RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

[op-ed snap] A duty to publish: On RTI

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RTI provisions

Mains level : RTI - effectiveness

Context

The Right to Information Act has a crucial role in fostering a more informed citizenry and an accountable government.

Limitations

    • There have been persistent and growing misgivings. 
    • Section 4 of the Act calls for pro-active and voluntary dissemination of information. Only a few Central and State institutions have published relevant information. Rajasthan has taken a lead through its Jan Soochna portal. 
    • Vacancies – persisting vacancies in the State and Central Information Commissions were raised in a plea in the Supreme Court. 3-judge bench led by the CJI asked the Centre and States to expedite filling up the vacancies. The CIC has four vacancies and 33,000 pending cases. 
    • Paralysis of administration – CJI also observed that officials were sensing fear leading to paralysis of action due to the working of the RTI. The kind of queries that were sometimes being asked was not always in public spirit and was posed by people who had no “locus standi” in the matter.
    • State of transparency – A Transparency Audit report submitted to the Central Information Commission (CIC) sought feedback from 2,092 PAs to evaluate the implementation of Section 4 of the Act. 
    • Only 838 (40%) responded and, 35% of the PAs fared poorly with little transparency in parameters such as organisation and functions, budget and programme, e-governance, and other information disclosures.

Locus Standi

    • Rejects Locus Standi – RTI Act explicitly rejects the need for locus standi in Section 6(2) — “an applicant making a request for information shall not be required to give any reason for requesting the information…”. 
    • Importance of the clause – seeking locus standi in order to respond to public requests could result in a chilling effect as public authorities (PAs) could choose to deny information to general citizens on subjective grounds. 
    • Discretion to reject – information commissioners and public officials have the authority to reject requests based on an exemption from information disclosure. 
    • Rate of rejection – Data on RTI requests since 2005 shows that the yearly rejection rate has come down steadily to 4.7% in 2018-19.
    • If locus standi becomes a criterion, it could dramatically increase this number. 

Way ahead

    • Voluntary disclosure – public authorities should provide for greater voluntary dissemination on government portals.
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