India is losing its cherished right to know

Source: This post is created based on the article “India is losing its cherished right to know”, published in The Hindu on 24th November 2022.

Syllabus: GS Paper 2- Governance – Transparency

News: Central Information Commission (CIC) has largely become ineffective in carrying out the assigned mandate.

Central Information Commission’s main mandate is to decide, whether to disclose or not the information sought by the citizens.

Read moreAbout RTI Act

What are the reasons behind CIC’s ineffectiveness?

CIC was a well-functioning institution before 2019 amendment to the RTI Act. It passed many effective orders, like;

  1. Political parties were under the RTI Act’s ambit, and hence accountable to the public.
  2. Disclosure of the current Prime Minister’s education qualifications
  3. Reserve Bank of India’s list of wilful defaulters of loans.

However, now, CIC has become like a walking dead institution. In the recent times, not a single order for disclosure has been forthcoming in matters of public importance.

Cases at the CIC come up for a hearing roughly after a two year wait. The matter loses its significance in that long period.

In the matter of national importance, CIC has adopted a new approach. It delegates the decision to the concerned ministry. In most cases, the Ministries reiterate their earlier stand of non-disclosure, most often under vague grounds of national interest.

Furthermore, once the public authorities pass the order against disclosure, the CIC refuses to accept any further challenge to such order.

By allowing concerned ministries to decide, CIC is violating the cardinal rules of natural justice that no one should be a judge in their own cause.

A similar situation arose when the Home ministry passed non-disclosure order in the phone tapping case and CIC refused to hear the Internet Freedom Foundation’s challenge to it. However, the organisation was able to get the fair hearing in CIC, after challenge the order before the Delhi High Court. But, most organisation do not have that much resource to challenges the order.

Also, commission is taking the steps that are not allowed in the RTI act. For example;

  1. In a case seeking disclosure of documents relating to the making of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2019, the commission has resorted to keeping the matter pending for final order for more than three months now. Keeping the matter pending is something which is unheard of.
  2. In another case the disclosure of non-performing assets and top defaulters of a co-operative bank was sought. The matter was listed out-of-turn and a “stay” order was issued against the Bank’s First Appellate Authority’s order for disclosure. A stay order is unheard of and there is no provision in the RTI Act for the same.
What are its Implications?

These issues frustrate citizens who dare to seek answers from the powers that be, and reduce the efficiency of the RTI Act.

It is becoming difficult to extract any information of importance under the present system.

Bureaucrats are losing fear of facing penal provisions outlined in Section 20 of the RTI Act for non-disclosure.

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