The Sorry State of Right to Information Act
Right to Information Act (RTI) Act has been enacted in 2005 to empower the citizens with information. The information hitherto was denied to the people. There was the Official Secrets Act which systematically stonewalled the information from the government and related organizations.
With the RTI Act the intention was to open the black box in which the decisions of the administration are made but it is not open to the people.
The intension behind the act is very pious, to make the day to day decision making process open to the people and there by usher in the good governance. However in practice the implementation is very poor.
According to the act, there shall be State Public Information Officers (SPIOs) and First Appellate Authority (FAA) in every organization. In practice the existing office bearers are appointed as SPIOs and FAAs. The problems with this are
i. They are already burdened with their regular domain work
ii. Have little/no knowledge of RTI provisions
iii. They are poorly motivated to do the RTI work
Of late it has been realised that they are not in a proper position to dispense the requisite information sought by the applicants.
There are other set of problems that are scuttling the spirit of RTI. The general tendency is to deny the information on some or the other point under section 8 of the RTI Act.
Added to this are
i. Applications are not attended to within the time frame of 30 days/ 48 hours
ii. The multiple appeals to FAA and complaints are also unheeded to
iii. The “strict” financial punishments that can be recommended against the defaulters are not at all recommended not even once
iv. There is a general tendency to ask the information seekers/appellants to appear in person in office for hearing or to get the required information.
The other kind of issue that is killing the spirit of RTI Act is the filing of revenge applications by some disgruntled employees. A case in points is in Haryana SRLM more than 90% of the applications are filed by employees who are being suspended/whose contracts have not been extended after the expiry. All the applications filed by these people are either lengthy and/or not related to them and are vague. They are filed only with the intention of witch hunting. Some requests have been made about the criminal records of the employees, their selection process and proceedings. This shows the clear motive of troubling the office bearers.
In some other instances requests have also been for very old information which has little relevance in the present context. This will only overburden the already short-staffed organization impacting their regular work.
In this context the need of the hour is a clear and much more focussed approach for the RTI act.