RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

PM-CARES

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Various funds mentioned in the newscard

Mains level : Right to Information Act and its limitations

We all know that the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM CARES) Fund doesn’t come under the ambit of Right to Information (RTI). This oped seeks to discuss certain aspects of this issue.

Present context

  • In a recent affidavit, the Delhi High Court was informed that the PM CARES Fund is not a Government of India fund and that the amount collected by it does not go to the Consolidated Fund of India is strange.
  • This petition is seeking the PM-CARES fund to be declared as the “State” under Article 12 of the Constitution.

Intriguing facts about PM-CARES fund

  • PM CARES has been created not by law, not by notification, but by the mere creation of a webpage, and set up last year in March to raise funds for those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The page lists its structure, functions and duties in an arbitrary manner. The official appeals for funds are made under the national emblem.
  • The most significant lie of this sworn statement is that the Government has no control over the Fund.

What is the case?

  • The PM-CARES Fund was not subject to CAG audit since the Supreme Court regarded it as a public charitable trust.
  • It is not under public scrutiny. Also contributions to it were 100% tax-free.
  • It is accused that there was statutory fund already in existence under the Disaster Management Act of 2005 to receive contributions to finance the fight against a calamity.

What is RTI?

  • RTI is an act of the parliament which sets out the rules and procedures regarding citizens’ right to information.
  • It replaced the former Freedom of Information Act, 2002.
  • 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.
  • In case of the matter involving a petitioner’s life and liberty, the information has to be provided within 48 hours.

About PM CARES Fund

  • The PM CARES Fund was created on 28 March 2020 following the COVID-19 pandemic in India.
  • The fund will be used for combat, containment and relief efforts against the coronavirus outbreak and similar pandemic like situations in the future.
  • The PM is the chairman of the trust. Members will include the defence, home and finance ministers.
  • The fund will also enable micro-donations. The minimum donation accepted is ₹10 (14¢ US).

The other funds

(1) National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF)

  • The statutorily constituted NDRF was established under the Disaster Management (DM) Act of 2005.
  • The NDRF is mandated to be accountable, and answerable under the RTI Act, being a public authority, and auditable by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.

(2) Disaster Response Fund

  • The DM Act also provided for a Disaster Response Fund — state and district level funds (besides the national level).
  • It also collects and uses the donations at the local level, with mandatory transparency and audit provisions.

(3) Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund

  • There is the PMNRF operative since the days of Jawaharlal Nehru. It was established with public contributions to assist displaced persons from Pakistan.
  • The resources are now utilised primarily to render immediate relief to families of those killed in natural calamities and to the victims of the major accidents and riots.
  • However, it has the President of India and the Leader of Opposition also as trustees.

Issues over PM-CARES Fund

  • No defined purpose: It is deliberately ignored while a new, controversial, unanswerable, and ‘non-accountable vehicle is created; its character is not spelt out till today.
  • Non-accountable: The government seems to consider statutory provisions for enquiry and information seeking to be embarrassing obstacles.
  • Centralization of donations: It centralises the collection of donations and its utility, which is not only against the federal character but also practically inconvenient. The issue is seeming, the trusteeship of the fund.

Questions and gaps

  • Law/statute: The PM CARES Fund was neither created by the Constitution of India nor by any statute.
  • Authority: If that is the case, under what authority does it use the designation of the Prime Minister, designated symbols of the nation, the tricolour and the official (gov.in) website of the PMO, and grant tax concessions through an ordinance.
  • Collection and dispensation: The amount received by the Fund does not go to the Consolidated Fund of India. If it goes to the CFI, it could have been audited by the CAG.
  • Uncontrolled: The This Trust is neither intended to be or is in fact owned, controlled or substantially financed by any instrumentality of the any govt even being chaired by the PM.

Issue over tax benefits

  • Income tax: An ordinance was promulgated to amend Income Tax Act, 1961 and declare that the donations to the PM CARES Fund “would qualify for 80G benefits for 100% exemption”.
  • CSR Funds: It will also qualify to be counted as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) expenditure under the Companies Act, 2013.
  • Foreign donations: It has also got exemption under the FCRA [Foreign Contribution Regulation Act] and a separate account for receiving foreign donations has been opened.

What can be inferred from all these?

  • The Centre now considers it as another obstacle and has created a new trust with the Prime Minister and his Ministers only.
  • The manner in which the PM CARES Fund was set up — with its acronym created to publicise the point that the PM cares for people — shows a bypassing of the statutory obligations of a public authority.

Query and response: Again ironical

  • After initial denials, the Government has conceded it to be a public charitable trust, but still maintains that it is not a ‘public authority’.
  • The point is that the PMO operates the Fund, but says it cannot supply any information about the PM CARES Fund because it is not a public authority.

Severe interpretations: Is it an Office of Profit?

  • If the PM CARES Fund is unconnected with the Government, then the Fund could become an office of profit.
  • And that could disqualify him and the three Ministers from holding those constitutional offices.

Conclusion

  • In order to uphold transparency, the PM CARES Fund should be declared as a Public Authority under the RTI Act, and all RTI queries answered truthfully.
  • The fund should be designated as a “public authority” under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act.

 

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RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

15 Years of Right to Information

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RTI

Mains level : Pendency of RTI cases

Fifteen years after the Right to Information (RTI) Act came into force; more than 2.2 lakh cases are pending at the Central and State Information Commissions, which are the final courts of appeal under the transparency law.

Try this question:

Q.“RTI is a tool for empowering ordinary citizens and changing the culture of governance in India.” Discuss.

Right to Information

  • RTI is an act of the parliament which sets out the rules and procedures regarding citizens’ right to information.
  • It replaced the former Freedom of Information Act, 2002.
  • 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.
  • In case of the matter involving a petitioner’s life and liberty, the information has to be provided within 48 hours.
  • 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.

Governing of RTI

The Right to information in India is governed by two major bodies:

  1. Central Information Commission (CIC) – Chief Information commissioner who heads all the central departments and ministries- with their own public information officers (PIO)s. CICs are directly under the President of India.
  2. State Information Commissions (SIC)– State Public Information Officers or SPIOs head over all the state department and ministries. The SPIO office is directly under the corresponding State Governor.
  • State and CIC are independent bodies and CIC has no jurisdiction over the SIC.

Fundamental status of RTI

  • RTI is a fundamental right for every citizen of India.
  • Since RTI, is implicit in the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, it is an implied fundamental right.

Limitation to RTI

  • Information disclosure in India is restricted by the Official Secrets Act 1923 and various other special laws, which the new RTI Act relaxes.
  • RTI has proven to be very useful but is also counteracted by the Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2011.

RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

Upholding transparency in governance

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RTI

Mains level : Paper 2- RTI and issue of transparency

The article discusses the issue of growing lack of transparency in the functioning of government.

Issues with Transparent Governance in India

1) Electoral bond

  •  They were introduced in February 2017— they allowed anonymous donations to political parties and, therefore, protected the privacy of the donors.
  • The Election Commission of India (ECI) criticised the opacity of this financial mechanism.
  • The ECI told the government that this arrangement would prevent the state from ascertaining whether a political party has taken any donation in violation of provisions under Section 29B of the Representation of the People Act.
  • Section 29B prohibits the political parties from taking donations from government companies and foreign sources.
  • Electoral bonds also made it impossible to check whether a company was giving to parties more than what the Companies Act (2013) permitted, that is 7.5 per cent of the net average profit of the three preceding financial years.

2) Sealed envelopes

  • Sealed envelope has become a modus operandi in several Indian institutions, including the Supreme Court (SC).
  • In the case of political funding by electoral bonds or otherwise, a three-judge bench in 2019 directed political parties to submit the details of donations received to the ECI in sealed cover.
  • The Assam administration had to show the progress it was making in the implementation of the National Register of Citizens by submitting reports in sealed covers.

