RTI is an act of the parliament that sets out the rules and procedures regarding citizens’ right to information. It replaced the former Freedom of Information Act, of 2002.
- Under the provisions of the 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 days.
- In case of a 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 information formally.
•Lack of awareness: The major impediment is the lack of awareness of the law and lack of widespread adoption.
•Non-functionality of information commissions across the country: The Satark Nagrik Sangathan report says two out of 29 information commissions across the country are completely defunct.
•Issues of vacancies and understaffing: According to a report by the Transparency International, one-fourth of Information Commissioner posts are vacant
•Lack of Imposing of penalties: An analysis of penalties imposed shows that the commissions did not impose penalties in 95% of the cases where penalties were potentially imposable.
•Appeals are not addressed: 26 lakh second appeals are there before the commissions. Over 32,000 RTI appeals are pending with the Central Information Commission.
•Lack of digitization: Only 11 information commissions out of 29 provide e-filing facility
• Major institutions such as political parties and judiciary have kept themselves out of the RTI investigation and similarly the media is also out of ambit of the RTI Act.
Is the RTI Act fulfilling its purpose?
- The RTI Act empowers people because it puts an obligation on the government to respond to them in a time-bound manner.
- It has tilted the balance of power in favour of common people as they can hold the government accountable.
- People are extensively using the RTI Act to obtain information on rights and entitlements such as their rations, pensions, and medicines in hospitals or education in schools.
- People can hold high offices accountable and get information on a wide range of subjects including expenditure details of taxpayers’ money.
- People have been tracking and exposing scams such as the Commonwealth Games and Vyapam scams.
- It has been able to expose human rights violations, and then force accountability in those cases.
Issues in Implementation:
- Lack of awareness of this law and lack of widespread adoption.
- Some States with an RTI application within 150 words: Condensing the question, especially for those who might not have the benefit of a formal education.
- Within the government: asking for information is not encouraged
- Maintaining datasets and information: putting information in the public domain has become a big problem.
- Example: During COVID-19, when the government was asked how many people lost their lives due to lack of oxygen, about the number of migrant workers, on all of that the government said, we don’t have any data.
- Remove the existing impediments: There is a need to remove long waiting time for disposal, tardy disposal rates and the lack of transparency in their functioning.
- Curbing RTI misuse: As observed by Delhi High Court, misuse of the RTI Act has to be appropriately dealt with; otherwise the public would lose faith and confidence in this “sunshine Act”.
- Improve governance and amend the act: A lot more needs to be done to usher in accountability in governance, including protection of whistleblowers, decentralization of power and fusion of authority with accountability at all levels.