Status of the Right to Information Act

Source– The post is based on the article “Status of the Right to Information Act” published in “The Hindu” on 4th September 2023.

Syllabus: GS2- Governance

Relevance- Right to information Act

News– The article explains the undermining of the RTI Act by the government.

What are some facts about the RTI Act?

The Right to Information Act of 2005 facilitated citizens in acquiring information and data from both Central and State institutions that are not easily accessible to the public.

This legislation enables any citizen to submit requests for accessing data, documents, and other information held by the government.

India’s RTI Act has often been recognized as one of the most comprehensive laws worldwide for granting public access to official records.

How amendments to the RTI Act have undermined it?

The Right to Information Act includes an exemption that prohibits the government from disclosing the personal data of citizens, except when there is a compelling public interest to do so.

The Digital Personal Data Protection Act of 2023 has modified this exemption from a qualified prohibition to an absolute prohibition.

There are concerns that powerful public officials can avoid accountability by invoking this blanket ban on disclosing personal information.

Previous amendments to the RTI Act have also raised concerns. The Right to Information (Amendment) Act of 2019 granted the Union Government unilateral authority to determine the duration of service and salary of information commissioners.

How else is the RTI Act undermined?

The effectiveness of the RTI Act also depends on the subordinate rules established by both the Union Government and State Governments.

For instance, payment methods accepted by a public authority are left to the discretion of individual states.

Some states, like Tamil Nadu, don’t accept Indian Postal Orders (IPOs). These are checks that can be purchased at post offices and attached to an application for payment.

IPOs are typically the most accessible payment method. In contrast, other payment options can be less convenient or come with additional burdens.

Furthermore, delayed appointments to information commissions have also eroded confidence in the RTI framework.

Appeals can languish for months or even years before they are heard.

What is the effectiveness of online portals for filing RTI applications?

Online filing of RTI applications represents a significant step in eliminating certain obstacles. Citizens can simply submit their requests online and make payments using UPI.

However, several states do not have an online RTI portal. Many State Government agencies are often not registered on these portals.

The Union Government’s RTI portal was launched in 2013. Numerous public authorities under the Union Government are listed on the portal. But, the process of submitting applications has become more cumbersome.

Previously, having an account on the RTI Online portal allowed citizens to have their personal information pre-filled in each application by default.

However, the option to create an account has now vanished. The site requires all users to manually input their details each time they file an application.

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