From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : CIC
Mains level : Paper 2- Challenges facing RTI
Amidst renewed concern over its functioning across states, the Right to Information Act (RTI) is set to complete 17 years this October.
Issues facing RTI
- Backlog of appeals: Issues include a huge backlog of second appeals, lengthy wait time for hearings, hesitancy in posting penalties and increasing opacity in the working of the commissions.
- As on June 30, 2021, 2.56 lakh appeals were pending with 26 information commissions in the country.
- CICs downgraded rank: Any serious RTI query or one which concerns more than one government department requires intervention by higher officials, but it is the PIOs from junior ranks who attend hearings and are often clueless.
- Often, it requires a notice to higher authorities, in some cases, the secretary of the department, to elicit the right answer.
- With CICs downgraded in rank, there will be fewer and fewer notices served to the heads of departments and senior officers to appear and answer queries.
- Vacancies: The commissions have been plagued with vacancies, poor choice of commissioners, untrained staff and a non-cooperative set of public information officers (PIOs).
- Threat to some RTI activists: Apart from the PIOs’ general inexperience and unprofessionalism, comes the threat to some RTI activists who seek information to expose corruption.
- According to the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), across India, 99 RTI activists have lost their lives, 180 assaulted and 187 were threatened since 2006.
- Political proclivity: The attitude of a few commissioners going public with their political proclivities is another cause for concern.
- Training of officials: The Indian information law, rated as one of the strongest in the world, needs to be bolstered by raising awareness amongst the people and organising rigorous training of government officials.
- Code of conduct: A code of conduct must be evolved for the central and state information commissioners.
- It is imperative for the commissioners to keep a strict distance from government heads and officialdom.
- A strong political system is a must for the RTI regime to flourish.
- It is imperative to ensure freedom of the press and democratic institutions, punish errant officials and maintain complete autonomy of the information commissions, in the interest of the people and the nation at large.
As India emerges as a global power, the implementation of legislation like the RTI Act will be under the constant scrutiny of the comity of nations.