3) Undermining RTI

(A) Reluctance to fill vacancies

  • The government did not appoint a Chief Information Commissioner for a year after the incumbent retired in August 2014.
  •  Similaryly, government did not fill vacant information commissioner posts in the Central Information Commission (CIC) between 2016 and 2018.
  • The backlog of pending appeals had reached 30,000 cases in late 2019 as the CIC has become a rather dysfunctional body.

(B) Government refusing to disclose infromation

  • The government refused to disclose information which was previously available under the RTI Act.
  • Queries about phone tapping are not responded to anymore.
  • In 2016-17, the home and finance ministries rejected close to 15 per cent of the applications they received while the RBI and public sector banks rejected 33 per cent.
  • The RBI, for instance, refused to give any information about the decision-making process that led to demonetisation.

(C) Limiting the powers of CIC

  • During the 2019 Monsoon Session of Parliament, government amended the RTI Act to limit the power of the CIC.
  • The five-year fixed tenure for the Chief Information Commissioner and information commissioners was abolished.
  • Their salaries were not fixed any more,  but notified separately by the government.

4.Diluting Whisleblower’s Protection Act

  • Whistleblowers can now be prosecuted for possessing the documents on which the complaint has been made.
  • Issues flagged by them have to be in “public interest”.
  • Issues flagged should not be “affecting the sovereignty and integrity of India”, related to “commercial confidence” or “information received in confidence from a foreign government.

5.Issues with statistical information

  • The National Statistical Commission and the Chief Statistician of India faced a credibility crisis when the new GDP series was released.
  • Similarly, the National Crime Records Bureau has been affected by delays (its 2017 report was released in October 2019) and deletions.
  • The National Sample Survey Office has also raised several concerns.

Conclusion

Transparency is not only necessary for maintaining a democratic polity, it is also necessary for making the economy work. Government actions must be informed by this fact.

B2BASICS

Electoral bond

RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

Resurrecting the right to know

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- People's right to know

This article analyses the importance of peoples’ right to know and instrumental role judiciary played in harmonising it with the Official Secrets Act 1923.

Context

  • A High Level Committee (HLC) chaired by a retired judge of the Gauhati High Court was constituted by the Home Ministry through a gazette notification.
  • Its mandate was, among others, to recommend measures to implement Clause 6 of the Assam Accord and define “Assamese People”.
  • The HLC finalised its report by mid-February 2020 and submitted it to the Assam Chief Minister and through him to the Central government.
  • With the Central government apparently “sitting idle” over the report, the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), which was represented in the HLC, released the report.

The right to know

  • The right to know was recognised nearly 50 years ago and is the foundational basis or the direct emanation for the right to information.
  • In State of U.P. v. Raj Narain (1975), the Supreme Court carved out a class of documents that demand protection even though their contents may not be damaging to the national interest.
  • Court held that “the people of this country are entitled to know the particulars of every public transaction in all its bearing”.
  • This view was endorsed in S.P. Gupta v. President of India (1981) and a few other decisions.
  • In Yashwant Sinha v. Central Bureau of Investigation (2019), the Supreme Court referred to the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in New York Times v. United States (1971) wherein court declined to recognise the right of the government to restrain publication of the Pentagon Papers.
  • Our Supreme Court held that a review petition based on three documents published by The Hindu was maintainable since the provisions of the Official Secrets Act, 1923 had not been violated.
  • The SC held that there is no provision by which Parliament had vested power in the government either to restrain the publication of documents marked as secret or from placing such documents before a court.
  • Section 8(2) of the Right to Information Act, 2005 provides that a citizen can get a certified copy of a document even if the matter pertains to security or relationship with a foreign nation if a case is made out.
  • Therefore, it is clear that the right to know can be curtailed only in limited circumstances and if there is an overriding public interest.

Consider the question “Analyse the importance of citizens’ right to know and how the judiciary harmonised the peoples right to know with the Official Secrets Act 1923? “

Conclusion

We must keep in mind observation made by the Supreme Court in S.P. Gupta: “If secrecy were to be observed in the functioning of government and the processes of government were to be kept hidden from public scrutiny, it would tend to promote and encourage oppression, corruption and misuse or abuse of authority, for it would all be shrouded in the veil of secrecy without any public accountability.”

B2BASICS

Official secrets act

  • OSA has its roots in the British colonial era and was originally known as The Indian Official Secrets Act (Act XIV), 1889.
  • The act was primarily mandated to gag the voice of a large number of newspapers that came up in several languages, and were opposing the Raj’s policies, building political consciousness and facing police crackdowns and prison terms.
  • The act was amended and made more stringent in the form of The Indian Official Secrets Act, 1904, during Lord Curzon’s tenure as Viceroy of India.
  • In 1923, a newer version was notified. The Indian Official Secrets Act (Act No XIX of 1923) was extended to all matters of secrecy and confidentiality in governance in the country.
  • It was further amended after India got independence in 1951 and 1967. The act in its present form deals with two aspects — spying or espionage and disclosure of other secret information of the government.
  • Secret information can be any official code, password, sketch, plan, model, article, note, document or information. Under the act both the person communicating the information, and the person receiving the information, can be punished.

RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

PM-CARES is not a public authority under RTI Act

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : PM-CARES, Public Authority under RTI

Mains level : RTI issues

The PMO has refused to disclose details on the creation and operation of the PM-CARES Fund, telling a Right to Information applicant that the fund is “not a public authority” under the ambit of the RTI Act, 2005.

Practice question for mains:

Q. The PM-CARES fund is an old wine in a new bottle. Discuss its feasibility and how it is different in context to the PMNRF.

About PM-CARES Fund

  • The fund will be a public charitable trust under the name of ‘Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund’.
  • The PM is Chairman of this trust and members include the Defence Minister, Home Minister and Finance Minister.
  • Contributions to the fund will qualify as corporate social responsibility (CSR) spending that companies are mandated to make.
  • The Fund accepts micro-donations as well.

Not a public authority

  • The PMO cited a Supreme Court observation that indiscriminate and impractical demands under RTI Act for disclosure of all and sundry information would be counterproductive.
  • PM-CARES Fund is not a Public Authority under the ambit of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005.
  • However, relevant information in respect of PM-CARES Fund may be seen on its website.

Then, what makes an authority, Public?

The relevant section of the RTI Act defines a “public authority” as “any authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted —

  • by or under the Constitution;
  • by any other law made by Parliament;
  • by any other law made by State Legislature;
  • by the notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government — and includes any (i) body owned, controlled or substantially financed; (ii) NGO substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate govt.

Arguments against PM-CARES

  • The fund carries a public name, the composition of the trust, control, usage of an emblem, government domain name etc. that signifies it as a public authority.
  • PM is the ex-officio chairman of the Trust, while three cabinet ministers are ex-officio trustees.
  • The composition of the trust is enough to show that Government exercises substantive control over the trust, making it a public authority.

RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

Ruling against judicial transparency

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Transparency in judiciary under RTI

Context

A recent Supreme Court verdict has barred citizens from accessing court records under the RTI Act.

What does the judgement say?

  • No access to court records through RTI: In its recent decision, in the Chief Information Commissioner v. High Court of Gujarat case, the Supreme Court, regrettably, barred citizens from securing access to court records under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
  • Access to record through rules of High Courts: Instead, the court held that such records can be accessed only through the rules laid down by each High Court under Article 225 of the Constitution.
    • The Registry of the Supreme Court was litigating a similar case (Registrar, Supreme Court of India v. R.S. Misra) before the Delhi High Court for several years.
  • Separating the administrative and judicial side: Though the particular decision taken earlier this month does not preclude the application of the RTI Act to the administrative side of the court, it does firmly slam the door shut on accessing, under the RTI Act, the millions of court records filed on the judicial side.

Why access to judicial records matters?

