RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

[op-ed snap] Chipping away RTI

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : RTI Act - amendments, analysis

Context 

The new rules of RTI Act based on July 2019 amendments to the 2005 Right to Information Act downgraded the office of the chief and other information commissioners at the Centre and in the states.

Background

    • Parity with CEC broken – So far the CIC received the same salary and perks as that of the Chief Election Commissioner or a judge of the Supreme Court. 
    • Now on par with Cabinet Secretary – The new rules make the CIC an equivalent of the cabinet secretary and central information commissioners the same as secretary to the government in terms of salary. In the states, the downgrading will be to the level of a secretary to the government, and additional secretary respectively.
    • Tenure – The tenure has been reduced from 5 years to 3. 

Powers of CIC

    • These reductions are not simply a matter of pay. 
    • Power of ICs undermined- The CICs and ICs at both the Centre and the states have the power to review the functioning of government public information officials, and intervene on behalf of citizens seeking information about decisions of the government. This stands undermined.
    • Lack of enforcing powers – these officials have zero powers to enforce their orders, except the imposition of a fine for non-compliance. 
    • Authority exercised – Over the years, government departments coughed out information because they were seen in the same league and of the same authority as the CEC and Supreme Court judges.

History of attacks on RTI

    • Governments at the Centre and states have pushed back against the promise of transparency in the RTI Act. 
    • Tampered appointments – Appointments to the posts have been used to grant sinecures to favoured retired bureaucrats or dispense favours to camp-followers. 
    • Poor strength – There has been an enormous reluctance in many states to appoint the full strength of commissioners, leading to a large pendency. 
    • Rejection of requests – The CIC returns a large number of complaints and appeals on minor grounds. Still, the RTI Act helped ordinary citizens feel empowered to take on corruption.
    • One-sided transparency – what the government wants to put out is rarely matched with what citizens want to know about its decisions. 

Conclusion

Destroying the authority of the RTI will certainly ensure that the number of applications reduces on their own.

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