RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

Supreme Court’s observations on “use and abuse of RTI”

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Public Office, RTI Act

Mains level : Read the attached story

The Hon’ble CJI has called for a “filter” to check “abuse” of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

These remarks came a month after the Supreme Court declared the office of the CJI a public authority under the ambit of the RTI. Over the years, the apex court has stressed the importance of transparency under RTI at times, and also remarked on its overuse at other times.

For a stronger RTI, the Supreme Court looped in for:

Providing rightful information

  • The Public Information Officers under the guise of one of the exceptions given under Section 8 of RTI Act, have evaded the general public from getting their hands on the rightful information that they are entitled to, SC has observed.
  • The ideal of ‘Government by the people’ makes it necessary that people have access to information on matters of public concern.
  • The free flow of information about affairs of Government paves way for debate in public policy and fosters accountability in Government.
  • It creates a condition for ‘open governance’ which is a foundation of democracy.”

Bringing NGOs under RTI Act

  • In 2019, a SC bench has declared that NGOs are not beyond the RTI Act. This was based on an examination of the question whether NGOs are substantially financed by the government.
  • The Bench observed that substantial means a large portion. It does not necessarily have to mean a major portion or more than 50%.
  • To give an example, if a land in a city is given free of cost or on heavy discount to hospitals, educational institutions or such other body, this in itself could also be substantial financing.
  • Merely because financial contribution of the State comes down during the actual funding, will not by itself mean that the indirect finance given is not to be taken into consideration.
  • Because of this observation, the spotlight falls of several NGOs that have been getting public money and were not covered under the RTI.
  • There are societies directly controlled by politicians, but fighting cases that they are not covered under the transparency law.

SC on the overuse of RTI

Time consumed in replying

  • According to estimates, nearly 60-70 lakh RTI applications are filed in India every year, and activists have questioned whether addressing these would require 75% of the time of government staff.
  • Several public authorities have used this observation while denying information, ignoring the fact in the same case, the Supreme Court had ordered disclosure of the requisite information.
  • In CBSE & Anr vs Aditya Bandhopadhyay and Others in 2011, the SC said: The nation does not want a scenario where 75% of the staff of public authorities spends 75% of their time in collecting and furnishing information to applicants instead of discharging their regular duties.

Personal and Public

  • In Girish Ramchandra Deshpande vs CIC & Ors in October 2012, the SC Bench observed, “The performance of an employee/officer in an organisation is primarily a matter between the employee and the employer.
  • Normally these aspects are governed by the service rules which fall under the expression ‘personal information’, the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or public interest.
  • On the other hand, the disclosure of which would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy of that individual.
  • If the appellate authority (any) is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information, appropriate orders could be passed but the petitioner cannot claim those details as a matter of right.
  • Various public authorities have used this order to deny information on cases/inquiries going on against government officials.

Back2Basics

The RTI Act

  • Under the RTI Act, 2005, Public Authorities are required to make disclosures on various aspects of their structure and functioning.
  • This includes (i) disclosure on their organisation, functions, and structure, (ii) powers and duties of its officers and employees, and (iii) financial information.

Its genesis

  • It was the Supreme Court that had sown the seeds of the RTI Act when, in 1975, in State of UP vs Raj Narain Case.
  • Justice K K Mathew observed, “The people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in a public way by their public functionaries.
  • They are entitled to know the particulars of every public transaction in all its bearing.
  • Their right to know is derived from the concept of freedom of speech, though not absolute, is a factor which should make one wary when secrecy is claimed for transactions which can at any rate have no repercussion on public security.
  • Before the RTI Act, the Supreme Court advocated for the people’s right to know in Union of India Vs Association for Democratic Reforms in 2002.
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