  • For holding the police accountable: A significant number of decisions taken by the courts influence our daily life. Every prosecution before a criminal court is essentially an opportunity to hold the police accountable just as every writ petition is an opportunity to hold the government accountable.
  • Opportunity to learn about commercial translations: A significant number of commercial lawsuits are opportunities to learn more about corporations and the manner in which commercial translations are executed in the country.
  • Policy decision impacted by the judiciary in PIL: In cases of public interest litigation, where the courts indulge in policymaking on the basis of the report of an amicus curiae or an expert committee set up by judges.
    • The reports of these committees are not accessible to third parties, though they may be impacted by these decisions, because they form part of the court record and are hence outside the purview of the RTI Act.
  • No question of confidentiality: There is no question of arguing for the confidentiality of these records because it is by now a well-recognised principle that all judicial proceedings must take place in open court, unless prohibited by law for reasonable purposes.

The overriding section of RTI act- Section 22

  • The Supreme Court’s verdict in this case hinged on Section 22 of the RTI Act which states that the RTI Act shall override any other law to the extent that the latter is inconsistent with the former.
  • The Section states: “Act to have an overriding effect — The provisions of this Act shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in the Official Secrets Act, 1923 (19 of 1923), and any other law for the time being in force or in any instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than this Act.”
  • Non-obstante clause: A clause such as Section 22 is known as non-obstante clause and is a common drafting device used by legislatures to permit certain actions regardless of what is mentioned in existing legislation.
  • Drafters aware of the possible conflict: The wording of the provision reveals that the drafters of the RTI Act were clearly aware that it may conflict with other laws and wanted to ensure that the procedure under the Act overruled the procedure in existing legislation.
    • Despite this crystal-clear wording of Section 22, the Supreme Court and, on previous occasions, the High Courts, have concluded exactly the opposite.

Three steps to the courts reasoning 

  • No inconsistency: It concludes that there is no inconsistency between the RTI Act and the court rules.
    • This is factually incorrect because the Gujarat High Court Rules unlike the RTI Act require the submission of an affidavit stating the purpose of seeking copies of the pleadings.
    • The RTI Act requires no reasons to be provided while seeking information.
  • Issue over non-obstante clause: The court argues that “A special enactment or rule cannot be held to be overridden by a later general enactment simply because the latter opens up with a non-obstante clause unless there is a clear inconsistency between the two legislations.”
    • But that is exactly the point of an non-obstante clause.
    • The accompanying factual inaccuracy, is its conclusion that there is no inconsistency between the Gujarat High Court rules and the RTI Act.
  • Section 22 can’t be read to imply repeal of the laws: The third limb, of the court’s reasoning was its conclusion that Section 22 could not be read in a manner to imply repeal of other laws, such as the Gujarat High Court Rules.
    • The court states that if the intention was to repeal another law, the legislature would have specifically stated so in the RTI Act, as was done in Section 31 when the RTI Act repealed the previous Freedom of Information Act, 2002.
    • This reasoning is bewildering because it would render non-obstante clauses entirely useless.

What is the issue arising out of this judgement?

  • From a citizen’s perspective, this decision is problematic for two reasons.
    • Not all High Courts allow access to all: Most High Court Rules allow only parties to a legal proceeding to access the records of a case. Some High Courts may allow third parties to access court records if they can justify their request.
    • This is entirely unlike the RTI Act, where no reasons are required to be provided thereby vastly reducing the possibility of administrative discretion.
    • Logistical difficulties: The second reason this judgment spells bad news is that unlike the RTI Act, the procedure under the Rules of most High Courts is challenging from a logistical perspective, apart from lacking in any significant safeguards.
    • An application under the RTI Act can be made by post, with the fee being deposited through a postal order.
    • The procedure is simple enough to enable most citizens to file RTI applications by themselves.
    • Not so for the procedure under the High Court Rules.
    • Most courts require the physical filing of an application: Most High Courts and the Supreme Court require the physical filing of an application with the Registry, and a hearing before a judge to determine whether records should be given.

Conclusion

The Supreme Court fails to understand that the judiciary’s track record of transparency is vastly inferior when compared to other arms of the state. In today’s world where every public institution is striving to become more transparent, the continued resistance from the judiciary to making itself transparent in a meaningful manner will have an eroding effect on its legitimacy.

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.

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.

RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

[op-ed snap] A blow to disclosure norms

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Sec 8 RTI

Mains level : Threats to information disclosure

Context

Supreme Court’s November 13 judgment on Right to Information (RTI) reduced the scope of ‘information’ and widened that of ‘restrictions’. 

Judgement

  • The judgement expanded the power, length, and depth of exceptions under Section 8 of the Act.
  • Thus it deviated from earlier decisions that said that ‘restrictions’ should be interpreted strictly and ‘information’ liberally. 
  • The verdict also restricted the understanding of the terms ‘held by’ and ‘under the control’ of a public authority.
  • This makes several classes of information inaccessible to the public. 

Blow to RTI

  • The Chief Information Commissioner’s stature and autonomy were reduced by the recent parliamentary amendment to the Act.
  • Supreme Court judgment amounts to direct instruction to the Central Public Information Officers (CPIOs) on how not to give information on various counts.

Positives out of judgement

  • It did not deny that the apex court is a public authority and answerable under the RTI Act.
  • Judicial independence will only be strengthened with greater transparency.

Concerns with the judgement

  • Paragraph 59 of the judgement could potentially be used by bureaucrats to shoot down many RTI applications during the first request. 
  • Instead of empowering citizens with greater access to information, the court has armed public servants to kill access requests.

From the past

  • Supreme Court’s 2012 judgment in Girish Ramchandra Deshpande v. Central Information Commissioner was being used as a precedent by the Department of Personnel and Training and various CPIOs to deny information on records of public servants. 
  • The case was about Special Leave Petition on an RTI request related to the service record and assets of a serving bureaucrat. 
  • The Supreme Court held that such information could not be revealed unless there was a larger public interest demonstrated. 
  • In this case, the court held that the applicant was not able to show a bona fide public interest element and hence denied information to the person. 
  • The November 13 verdict could supersede the Girish Ramchandra Deshpande verdict.

Paragraph 59 of judgement

  • Reading of the aforesaid judicial precedents… would indicate that personal records, including name, address, physical, mental and psychological status… are all treated as personal information. 
  • Similarly, professional records, including… evaluation reports, disciplinary proceedings, etc. are all personal information. 
  • Medical records… information relating to assets, liabilities, income tax returns… are personal information. 
  • Such personal information is entitled to protection from unwarranted invasion of privacy and conditional access is available when stipulation of larger public interest is satisfied. 
  • This list is indicative and not exhaustive.
  • The last sentence of this paragraph could become another tool in the hands of public servants to deny access requests.

Contradicting Section 8

  • Provisions for disclosure available under Sections 8(1)(j) and 8(2) of the RTI Act say that personal information can be disclosed if it has any relationship with public activity or interest. 
  • Even if such details have no relationship with the public interest, they can be given if the disclosure does not cause an unwarranted invasion of privacy. 
  • Even if the information causes unwarranted invasion of privacy, it could still be given if the larger public interest justifies the act. 
  • Even if there is no larger public interest, it could still be shared if the public interest in disclosure outweighs the interest in its protection.

Unwarranted

  • Declaring educational qualifications, performance report or disciplinary proceedings pertaining to public servants as being outside the ambit of disclosure was unwarranted.
  • A specific educational degree which is a ‘qualification’ for a post, is also related to public activity.
  • If the cost of medical treatment is reimbursed by the state, the medical record cannot become personal information.

Back2Basics

Sec 8 RTI

Exemption from disclosure of information.

RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

[op-ed snap] Open, all the same

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Judicial transparency

Context

Sunlight is the best disinfectant that is often used to highlight the need for disclosure of matters related to the public interest through the RTI mechanism. 

Examples of transparency

  • The declaration of assets by ministers and legislators, besides electoral candidates, has shed light on public authorities.
  • It provided the citizenry with more relevant information about their representatives. 

Judicial transparency

  • Judges of the Supreme Court had refused to share information on their personal assets, citing the lack of public interest. 
  • 5-member Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court ruled that the office of the Chief Justice of India is a “public authority” under the RTI Act.
  • It enables the disclosure of information such as the judges’ personal assets. 
  • The judgment’s majority opinion emphasised the need for transparency and accountability and that “disclosure is a facet of public interest”. 
  • They asserted that judicial independence was not secured by secrecy and argued for the need for proper calibration of transparency in light of the importance of judicial independence.

