Source: This post is created based on the article “Efficacy of RTI Act is threatened by opacity, opposition from bureaucracy and lawmakers” published in Indian Express on 3rd August 2022.
Syllabus: GS Paper 2 – Governance – Transparency – RTI
News: The Right to Information Act (RTI) is set to complete 17 years in the upcoming months. Sarthak Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) 2021 report’s findings highlight the issues associated with the Act.
SNS 2021 report states that Information Commissions are acting as a major bottleneck in the effective implementation of the RTI Law.
What are the associated issues with Information Commissions?
- Huge vacancies
- Poor choice of commissioners,
- Untrained staff and a non-cooperative set of public information officers (PIOs)
- Increasing opacity in the working of the commissions.
- In many cases, PIOs have been found non-compliant with the orders of even commissioners. For example, in Madhya Pradesh, an arrest warrant was issued against one PIO after the violations of 38 summons for appearing in a hearing and non-compliance with the commissioner’s orders.
- Any serious RTI query or query, which involves more than one department, requires the intervention of high officials. However, it is found that even in such cases, junior rank PIOs attend the hearing and face the consequences of any issues in that case.
- Many commissioners have been seen openly expressing their political inclinations. It creates a sense of bias among the petitioners.
- RTI Act clearly states that the final appeal lies with the information commissions. However, appeal against the commission’s orders are masked as writ petitions. Supreme Court, in the case, DDA vs Skipper Construction (P) Ltd highlighted this issue. SC stated
“High Courts must resist the temptation to exercise their writ jurisdiction in order to correct errors made by the SICs/CICs. If the High Court quashes a CIC/SIC order, it must categorically find that the order was without jurisdiction or palpably erroneous.”
What are the issues arising due to the inefficiency of Information Commissions?
A huge backlog of second appeals. As on June 30, 2021, 2.56 lakh appeals were pending with 26 information commissions in the country.
Lengthy wait time for hearings.
Hesitancy in posting penalties for non-compliance.
Inexperience and unprofessionalism of PIOs is life-threatening to the whistle-blowers. In India, 99 RTI activists have lost their lives, 180 assaulted and 187 were threatened since 2006, as per the reports of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI).
What should be done?
First, a code of conduct must be evolved for the central and state information commissioners to keep them away from any political influence.
Second, raising awareness for RTI among the people.
Third, a strong political system is a must for the RTI regime to flourish.