information was launched in 1994 by Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan (MKSS), which demanded information on development projects in rural Rajasthan.
- 1996: With assistance from Press Council of India, NCPRI and other organizations sent the Union government a draft RTI bill in 1996.
- 1997: A committee led by H.D. Shourie was given the draft bill by the government in 1997, and the committee produced a report. Tamil Nadu became the first Indian state to enact a Right to Information law.
- 2001: The recommendations of a parliamentary committee are made in 2001.
- 2002: The Supreme Court issues a deadline to the government over the Freedom of Information Act, which was established by Parliament, and the right to information.
- 2003: The Act did get Presidential Assent, however, it was not notified in the Gazette of India.
- 2004: The RTI Bill, which solely applied to the central government, was introduced in Parliament and referred to a parliamentary committee.
- 2005: The RTI Bill was approved by the Parliament and came into effect in October 2005.
Challenges faced by working on the RTI Act 2005
- Bureaucratic attitude: The volume of irrelevant or vexatious inquiries is an often cited justification for this contemptuous attitude. However, the truth is that these inquiries make up just around 4% of all appeals and are simply handled.
- State Information Commissions’ various issues:
- Positions and Vacancies unfilled:
- some Information Commissions are without chiefs:
- sensitive information is not released.
- Official Secrets Act: OSA is used to deny information which is sensitive or classified
- Political Parties: reluctance of Political party to adhere to the norms of RTI and provides the information sought by the citizens
- Issues with Public Information Officers: In some instances, the arrogance of PIOs is mind-boggling. A PIO’s arrest warrant was issued by a Madhya Pradesh information commissioner for flagrantly disobeying 38 summonses to attend at commission hearings and disobeying SIC instructions.
- Government negligence: The government department was equally negligent when it decided to disciplinary action the PIO. The RTI regime suffers greatly from this careless attitude.
- Reluctance to release information: The government department was equally reluctant in proactively releasing information mandated under Act.
- Codes of conduct: Another issue is the way a few commissioners act when they reveal their political preferences in public.
- Conflict with judicial proceedings: Numerous RTI cases are involved in legal proceedings. High courts issue orders for stays of the judgements made by CICs quickly. The appeals are disguised as writs in order to seek relief from high courts despite the Act’s unambiguous statement that the information commissioners have the last say.
- Whistleblowers’ interest wanes: The excitement of important stakeholders appears to be waning.
- The RTI regime needs a robust political will to succeed.
- RTI Act, the information law, which is considered to be among the strongest in the world, has to be strengthened by increasing the earliest filling of vacant positions and heads in Commissions, reducing the pendency of appeals and organizing strict training for government employees.
- It is necessary to develop a code of conduct for the Central and State Information commissioners.
- The commissioners must maintain a clear separation from top officials and the public.
- Now it is up to the general public, civil society, the media, the courts, and finally the commissioners themselves to boost the RTI system’s flagging morale.