[Answered] Discuss the recent amendments made to RTI Act? Over the last 14 years, how far has the RTI Act served the purposes for which it was introduced?

Demand of the question
Introduction. Contextual Introduction.
Body. Achievements and issue in RTI Act.
Conclusion. Way forward.

The objective of the RTI Act is to establish a practical regime for citizens to access information held by Public Authorities. This in turn led to increased transparency and accountability at the Public Authorities. RTI since its enactment led to many stories of defacing corrupt practices. But still there are many issues present that prevented RTI to be a full success.

Recent amendments to RTI act:

RTI ACT, 2005 RTI Amendment, 2019
Sections 13 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005 sets the term of the central Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners at 5 years (or until the age of 65, whichever is earlier). The RTI amendment bill 2019, amends it. Now term will be prescribed by the Central Government.
Section 13 states that salaries, allowances and other terms of service of the Chief Information Commissioner shall be the same as that of the Chief Election Commissioner and those of an Information Commissioner shall be the same as that of an Election Commissioner. The amendment proposes that the salaries, allowances and other terms of service of the Chief Information Commissioner and the Information Commissioners shall be such as may be prescribed by the Central Government.
Section 16 of the original Act deals with state-level Chief Information Commissioners and Information Commissioners. It sets the term for state-level CICs and ICs at five years (or 65 years of age, whichever is earlier). The amendment proposes that these appointments should be for such term as may be prescribed by the Central Government.
The original Act prescribes salaries, allowances and other terms of service of the state Chief Information Commissioner as the same as that of an Election Commissioner and the salaries and other terms of service of the State Information Commissioners as the same as that of the Chief Secretary to the State Government. The amendment proposes that salaries, allowances and other terms of service shall be such as may be prescribed by the Central Government.

RTI act so far in 14 years:

  1. Enabled citizen rights: RTI has become a weapon in the hands of common citizens to fight for their rights. Earlier citizens had to struggle to get what was rightfully theirs. RTI has removed such bottlenecks.
  2. Anti-corruption tool: In the past 14 years, it has been instrumental in uncovering a list of major scams. The success of the Act earned it the fourth place among 111 countries in the annual rating of similar empowering laws across the world in the year 2016. Scams like Adarsh Society Scam, 2g scam, Commonwealth Games Scam, Indian Red Cross Society Scam are some noticeable achievements under RTI.
  3. Empowered people’s voice: It has given ordinary citizens the confidence and the right to ask questions of government authorities. The RTI Act has empowered people in containing corruption and bringing transparency and accountability in the working of the Government. According to estimates, nearly 60 lakh applications are being filed every year. It is used by citizens as well as the media.
  4. Strengthened democracy: Every citizen has right to claim information from public authorities under the act. Public authorities have an obligation to provide the sought information to the applicants with certain restrictions related to national security, personal information and third party information. This strengthened democracy through active participation of public.
  5. Features leading to transparency: A large amount of information has to be placed in the public domain by ways of manuals prescribed under the Act. All the Government departments along with a number of bodies which receive substantial funding from the Government have been brought under the RTI. This has ushered an era of transparency.

Issues and loopholes in RTI:

  1. Increasing pendency of cases: These Commissions particularly the Central Information Commission, have kept a strong vigil over the functioning of administrative machinery relating to the implementation of the Act. However, their performance has often been restricted by increasing number of appeals. This has resulted in increase in pendency as well as increase in waiting time for hearing of appeals.
  2. Definition of information: An important issue is the definition of information. Supreme Court stated that ‘information’ for the purpose of this Act would mean information held by the PIO or under his control. However, if the information is not held by the PIO the public authority is not under obligation to provide that information.
  3. Not all institutions under RTI: Another issue is that some institutions are not being covered under the Act. E.g. judiciary is not under the act.
  4. Lack of infrastructure: The Implementation of RTI requires the PIOs to provide information to the applicant through photocopies, soft copies etc. These facilities are not available at Block and Panchayat level.
  5. Low awareness level: Awareness about RTI is yet very low. Awareness level is low especially among the disadvantaged communities such as women rural population, OBC/SC/ST population.
  6. Constraints faced in filing applications: Under Section 26 of the RTI Act, the appropriate Government is expected to publish and distribute user guides (within 18 months of enactment of the Act) for information seekers. However Nodal Departments have not published these guides in many states.

Since the implementation of the RTI Act, it has established itself as an important tool in handling corruption and inefficiency in the Government. Although there have been instances of misuse of the Act, but it has served its purpose well. Issues and loopholes in RTI should be removed through proper amendment to further the objectives of transparency and accountability.

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