Balance with the right to privacy

  • The Bench argued that the right to know under the RTI Act was not absolute.
  • It had to be balanced with the right to privacy of judges. 
  • The key takeaway from the judgment is that disclosure of the details of serving judges’ personal assets was not a violation of their right to privacy.

Other parts of the judgement

  • Information related to issues such as judicial appointments will also be subject to the test of public interest and procedures mandated in the RTI Act that specifies that views of third parties must be sought. 
  • It lays out the importance of the assessment of public interest in an RTI query.
  • The RTI Act is a strong weapon that enhances accountability, citizen activism, and participatory democracy even if its implementation has come under strain in recent years.

Conclusion

  • The Supreme Court judgment paves the way for greater transparency.
  • It could impinge upon issues such as disclosure under the RTI Act by other institutions such as registered political parties. 
  • This is vital as political party financing is a murky area today, marked by opacity and exacerbated by the issue of electoral bonds, precluding citizens from being fully informed on sources of party income.

RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

[op-ed snap] Fog of secrecy

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Transparency and the role of whistleblowers

Context

Australian newspapers published redacted front pages on Monday, protesting curbs on the press in the name of national security. 

Right to know

  • The Right to Know campaign has drawn competing publications to protest the impact of national security laws on press freedoms, and on the whistleblowers who bring in the bad news. 

Background to the news

  • The headquarters of ABC were raided over stories alleging war crimes committed in Afghanistan by Australian special forces.
  • The Australian government instructed police to consider the importance of a free press and the public interest before proceeding against the media. 
  • But the government seems reluctant to treat the journalists’ broader demands favourably.

Transparencyrole of whistleblowers 

  • Governments become more opaque and intrusive at the same time. 
  • With intensifying information asymmetry in politics, whistleblowers and digital activists like Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and Christopher Wylie have become crucial sources of insight about the intent of governments.
  • They are also defenders of the liberties taken in the lee of security laws. 
  • Some of them may have personal motives, but that is secondary in comparison to the value of their efforts to the public interest.
  • They seek the right to contest search warrants, new rules for determining what the government can stamp as secret, reform in the law of defamation and freedom of information, the protection of journalists from national security laws and whistleblower protection. 

Conclusion

It is important to dispel the fog of secrecy, which governments have revelled in since the colonial era.

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.

RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

[op-ed snap] Making political parties accountable

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : RTI for political parties

Context

Recently, the Supreme Court in D.A.V. College Trust and Management Society Vs. Director of Public Instructions held that NGOs which were substantially financed by the appropriate government fall within the ambit of ‘public authority’ under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005. 

Public Authority

    • Under this section of the RTI Act, ‘public authority’ means “any authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted by or under the Constitution.
    • It also included any NGO substantially financed directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate government.

Impact of the judgement

    • The judgment can have wide ramifications to the ambit of the RTI regime on national political parties.
    • In D.A.V., the court held that ‘substantial’ means a large portion which can be both, direct or indirect. 
    • It need not be a major portion or more than 50% as no simple formula can be resorted to in this regard. If land in a city is given free of cost or at a heavily subsidised rate to hospitals, educational institutions or other bodies, it can qualify as substantial financing.
    • The court resorted to ‘purposive’ interpretation of the provisions. 
    • It underscored the need to focus on the larger objective of percolation of benefits of the statute to the masses.

Application to political parties

    • In 2010, ADR filed an application under RTI to all national parties, seeking information about “10 maximum voluntary contributions” received by them in the past five years. 
    • None of the national political parties volunteered to disclose the information. 
    • In 2013, a full bench of the CIC delivered a historic judgment by declaring that all national parties came under ‘public authorities’ and were within the purview of the RTI Act. 
    • They were directed to designate central public information officers (CPIOs) and the appellate authorities at their headquarters within six weeks.
    • In 2013, The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill was introduced in Parliament to keep political parties explicitly outside the purview of RTI. It lapsed after the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha. 
    • Notwithstanding the binding value of CIC’s order under Section 19(7) of the Act, none of the six political parties complied with it. 
    • All the parties were absent from the hearing when the commission issued show-cause notices for non-compliance at the hearing.
    • In 2019, a PIL was filed in the Supreme Court seeking a declaration of political parties as ‘public authority’ and the matter is sub judice. 
    • Irrespective of the ideological differences among these political parties, non-compliance of the RTI mandate has been a great unifier.

DAV judgment to political parties

    • Drawing an analogy between the Supreme Court’s judgment on D.A.V. and the political parties’ issue, it can be argued that national parties are ‘substantially’ financed by the Central government. 
    • The various concessions, such as allocation of land, accommodation, bungalows in the national and State capitals, tax exemption against income under Section 13A of the Income Tax Act, free air time on television and radio, etc. can easily satisfy the prerequisite of Section 2(h) of the RTI. 
    • If an entity gets substantial finance from the government, there is no reason why any citizen cannot ask for information to find out whether his/her money which has been given to the entity is being used for the requisite purpose or not.
    • From the preamble of the RTI Act, the ultimate aim is the creation of an ‘informed’ citizenry, containment of corruption and holding of government and its instrumentalities accountable to the governed. 

Need to bring political parties under RTI

    • The Law Commission opines that political parties are the lifeblood of our entire constitutional system. 
    • Political parties act as a conduit through which interests and issues of the people get represented in Parliament. 
    • Since elections are predominantly contested on party lines in our parliamentary democratic polity, the agenda of the potential government is set by them.
    • As noted by Ambedkar, the working of a Constitution does not depend wholly upon the nature of the Constitution. The factors on which the working of those organs of the State depend are the people and the political parties they will set up.

Conclusion

It is hoped that the Supreme court will further the positive advances made in this direction.

RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

Government-funded NGOs come under RTI ambit: SC

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RTI Act

Mains level : Prevention of money laundering through NGOs

  • Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) “substantially” financed by the government fall within the ambit of the Right to Information Act, the Supreme Court held in a judgment.

About the judgment

  • NGOs which receive considerable finances from the government or are essentially dependent on the government fall under the category of “public authority” defined in Section 2(h) of the RTI Act of 2005.
  • This means that they have to disclose vital information, ranging from finances to hierarchy to decisions to functioning, to citizens who apply under RTI.
  • An NGO, the court said, may also include societies which are neither owned or controlled by the government, but if they are significantly funded by the government, directly or indirectly, they come under the RTI Act.

Why such move?

  • RTI Act was enacted with the purpose of bringing transparency in public dealings and probity in public life.
  • If NGOs or other bodies get substantial finance from the government we find no reason why any citizen cannot ask for information.
  • With the judgment citizens can find out whether his/her money which has been given to an NGO is being used for the requisite purpose.

‘Substantial’ means how much?

  • The court defined “substantial” as a “large portion.”
  • It does not necessarily have to mean a major portion or more than 50%.
  • No hard and fast rule can be laid down in this regard. Substantial financing can be both direct or indirect.
  • If government gives land in a city free of cost or on heavy discount to hospitals, educational institutions or any such body, this in itself could also be substantial financing, the judgment explained.

Back2Basics

[Burning Issue] RTI amendment Bill

RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

[op-ed snap] A milestone in greater transparency, accountability

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Citizen Centric Administration - Power of Technology to realise it

CONTEXT

The Jan Soochna Portal launched by the government of Rajasthan is a remarkable achievement in furtherance of RTI, especially Section 4 of the RTI Act that deals with proactive disclosure of information. 

