STATUS OF RTI
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Context: The Right to Information Act is a law that allows citizens to access information held by public authorities. It is intended to promote transparency and accountability in governance. However, the Act has been facing criticism for its poor implementation and misuse by some people.
Why concerns about the effectiveness of the RTI Act?
Digital Personal Data Protection Act 2023
- The Digital Personal Data Protection Act 2023, introduced a significant change by prohibiting the government from disclosing the personal data of citizens, even in cases where there might be an overriding public interest.
- This total prohibition has raised concerns because it can hinder transparency efforts, particularly in situations like 'social audits.' Social audits involve community members obtaining lists of beneficiaries, often related to government programs like ration distribution, through RTI requests. They then individually verify whether these beneficiaries received the benefits they were entitled to, as documented on paper.
- With the new prohibition on disclosing personal data, these social audits may become impossible to carry out effectively. This could potentially result in less accountability in government programs and services.
Right to Information (Amendment) Act 2019
- The Right to Information (Amendment) Act 2019 granted the Union Government the power to decide the tenure and salaries of information commissioners. Information commissioners are crucial in the RTI framework as they hear appeals against unsatisfactory or absent RTI responses.
- Granting the Union Government unilateral power in these matters raises concerns about the potential for political interference and compromise of the independence of these commissioners. An independent and impartial information commission is essential for ensuring the fair and transparent functioning of the RTI Act.
Implementation and Subordinate Rules
- The effectiveness of the RTI Act depends not only on the central law but also on the rules and practices set by the Union and State Governments. One practical issue is the variation in payment methods accepted for RTI applications. For example, some states, like Tamil Nadu, do not accept Indian Postal Orders (IPOs), which are a convenient and widely accessible payment method. Instead, they may require alternative, less convenient methods like court fee stamps or demand drafts, which can be burdensome for applicants. These disparities in payment methods can create inequalities in access to the RTI process.
- Delays in appointing members to information commissions, both at the central and state levels, have a detrimental impact on the RTI framework. Information commissions are responsible for hearing appeals, and significant delays can lead to a backlog of cases. For example, the absence of commissioners in the Jharkhand State Information Commission (SIC) since May 2020 has essentially paralyzed the ability to appeal administrative issues related to the RTI Act in that state. Timely appointments are crucial for maintaining the efficiency and effectiveness of the RTI system.
- While online filing of RTI applications can simplify the process and reduce barriers for citizens, its implementation varies across states. Many states do not have online RTI portals, which means citizens in those regions may not have access to this convenient option. Additionally, even in states with online portals, some government bodies may not be registered on these platforms, limiting the scope of online RTI applications.
- Technical issues with the Union Government's RTI portal, such as the disappearance of past application data and changes in user account features, have created challenges for users.
- The growing number of first appeals indicates that citizens are increasingly dissatisfied with the information they receive from public officials in response to their RTI requests. This dissatisfaction suggests that there may be issues with the quality or completeness of the information provided, potentially undermining the RTI Act's objective of promoting transparency and accountability.
- Beyond legislative changes, activists and experts argue that the effectiveness of the RTI Act is also impacted by the way various institutions and government bodies discharge their duties. This includes concerns about narrowing avenues for filing requests and obtaining information, as well as appeals falling on understaffed appellate bodies. These structural challenges can impede citizens' ability to exercise their right to access information and hold public officials accountable effectively.
- The Right to Information Act, which has been a vital tool for transparency and accountability in India, faces challenges from legislative amendments, implementation issues, delays in appointments, and structural problems. Addressing these challenges is essential to ensure that the principles of transparency and accountability in governance are upheld and that citizens can effectively exercise their right to information.
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Q. What are the key features and significance of the Right to Information Act in India, and what challenges does it currently face? How can these challenges be addressed to ensure a more effective way forward for the Act in promoting transparency and accountability in government?