From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Central Information Commission
Mains level : RTI Act,amendments,pending complaints ,Delay in the process, Credibility of the CIC
- The number of information officers and first appellate authorities in the Central government has remained stagnant in the last few years. In contrast, the new Right to Information (RTI) applications filed as well as pending applications are increasing every year. Worryingly, the Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions, the final recourse in matters concerning RTI, also face manpower shortage. As a result, appeals and complaints are piling up.
What is Right to Information Act (RTI)?
- RTI is an act of the parliament that sets out the rules and procedures regarding citizens’ right to information.It replaced the former Freedom of Information Act, 2002.
- Time bound response: 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.
- Immediate Information in an urgent petition: In case of a matter involving a petitioner’s life and liberty, the information has to be provided within 48 hours.
- Digitization of records: 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.
Implementation of RTI
- The RTI Act is implemented using a three-level structure.
- Public Information Officer: At the first level is the Central Assistant Public Information Officer/Central Public Information Officer (CAPIO/CPIO). Once an RTI query reaches the CAPIO/CPIO, they are expected to reply within 30 days.
- First Appellate Authority (FAA): If the reply is not satisfactory or does not arrive on time, a first appeal can be made to the First Appellate Authority (FAA).
- Central Information and State Information Commissions: If the FAA does not answer or if its answer is not satisfactory, the Central Information and State Information Commissions can be approached.
What are the vacancy related issues?
- Low Performance of Information Commissions: A report released in October by the Satark Nagrik Sangathan, titled ‘Report Card on the Performance of Information Commissions in India,2021-22’,states that the number of appeals and complaints pending before the Central and State Information Commissions as of June 30, 2022 was 3,14,323. The figure is based on data gathered from 26 Information Commissions obtained through 145 RTI applications.
- Increase in the pending appeals: There is an Increase in the number of pending appeals and complaints from 2.18 lakh to3.14 lakh in the last three years.
- Leading states in pending complaints: Maharashtra tops the list with nearly 1 lakh appeals and complaints pending followed by Uttar Pradesh (44,482) and Karnataka (30,358). Data were not available for Tamil Nadu State Information Commission. The Commissions in Jharkhand and Tripura were defunct.
- Substantial delay in reply: The Sangathan assumed that appeals and complaints would be disposed of in a chronological order. It would take the West Bengal State Information Commission 24 years and 3 months to dispose of a complaint filed on July 1, 2022. A similar analysis in Odisha and Maharashtra showed that it would take five years. Only Meghalaya and Mizoram showed no waiting time(not plotted on the tree map).
What is the recent amendment?
- 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.
- 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.
- The RTI has unquestionably proved to be one of the significant milestones and a major step towards ensuring the participatory and transparent development process in the country. Dilution of RTI is like downgrading the participation of citizens in public affairs. Government should strengthen the RTI instead of weakening.
Q. Discuss the dilution of RTI through 2019 amendments. How vacancies affect the time bound replies under the RTI Act 2005?