2.2 lakh cases pending as RTI Act marks 15th anniversary


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In News:

  • 12 October 2020 marks 15 years since the Right to Information (RTI) Act has come into force.
  • A report put together by voluntary organisations shows that there are 2.2 lakh cases are pending at the Central and State Information Commissions.

News Summary:

  • On this occasion, a report put together by voluntary organisations on the performance of the central and state information commissions (CIC and SICs) based on data from April 2019 to July 2020 was released.

Pending RTI appeals and complaints:

  • Large number of RTI applications: Every year 40-60 lakh RTI applications are filed across the country.
  • Huge pending complaints and appeals: The report shows that in 26 information commissions, the number of pending RTI appeals and complaints stood at about 2.2 lakhs.
    • State Information Commission of Maharashtra had the highest number of pending appeals, with over 59,000 cases, followed by Uttar Pradesh (48,000), while pending appeals with the Central Information Commission (CIC) stood at more than 36,500.
  • Increase in RTI appeals’ waiting time: As per earlier report, by 2019, the estimated waiting time on appeals at CIC itself was 1 year and seven months.

Reasons for backlog:

  • Vacancies in information commissions (ICs):
    • The reason for the long waiting time for disposal of appeals and complaints can be traced to vacancies in information commissions (ICs) not being filled in a timely manner.
    • Under the law, every commission should have a chief and up to 10 commissioners.
    • Yet, 9 out of 29 information commissions are functioning without a chief information commissioner.
    • Even the Central Information Commission has been without a chief since August 27.
      • Jharkhand and Tripura have no commissioners at all, and have been defunct for months.
      • Odisha is functioning with just four commissioners, while Rajasthan has only three.
    • The Central Information Commission (CIC) itself has been without a chief since August 2020, and currently has only five commissioners.
  • Non-imposition of penalties:
    • The report found that the commission have been reluctant to impose penalties on government officials violating the RTI law.
    • The report found that penalties were imposed in only 2.2% of cases that were disposed of, despite some analysis showing more than 50% violations should have triggered the process of penalty imposition.
    • RTI activists say that the non-imposition of penalties in deserving cases by commissions sends a signal to public authorities that violating the law will not invite any serious consequences.

Government for suo moto disclosure of information to lower the need for RTIs:

  • In 2019, the Union Home Minister said that RTI is important for removing arbitrariness from governance, reducing gap between the people and administration, and acting as a major grievance redressal tool.
  • He said that the government is creating a transparent system of governance so that there is less need for citizens to use the RTI Act to access information.
  • This involves creating a system where there is enough suo motu disclosure of information by the government agencies/departments.
Should RTI be only filed by relevant persons?
  • The Supreme Court, at the end of 2020, sought suggestions on whether RTI pleas to public authorities be filed only by those having a connect with the issue.
  • The court noted that the unbridled right to anyone and everyone to ask for any information is putting a strain on officials.

About: Right to Information (RTI) Act

  • Right to Information (RTI) is Act of the Parliament of India to provide for setting out the practical regime of the right to information for citizens and replaces the erstwhile Freedom of information Act, 2002.
  • This law was passed by Parliament in June 2005 and came fully into force on 12 October 2005.
  • Objective: To empower the citizens, promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority, contain corruption, and make our democracy work for the people in real sense.
  • Under the provisions of the 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.
  • The Act also requires every public authority to computerise their records for wide dissemination so that the citizens need minimum recourse to request for information formally.
Public Authority:
  • A “public authority” means any authority or body or institution of self- government established or constituted
    • by or under the Constitution
    • by any other law made by Parliament
    • by any other law made by State Legislature
    • by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government, and includes any:
      1. Body owned, controlled or substantially financed
      2. NGO substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the any government
How the Act works:
  • The Right to information in India is governed by two major bodies:
    1. Central Information Commission (CIC) – Chief Information commissioner who heads all the central departments and ministries- with their own public Information officers (PIO)s. CICs are directly under the President of India.
    2. State Information Commissions – State Public Information Officers or SPIOs head over all the state department and ministries. The SPIO office is directly under the corresponding State Governor.
  • State and Central Information Commissions are independent bodies and Central Information Commission has no jurisdiction over the State Information Commission.

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