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Right to Information Act, 2005: An Analysis

Context

Item 14 in the legislative agenda of the monsoon session of Parliament says “To amend The Right to Information (RTI) Act 2005 — for Introduction, Consideration, and Passing.”

Objective of RTI

  • It mandates the replacement of a prevailing culture of secrecy with a culture of transparency
  • Empowerment of the citizens
  • Promotion of transparency and accountability in the functioning of the government
  • Prevention and elimination of corruption
  • transform the relationship between the citizen and government
  • dismantle illegitimate concentrations of power

Challenges/Issues

  • Only 36 per cent in rural and 38 per cent urban areas have heard of the RTI Act
  • women in sufficient numbers are not taking advantage of the provisions of the RTI Act
  • 45% public information officers did not receive any training
  • poor record-keeping practices within the bureaucracy. This is violation of section 4 of RTI act
  • Long Pendency in most Information Commissions signals casual approach towards RTI
  • lack of infrastructure and staff for running Information Commissions
  • dilution of supplementary laws such as the one for whistle-blower protection act
  • There are concerns over frivolous use of the Act where disclosure of information doesn’t serve any purpose
  • concern over threats that some activists faced in the course of their work
  • Judiciary and political parties don’t come under RTI which lead to distrust among the citizens
  • There is an allegation of political patronage in selection of Information Commissioners

Amendment in RTI act 2005

The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2013:

  • The amendment Bill removes political parties fromthe ambit of the definition of public authorities andhence from the purview of the RTI Act.

Proposed Amendment in RTI act, 2018

  • The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill empowers the Central government to decide the tenure and salary and allowances of Information Commissioners of the Central Information Commission and also of State Information Commissions through rules.
    • At present, the pay and perks, as well as other terms and conditions of service of theChief Information Commissioner (CIC), is on a par with that of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC). The new Bill, if passed, will change that. 

Argument by government

Status and service condition of Information commissioner need to be rationalised because

  • Unlike the EC, Information Commissions are not constitutional bodies but mere statutory creations under the law.
  • It states that the mandate and functions of the Central and State Information Commissions are totally different to that of the Election Commission.

Criticisms

  • There are concerns that the proposedamendment would make the commissions vulnerable to political pressure. It might erode the commission’s authority
    • If the tenure is subject to the Centre’s whims then there might be chances that information commissions will be sacked for passing inconvenient orders
  • It will also be a violation of the federal spirits
  • It is being alleged that government overlook the “pre-legislative consultation policy” before schedule it for monsoon session
    • As per the “pre-legislative consultation policy” of the government of India any amendment to the law should have been discussed before it went to the cabinet.s

Way Ahead

  • Government should bring the amendment after proper consultation with civil society and other stakeholders
  • Government should also incorporate the concerns raised by various information commissioner before table it in parliament
  • To strengthen the RTI government should operationalise the Lok Pal, the Whistle-blowers Act and the Grievance Redress law
  • Steps should be taken to curb the recent attack on RTI activistss
  • Government should make necessary step to develop a reliable online system to apply for information and make it easier to pay for bill.
  • Take necessary steps to reduce vacancies
  • Government should take necessary steps to strengthen the requirement under section 4 of the Act to publish information Suo moto. This will help to reduce pendency of cases.
  • The Supreme Court has held the right to information as being integral to the right to free expression under Article 19(1)(a); weakening the transparency law would negate that guarantees
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