Importance of Transparency and Accountability –  A case study

  • Transparency must be accompanied by accountability
  • JSP places the power of making the State government accountable to everyone who accesses the information made available on the portal.
  • A National Judicial Data Grid was launched keeping transparency in the justice delivery system in mind. This gave information about all pending cases across the country. 
  • A year-wise break up of pending cases was given on the grid and it was found that more than 70,000 cases were pending for over 30 years. 
  • The justice delivery system was asked to account for the enormous delay in such a large number of cases. 
  • Chief Justices and Registrars in many courts appreciated the fact that they needed to answer questions relating to such enormous delays.
  • Many courts have begun to concentrate on the disposal of old cases with considerable success. 
  • This is a good example of transparency accompanied by accountability brought about by civil society.

JSP

  • Details of every activity of the government such as availability of food grains and ration shops and their distribution, implementation of various schemes and their beneficiaries and a variety of other information are available on a real-time basis.
  • It is a virtual Janta Information System. 
  • The portal has been arrived at through a regular and rigorous consultative process between government officials, IT professionals and civil society. 
  • Since the information is available on the Internet, every citizen, right down to the municipal ward and panchayat, has access to the information. 
  • For example, if identified persons in a particular area had not availed themselves of any rations, they can be easily contacted. 
  • The portal gives the details of every farmer in every bank branch whose loans have been waived, along with the amounts. 
  • Another significant piece of information is about mining leases. 
    • This portal gives the list of mines in every district, provides geographical coordinates, and the area where mining has been permitted, including the land deed identifiers. 
    • It also provides details about pollution and environment clearances.
    • It provides details of production and royalties and taxes paid. 
  • This kind of information can facilitate a progressive partnership between the government and citizens for a cleaner society.
  • With the use of technology and digitisation of records and information, this information is made freely available on the JSP.
  • There is no need for anyone to take recourse to the RTI Act and await a response.

Challenges remain

  • Maintenance issues to ensure that there is no let-up in the availability of information. 

System in place

  • Various line departments of the government of Rajasthan have been given a set of obligations that they are expected to fulfill. For example, they are expected to ensure digitisation of records. 
  • The Department of Information Technology will serve as the nodal department for the development, operationalisation, and maintenance of the JSP.
  • Its obligations include adherence to the norms and standards laid down by a digital dialogue advisory group. 
  • The advisory group will be the monitoring agency. 
  • Grievance redressal officers will be appointed so that citizens can make the State government truly accountable.
  • The government of Rajasthan has also taken steps to train citizens so that they are aware of the facilities available.
  • It has been decided to host the JSP in decentralised locations, right down to the municipal ward and panchayat levels. 
  • They will have access to welfare schemes, revenue activities such as mining, and other service delivery issues such as health and education.

CONCLUSION

It would be wonderful if all other State governments follow the Rajasthan government’s initiative, which aims to make people, including the marginalised sections, a part of the governance process.

RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

[op-ed snap] Incisive interventions that blunt the RTI’s edge

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Challenges posed by amendments to RTI

CONTEXT

The RTI Act, 2005 proved transformative to India’s democracy; it revolutionized the citizen’s ability to engage with the state, arming people with a mechanism to ferret out some of the truth from the government’s otherwise secretive operations.

Amendments to the act

  1. Amendments have been passed without scrutiny by a parliamentary committee.
  2. It changes the term in office of the information commissioners (ICs) and the manner of determination of their salaries.
  3. In place of the existing five-year term, it grants to the Union government the power to notify their terms through executive regulations.
  4. It deletes the RTI Act’s mandate that the salary paid to the CIC and the ICs should be equivalent to that of Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners.
  5. Now, the salary, allowances, and terms and conditions of service of the CIC and the ICs will be determined by executive guidelines.

Challenges it poses

  1. Supreme Court has affirmed RTI’s position as intrinsic to the right to freedom of expression (for example, in PUCL v. Union of India, 2004)
  2. For democracy to be valuable, citizens must possess a right to freely express themselves and have a right to know what the state is up to.
  3. When a plea for information goes unheeded, CIC and the ICs play an especially vital role. 
  4. These amendments subvert the independence of the information commission.
  5. The delegation of the power to fix the tenure and the salaries of the CIC and the ICs to the political executive places the information commission’s autonomy in a state of peril. 

Efficacy of RTI

  1. Through a response to an RTI request, it was discovered that between 2006 and 2010 more than ₹700 crore had been diverted from Delhi’s special component plan for the development of Scheduled Caste communities to projects related to the Commonwealth Games.
  2. An exposé into the horrifying processes of the “Foreigners Tribunal” in Assam was made by securing information through the RTI Act.

RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

[op-ed snap] The tremor of unwelcome amendments to the RTI Act

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Problems with proposed amendments

CONTEXT

  • “Amendments” have haunted the Right to Information (RTI) community ever since the RTI Act came into effect almost 14 years ago.
  • Rarely has a law been so stoutly defended by activists. It is not possible to pass a perfect law.
  • But it was a popular opinion strongly held by most RTI activists that a demand for progressive amendments could be used as a smokescreen by the establishment to usher in regressive changes.

Background of amendments

  • Nevertheless, the sword of Damocles of regressive amendments has hung over the RTI with successive governments.
  • Amendments have been proposed since 2006, just six months after the law was implemented and many times thereafter.
  • Peoples’ campaigns, through reasoned protest and popular appeal, have managed to have them withdrawn.

The proposed amendments

  1.Challenging Autonomy

In the form of the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019, they seek to amend Sections 13, 16, and 27 of the RTI Act which carefully links, and thereby equates, the status of the Central Information Commissioners (CICs) with the Election Commissioners and the State Information Commissioners with the Chief Secretary in the States, so that they can function in an independent and effective manner.

2. Giving central overarching power – The deliberate dismantling of this architecture empowers the Central government to unilaterally decide the tenure, salary, allowances and other terms of service of Information Commissioners, both at the Centre and the States.

Why is there a need of change?

Some feel that it is because the RTI helped with the cross-verification of the affidavits of powerful electoral candidates with official documents and certain Information Commissioners having ruled in favour of disclosure.

Challenge to the misuse of power – It is unlikely to be a set of instances but more the fact that the RTI is a constant challenge to the misuse of power.

Empowering a citizen’s access to power and decision-making –

  • In a country where the rule of law hangs by a slender thread and corruption and the arbitrary use of power is a daily norm, the RTI has resulted in a fundamental shift — empowering a citizen’s access to power and decision-making.
  • It has been a lifeline for many of the 40 to 60 lakh ordinary users, many of them for survival.
  • It has also been a threat to arbitrariness, privilege, and corrupt governance.
  • More than 80 RTI users have been murdered because their courage and determination using the RTI was a challenge to unaccountable power.

Impact of RTI

  • The RTI has been used brilliantly and persistently to ask a million questions across the spectrum — from the village ration shop, the Reserve Bank of India, the Finance Ministry, on demonetisation, non-performing assets, the Rafale fighter aircraft deal, electoral bonds, unemployment figures, the appointment of the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), Election Commissioners, and the (non)-appointment of the Information Commissioners themselves.
  • The information related to decision-making at the highest level has in most cases eventually been accessed because of the independence and high status of the Information Commission.

RTI 

  • The RTI movement has struggled to access information and through it, a share of governance and democratic power.
  • The Indian RTI law has been a breakthrough in creating mechanisms and platforms for the practice of continual public vigilance that are fundamental to democratic citizenship.
  • The mostly unequal struggle to extract information from vested interests in government needed an institutional and legal mechanism which would not only be independent but also function with a transparency mandate and be empowered to over-ride the traditional structures of secrecy and exclusive control.
  • An independent Information Commission which is the highest authority on information along with the powers to penalise errant officials has been a cornerstone of India’s celebrated RTI legislation.

Part of checks and balances

  • The task of the Information Commission is therefore different but no less important than that of the Election Commission of India.
  • Independent structures set up to regulate and monitor the government are vital to a democratic state committed to deliver justice and constitutional guarantees.
  • The separation of powers is a concept which underscores this independence and is vital to our democratic checks and balances.
  • When power is centralised and the freedom of expression threatened no matter what the context, democracy is definitely in peril.
  • Sections being amended – Apart from Section 13 which deals with the terms and conditions for the Central information Commission, in amending Section 16, the Central government will also control through rules, the terms and conditions of appointment of Commissioners in the States. This is an assault on the idea of federalism.

