RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

Central Information Commission (CIC) and The RTI

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CIC and RTI

Mains level : Central Information Commission, and issues with the effectiveness of Right to Information Act

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Context

  • The most vital mandate of the Central Information Commission, the apex body under India’s transparency regime, is to decide the disclosure or the non-disclosure of information. But the commission has seemingly relinquished this primary duty in cases of larger public importance.

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All you need to know about Central Information Commission (CIC)

  • Chief Information commissioner (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.
  • Composition: The Commission consists of a Chief Information Commissioner and not more than ten Information Commissioners. At present (2019), the Commission has six Information Commissioners apart from the Chief Information Commissioner.
  • Appointment: They are appointed by the President on the recommendation of a committee consisting of the PM as Chairperson, the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and a Union Cabinet Minister nominated by the PM.
  • Office term: The CIC/IC shall hold office for such term as prescribed by the Central Government or until they attain the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier. They are not eligible for reappointment.
  • Power and functions:
  • It is the duty of the Commission to receive and inquire into a complaint from any person regarding information request under RTI, 2005.
  • The Commission can order an inquiry into any matter if there are reasonable grounds (suo-moto power).
  • While inquiring, the Commission has the powers of a civil court in respect of summoning, requiring documents etc.

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Procedure of RTI and the role of CIC

  • Provision to File and application and seek guaranteed reply: Citizens can file applications under the Right to Information Act with any public body and are guaranteed a reply from the public information officer of that public body within 30 days.
  • Provision of appeal in case of dissatisfaction:
  • In case of a no reply or dissatisfaction with the response, the citizen can file an appeal at the departmental level and then a second and final appeal with the Information Commission.
  • Each State has its own State Information Commission to deal with second appeals concerning State bodies. At the Centre, it is the Central Information Commission (CIC).

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How RTI amendment, 2019 has changed CIC?

  • Before the amendment to the Until the 2019 amendment to the RTI Act, Information Commissioners (ICs) appointed to the CIC were equal in status to the Chief Election Commissioner, and that of a Supreme Court judge. They had a five­-year fixed term and terms of service.
  • After the amendments of 2019, the Centre gave itself powers to change and decide these terms whenever it wished, thereby striking at the independence of the commission and those who man it.

What are the concerns raised over the changed approach of CIC?

  • Decreasing accountability: Records show that not a single order for disclosure has been forthcoming in matters of public importance. The present set of Information Commissioners have together adopted a new jurisprudence that has created additional hurdles in a citizen’s quest for accountability.
  • Systematic ignorance to the mandate of non-disclosure: The Commission has adopted a new way of delegating its mandate to decide cases to the Ministry before it. In most cases, the Ministries reiterate their earlier stand of non­disclosure, most often under vague grounds of national interest.
  • Refusing to its duty: After these public authorities pass fresh orders, which are usually a reiteration of their earlier stand against disclosure, the CIC refuses to accept any further challenge to such orders, therefore, refusing to do its duty of deciding the cases.
  • Ignoring the principle of natural justice: One of the cardinal rules of natural justice is that no one should be a judge in their own cause. However, the commission now allows, or rather wants, the very Ministry that stands accused of violating the RTI Act to act as the judge in their own cause and decide whether a disclosure is necessary.
  • New instruments such as pending cases and stay orders: A case to keep pending for final order or a stay order is unheard of and there is no provision in the RTI Act for the same.
  • Officers have no fear of any penal provisions: Bureaucrats reject RTIs with glee with no fear of facing penal provisions outlined in Section 20 of the RTI Act, knowing fully well that they have a free hand under the Information Commissioners.

Back to basics: The Right to Information

  • RTI is an act of the parliament which sets out the rules and procedures regarding citizens’ right to information.
  • It replaced the former Freedom of Information Act, 2002.
  • Under the provisions of 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.
  • In case of the 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.

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Conclusion

  • Dark clouds surround India’s transparency regime. Citizens have to mount intense pressure on authorities to act and appoint commissioners of integrity. Lawyers have to help willing citizens take matters to court and seek justice.

Mains question

Q. What are the role and functions of Central Information Commission? CIC’s deviance from its duty may undermine citizens’ power of right to information.

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