Opaque moves

Checks by committee –

  • All the provisions related to appointment were carefully examined by a parliamentary standing committee and the law was passed unanimously.
  • It has been acknowledged that one of the most important structural constituents of any independent oversight institution, i.e. the CVC, the Chief Election Commission (CEC), the Lokpal, and the CIC is a basic guarantee of tenure. In the case of the Information Commissioners they are appointed for five years subject to the age limit of 65 years.
  • It was on the recommendation of the parliamentary standing committee that the Information Commissioner and CIC were made on a par with the Election Commissioner and the CEC, respectively.

Challenges in the manner of amendment being pursued

1.Bypassing examination by the standing committee – The manner in which the amendments are being pushed through without any citizen consultation, bypassing examination by the standing committee demonstrates the desperation to pass the amendments without even proper parliamentary scrutiny.

2.Pre-legislative consultative policy – The mandatory pre-legislative consultative policy of the government has been ignored.

Previous governments eventually introduced a measure of public consultation before proceeding with the amendments.

2.Violation of Constitutional Values –

  • If the amendments are discussed by citizens and RTI activists in the public domain, it would be apparent that these amendments fundamentally weaken an important part of the RTI architecture.
  • They violate the constitutional principles of federalism, undermine the independence of Information Commissions, and thereby significantly dilute the widely used framework for transparency in India.

Conclusion

The RTI has unshackled millions of users who will continue to use this democratic right creatively and to dismantle exclusive power. The RTI has been and will be used to withstand attacks on itself and strengthen the movement for transparency and accountability in India. Eventually, the Narendra Modi government will realise that while it might be able to amend a law, it cannot stop a movement.

RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

[op-ed snap] Secrets and agents

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Julian assange's arrest weakens freedom of expression.

CONTEXT

The arrest of Julian Assange, the head of the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, has renewed a global debate on balancing freedom of expression (or the right to information) with considerations towards the national security of a country.

Background

  • After nearly seven years of eluding authorities in the U.S. and the U.K., facing charges related to theft of classified information from government computers, he was dragged out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on April 11 following Ecuador President Lenín Moreno’s withdrawal of his country’s grant of asylum to Mr. Assange, for “repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life protocols”.
  • Ecuador had earlier limited Mr. Assange’s Internet access.
  • As he sits in jail for up to a year on bail-jumping charges from 2012 in a now-closed case relating to sexual assault allegations by a complainant from Sweden, he will find out whether he will ultimately face the prospect of extradition to the U.S.
  • Conspiracy charges, rather than those under the Espionage Act, are what he will likely face, given concerns in the U.K. that he should not be extradited to any country where the death penalty is applicable in his case.

Concerns

  • Assange as Journalist – At the heart of the drama is the question whether Mr. Assange is a “journalist” in the traditional sense of the word and whether, following that line of reasoning, freedom of expression is endangered or constrained by the action taken in this case.
  • Wikileaks link to Trump’s win – There is some irony in this debate given that the voices of liberal America are clamouring the loudest for his interrogation for the alleged crime of conspiracy, not so much in the case of the U.S. diplomatic cables or the dissemination of related top-secret U.S. government information — but owing to WikiLeaks being linked to rogue actors in Russia who allegedly purloined Democratic Party documents and handed them over to Mr. Assange for use on his website, thereby tipping the scales in Donald Trump’s favour in the 2016 election.
  • Wikileaks as mainstream Media Organisation – Nevertheless, can WikiLeaks be considered a mainstream media organisation? Perhaps not.

Conclusion

  • However, the arrest highlights troubling facts, including that the indictment against Mr. Assange, revealed only this month, appears to be flimsy, for it relates to a conversation he is alleged to have had nine years ago with Ms. Manning on a computer break-in attempt that ultimately failed.
  • At a time when strongmen-led governments and resurgent nationalism are at the forefront of domestic politics in many countries, the arrest of a prominent anti-secrecy advocate is likely to have a chilling effect on whistle-blowers everywhere.
  • That could ultimately weaken democracy itself.

 

RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

Centre denies RTI plea on CIC appointments

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RTI, CIC

Mains level : Issues surrounding the office of CIC

  • The Centre has denied a RTI request for details of the ongoing recruitment process for four vacancies in the Central Information Commission (CIC), despite a recent Supreme Court order mandating that such information be made public.

CIC in limelight

  • The Centre is planning to setup bureaucrat-led committees to hear and decide on complaints against the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information Commissioners (ICs).
  • This move has evoked sharp criticism from RTI activists and former Information Commissioners.
  • The proposed change would be in contravention to the current RTI law and therefore is being seen by the CIC as an attempt to erode its independence and undermine its role.
  • The SC had directed the Centre and States to pro-actively disclose all information regarding the recruitment, selection and appointment of candidates.

Back2Basics

Central Information Commission (CIC)

  • The Central Information Commission (CIC) set up under the Right to Information Act is the authorized quasi judicial body, established in 2005.
  • It acts upon complaints from those individuals who have not been able to submit information requests due to either the officer not having been appointed, or because the respective Officer refused to receive the application for information under the RTI Act.
  • The Commission includes 1 Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and not more than 10 Information Commissioners (IC) who are appointed by the President of India.
  • CIC and members are appointed by the President of India on the recommendation of a committee consisting of—Prime Minister as Chairperson, the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha; a Union Cabinet Minister to be nominated by the Prime Minister.

RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

[op-ed snap]Open up the Supreme Court

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Why Transparency is required in Judicial Appointments

CONTEXT

The basic question, i.e. whether or not the Office of the CJI is subject to the RTI Act, has been on the forefront for some time due to an ongoing case.

Background

  • Almost 10 years ago, on September 2, 2009, the High Court of Delhi handed down a landmark judgment dealing with the fledgling Right to Information (RTI) Act. It held that the Office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) was a “public authority”, and therefore, subject to the provisions of the Act.
  • Information held by the CJI — including, in the context of the case, information about judges’ assets — could be requested by the public through an RTI application.
  • In ringing words, Justice Ravindra Bhat declared that the RTI was a “powerful beacon, which illuminates unlit corners of state activity, and those of public authorities which impact citizens’ daily lives, to which they previously had no access”.
  • Earlier this month, however, a five-judge Bench of the court finally heard the case on merits, and reserved judgment.

Arguments Supporting that CJI should be under RTI

  • The basic question, i.e. whether or not the Office of the CJI is subject to the RTI Act, has an easy answer: yes.
  • As Justice Bhat correctly observed in the High Court judgment, “all power — judicial power being no exception — is held accountable in a modern Constitution”.
  • A blanket judicial exemption from the RTI Act would defeat the basic idea of “open justice”: t
  • the workings of the courts, as powerful organs of state, have to be as transparent and open to public scrutiny as any other body.
  • Nor would bringing the judiciary under the RTI Act destroy the personal privacy of judges: as the High Court judgment noted, the RTI Act itself has an inbuilt privacy-oriented protection, which authorises withholding the disclosure of personal information unless there is an overriding public interest.
  • While disclosure of assets is arguably justified by an overriding public interest, medical details or information about marital status, for example, are clearly not.

Issue of collegium

  • The Collegium includes the five senior-most judges of the Supreme Court, who collectively constitute the selection panel for judicial appointments to the Supreme Court (and the three senior-most judges when it comes to the High Courts). I
  • India is one of the few countries where judges have the last word on judicial appointments, through the mechanism of the Collegium.
  • The Collegium itself is not mentioned in the text of the Constitution: it arose out of a judgment of the Supreme Court, and in response to increased executive interference in judicial appointments, particularly during Indira Gandhi’s regime.

Criticism of Collegium

  • A major point of critique was its opacity: it was increasingly being perceived that judicial appointments were too often made in an ad hoc and arbitrary manner.
  • The nomination process is secret, the deliberations are secret, the reasons for elevation or non-elevation are secret.
  • Indeed, the Supreme Court’s own NJAC judgment acknowledged this critique, and vowed to evolve a system where concerns of transparency were addressed.
  • A small step towards this was made during Dipak Misra’s tenure as CJI, when the resolutions of the Collegium began to be published online.

Arguments fo attorney general regarding Collegium’s secrecy

The AG argued that disclosing the correspondence of the Collegium would “destroy” judicial independence.

Examples elsewhere

  • Indeed, a look at judicial appointments elsewhere suggests that transparency in appointments is integral to the process.
  • In the United States, for example, candidates for judicial appointments in the federal judiciary are subjected to public confirmation hearings by the Senate.
  • In Kenya and South Africa, the interviews of candidates taken by judicial appointments commissions are broadcast live.
  • The public, thus, is in a position to judge for itself the selection process. This is crucial to maintaining public faith in the impartiality of the institution.

Way Forward

  • “Sunlight is the best disinfectant” is a trite and overused phrase.
  • In the context of public scrutiny of the Supreme Court, however, it is an apt one.
  • The Collegium’s recent decisions to recommend a set of names for elevation, and then hastily backtrack on them without any publicly stated reasons, dealt a serious blow to its reputation for impartiality and independence.
  • The only way to salvage this is to open up the court.
  • A judiciary that is confident of itself and of its place in the democratic republic should not be worried about subjecting judicial appointments to public scrutiny.
  • The occasional discomfort that might come from the harsh public glare is more than outweighed by the cleansing value of transparency.

RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

[op-ed snap]Privacy in the age of sunshine laws

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RTI

Mains level : Discussion on whether Judiciary Should be under the preview of RTI.

CONTEXT

A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court has finally concluded hearing a crucial appeal (after being nine years in cold storage) under the Right to Information Act (RTI), 2005.

Important questions

  • One of the three crucial questions raised in this case pertains to
  • Whether judges are required to publicly disclose their assets under the RTI Act in light of Section 8(1)(j).
    • This provision prohibits the sharing of personal information that has no nexus to public activity or which amounts to an unwarranted invasion of privacy unless the larger public interest justifies such a disclosure.
    • Any attempt by them to assert the fundamental right to privacy as the basis for not disclosing assets to the public would necessarily require an implied overruling of landmark judgments in PUCL (2003) and Lok Prahari v. Union of India (2018), in which smaller benches of the court rubbished the privacy claims of the political class while forcing them to publicly disclose not just their assets but also the sources of their income.
    • The final ruling of the Constitution Bench will also impact the contentious Section 44 of the Lokpal Act, 2013, which requires all public servants (this includes judges) to disclose their assets but is silent on whether the disclosure should be to the competent authority or the general public.

Origins of Case

  • This case has its origins in an RTI application filed in 2007 in which the Public Information Officer (PIO) of the Supreme Court was asked by Subash Agrawal whether the judges of the Supreme Court had complied with the terms of a resolution adopted in 1997, in which all judges had committed to disclosing information about their assets and liabilities to the Chief Justice of India (CJI).
  • The resolution had specifically mandated that the information would remain “confidential”. In 2005, Parliament passed the RTI Act, creating a legal right to demand information held by public authorities which arguably also includes the CJI.
  • the PIO sought to invoke, among other sections, Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act to deny him this information.
  • Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act – This provision of the RTI Act prevents public authorities from disclosing any “personal information” of citizens if such “disclosure had no relationship to any public activity or interest” or if such disclosure constitutes “an unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual” unless the PIO is “satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information”.
  • Court’s Judgement – When the matter reached the Delhi High Court, both the single judge and the Full Bench concluded that judges, like other public servants, had a fundamental right to privacy.
  • This right, it held, could only be curtailed if the RTI applicant demonstrated a showing of “larger public interest” as required by Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act.
  • In other words, public servants as a class of employees cannot be forced to disclose their personal assets to the public merely because they hold public posts.
  • However, in individual cases, if the person seeking such information could demonstrate a “larger public interest” such as wrongdoing or impropriety on the part of the public official, the information could be disclosed.

Implications of this case

  • It is likely that the Supreme Court will follow the Delhi High Court’s reasoning because of its own decision from 2012 in Girish Ramchandra Deshpande v. Central Information Commissioner.
  • A lot has happened on the privacy front since 2012. The litigation and the civil society campaign against Aadhaar resulted in a unanimous judgment from nine judges of the Supreme Court declaring informational privacy as a component of the fundamental right to privacy.
  • When the Constitution Bench decides on Mr. Agrawal’s appeal, it will most likely be viewing the privacy right enshrined in Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act through the lens of the Aadhaar judgment.
  • If the Bench decides that all Supreme Court and High Court judges have a fundamental right to privacy (only two of the five judges hearing the case have voluntarily disclosed their assets) and that judges cannot be forced to disclose their assets to the public, questions will be asked as to why the court forced politicians to publicly disclose their assets and sources of income.
  • It would then be only a matter of time before politicians and their spouses seek the overturning of the PUCL and Lok Prahari judgments, thereby turning back the clock on electoral transparency.

RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

RTI trumps Official Secrets Act, says SC

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Structure, organization & functioning of the Executive & the Judiciary

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: OSA, RTI

Mains level: Importance of RTI in enhancing transparency and accountability


News

  • An all-out effort by the government to claim privilege and push the Rafale jets’ pricing details back into the dark zone was rejected by the apex court.

RTI >> OSA

  • But Justice Joseph, one of the three judges on the Bench, asked the government to read out Sections of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005.
  • The judge said the information law has revolutionized governance and overpowered notions of secrecy protected under the Official Secrets Act, 1923.
  • The Section 22 of the RTI Act, which declared the RTI to have an “overriding effect” over OSA.
  • Then Section 24 mandates even security and intelligence organisations to disclose information on corruption and human rights violations.
  • Section 8(2) compels the government to disclose information “if public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to protected interests.

Govt. Stance

  • The government wants the court to refrain from examining the documents, which have already been published in the media on the purchase of the Rafale fighter aircraft.
  • It claimed the documents were illicitly photocopied from the originals kept in the Ministry of Defence and sneaked into the public domain.
  • The government said the leak was a “conspiracy” to jeopardize national security and friendly relations with France.

Assist this newscard with:

Explained: India’s Official Secrets Act, its history and use


Back2Basics

Right to Information

  • Right to Information (RTI) is an Act of the Parliament of India to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens.
  • It replaces the erstwhile Freedom of information Act, 2002.
  • Under the provisions of the 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 thirty days.
  • The Act also requires every public authority to computerize their records for wide dissemination and to proactively certain categories of information so that the citizens need minimum recourse to request for information formally.
  • Information disclosure in India was restricted by the Official Secrets Act 1923 and various other special laws, which the new RTI Act relaxes.

RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

[op-ed snap] To serve the governed: on Official Secrets Act

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models,

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Provisions and utility of the OSA Act,it’s  effcts on freedom of press.


NEWS

CONTEXT

Recently Official secret Act was in news regarding leak of documents with respect to Rafale deal.

Colonial Legacy

  • The constitutional freedom to use and publicise information is directly affected by the provisions of the Official Secrets Act, 1923, which as with most of British India enactments followed the Official Secrets Act, 1920, passed by the British Parliament.
  • It was strict enough then but after Independence in ‘free India’ it was amended  and made stricter in 1967, widening the scope of Section 5 (“Wrongful communication. etc., of information”) and enlarging the scope of Section 8 (“Duty of giving information as to commission of offences”).

Second Press Commission

  •  Janata government which came to power at the end of the Internal Emergency, and set up what was then known (and is now forgotten) as the Second Press Commission, it was chaired by a great and good judge, Justice Goswami of the Supreme Court of India, whose common sense approach to all subjects greatly attracted me to him.
  •  The Commission proceeded in great earnestness for months, and ultimately, when its report was ready in December 1979, a report that implored the government of the day to immediately repeal the Official Secrets Act, 1923, it never saw the light of day. 
  •  It was replaced by the now officially known Second Press Commission presided over by Justice K.K. Mathew.
  • The Official Second Press Commission (the Mathew Commission) did not recommend the repeal of the Official Secrets Act of 1923.

Freedon Of Press

  • Press (and no longer the electronic media) is regarded as the champion of Article 19(1)(a) freedoms.
  • In his famous Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln described good governance as “of the people, by the people and for the people”. 
  • Centuries later we do understand the “of”, and are willing to tolerate the “by” but unfortunately we keep forgetting the “for”. If government is indeed for the people, it has a solemn obligation to keep the people well informed.

Conclusion

  • Fortunately, the modern trend in today’s world is towards less secrecy and more information. 
  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations way back in 1966, specifically includes the right to freedom of expression, defined as “the freedom to seek, receive and impart the information and ideas of all kinds”.
  • The Janata government signed and ratified this Covenant in 1979, but none of the later Governments has lived up to its ideals.
  • We have enacted Article 19(1)(a) in our 1950 Constitution with extremely limited restrictions — in Article 19(2) — but again only paid lip service to freedom of speech and expression.

 

RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

[op-ed snap]Probing the press

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models,

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Provisions and utility of the OSA Act,it’s  effcts on freedom of press.


NEWS

CONTEXT

Attorney General. K.K. Venugopal’s claimed that documents pertaining to the purchase of Rafale jets published by the media, have been “stolen”.

Background

  • The documentary evidence published so far indicates that “parallel parleys” held at the behest of the Prime Minister’s Office undermined the Indian Negotiating Team’s discussions with the French side.
  •  Internal questions had been raised about the absence of bank guarantees to hedge against possible default by the vendor; and that this had an adverse effect on the pricing of the 36 jets to be bought in fly-away condition.

The conflict between National Security and public interest

  • These revelations advance the public interest, and have no impact on national security.
  • The publication of the documents and news reports based on them constitute the legitimate exercise of the freedom of the press.
  • The threat of a criminal investigation under the Official Secrets Act, 1923 (OSA) is disappointing, if not downright perverse.
  • The government is also on weak legal ground when it claims the court should not rely on “stolen” documents while hearing petitions seeking a review of its judgment declining a probe into the Rafale deal.

Court’s Point of view

  • As the Bench, headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, pointed out, the manner in which a document has been procured is immaterial, if it is relevant to an adjudication. As one of the judges asked, can the government seek shelter behind the notion of national security if a corrupt practice had indeed taken place?

Official Secret’s Act Usage in Past

  • It is to the credit of successive governments that the OSA has rarely been used against the press.
  • The law primarily targets officials entrusted with secret documents, codes and other material, but Section 5 criminalises voluntarily receiving and possessing such documents, if given to them in contravention of the Act.
  • The Law Commission observed in a 1971 report that its wording was quite wide.
  • However, it left it to the government to decide against prosecution, if the information leak did not materially affect the state’s interest.

Conclusion

  • There is undoubtedly a case for distinguishing between an act that helps the enemy or affects national security, and one that advances legitimate public interest.
  • In times when information freedom is seen as salutary for democracy, laws such as the OSA should yield to the moral imperative behind the Right to Information Act.
  • This reasoning is embedded in Section 8(2) of the RTI Act, which says that notwithstanding the provisions of the OSA, “a public authority may allow access to information, if public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interests.”
  • The government should refrain from using its secrecy laws to contend with embarrassing media revelations. It would do well instead to respond responsibly to questions thrown up by the revelations.

RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

EVM is ‘information’ under RTI Act

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Statutory, regulatory & various quasi-judicial bodies

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: CIC, SIC

Mains level: Issues surrounding EVMs


News

  • An Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) is “information” under the Right to Information Act, the Central Information Commission has ruled.

Defining Information

  • The CIC noted that the definition of information under Section 2(f) of the RTI Act includes “any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form.

What CIC Ruled?

  • The Chief Information Commissioner ruled that the EVM which is available with the respondent [ECI] in a material form and also as samples is an information under the RTI Act.
  • The Commission was hearing the appeal of an RTI applicant who had asked the Election Commission for an EVM but was denied.
  • The models/samples of EVM are available with the ECI, but the same are only kept for training purpose by the ECI, and not saleable to the general public.

Why such ruling?

  • EVMs have been in the spotlight recently as several Opposition leaders have raised doubts about the credibility of the machines.
  • They have also demanded that the ECI cross-check 50% of results with voter-verifiable paper audit trails (VVPAT) in the upcoming Lok Sabha poll.

Certain Exemptions

  • The information was exempted from disclosure under Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act as the software installed in the machines is an intellectual property of a third party.
  • The disclosure would harm the competitive position of the third party concerned.
  • The CIC noted this fresh argument, but did not rule on it.
  • Instead, he directed the ECI to file an appropriate response to the appellant, as it had erroneously denied the information sought, using Section 6(1) of the RTI Act, which does not deal with grounds for exemption.

Back2Basics

Central Information Commission (CIC)

  1. The Central Information Commission (CIC) set up under the Right to Information Act is the authorized quasi judicial body, established in 2005.
  2. It acts upon complaints from those individuals who have not been able to submit information requests due to either the officer not having been appointed, or because the respective Officer refused to receive the application for information under the RTI Act.
  3. The Commission includes 1 Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and not more than 10 Information Commissioners (IC) who are appointed by the President of India.
  4. CIC and members are appointed by the President of India on the recommendation of a committee consisting of—Prime Minister as Chairperson, the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha; a Union Cabinet Minister to be nominated by the Prime Minister.

RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

Why only bureaucrats on information panels, asks SC

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Statutory, regulatory & various quasi-judicial bodies

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: CIC, SIC

Mains level: Implementation of the RTI Act


News

  • The Central Information Commission (CIC) and State Information Commissions, the country’s apex bodies entrusted to uphold the citizen’s right to information, have been bastions of government employees and their retired counterparts.
  • The apex court has found that “official bias” in favour of bureaucrats and government employees was evident from the very beginning of the process for their appointment.

Getting ‘Eminent Persons’ onboard

  1. The court raised concerns over how government employees or retired ones had consistently been found “more competent and more suitable” than eminent persons from other walks of life.
  2. The Right to Information Act of 2005 law was enacted to ensure accountability in governance.
  3. The act itself requires people from varied domains to man the Commissions.
  4. The apex court directed the government to look beyond bureaucrats and appoint professionals from “all walks of life,” including eminent persons with wide knowledge and experience in law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism as Information Commissioners.

Preventing Official bias

  1. Parliament intended that persons of eminence in public life should be taken as Chief Information Commissioner as well Information Commissioners.
  2. Many persons who fit the criteria have been applying for these posts.
  3. However, a strange phenomenon which we observe is that all those persons who have been selected belong to only one category, namely, public service, i.e., they are the government employees.
  4. In fact, the selection committee, which shortlists candidates for appointment, is itself composed of government employees.
  5. Official bias in favour of its own class is writ large in the selection process.

Other issues with RTI Mechanism

  1. The Supreme Court concluded that the entire RTI mechanism has been choked by rising pendency and growing number of vacancies of Information Commissioners.
  2. Now, the Supreme Court has, for the first time, put the government on a deadline as far as filling vacancies in the Commissions.
  3. The court directed that the process of appointment should commence at least one or two months before the retirement is due.

Back2Basics

Central Information Commission (CIC)

  1. The Central Information Commission (CIC) set up under the Right to Information Act is the authorized quasi judicial body, established in 2005.
  2. It acts upon complaints from those individuals who have not been able to submit information requests due to either the officer not having been appointed, or because the respective Officer refused to receive the application for information under the RTI Act.
  3. The Commission includes 1 Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and not more than 10 Information Commissioners (IC) who are appointed by the President of India.
  4. CIC and members are appointed by the President of India on the recommendation of a committee consisting of—Prime Minister as Chairperson, the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha; a Union Cabinet Minister to be nominated by the Prime Minister.
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