RTI Act – Is this the best we can do?

The Right to Information Act (RTI) was enacted in 2005 with the aim to bring transparency and accountability in governance. Under the Act, people can ...

The Right to Information Act (RTI) was enacted in 2005 with the aim to bring transparency and accountability in governance. Under the Act, people can seek the information from the government regarding spending on a project, status of their complaints and applications, etc. The Act made it possible for people to access all government records with certain exceptions.

The RTI act was lauded as a powerful tool in the hands of the people. Now, the ‘owners’ of democracy could not only raise questions about the unprincipled activities of government but also get answers. However, the act also came with a bureaucracy that discourages people from holding their government accountable. The procedure of filling an RTI itself demands cost and time from the people. One has to wait for 30 days to get the reply for the first RTI application, and then wait another 90 long days if another response is sought.

According to a study conducted by Research, Assessment & Analysis Group (RaaG) and Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS), Delhi based organisations, 60 percent of orders taken by Information Commissions contained deficiencies and didn’t describe the information sought. The study also revealed that as of December 2015, there were 1,87,974 cases of appeals and complaints pending in 16 Information Commissions for which the data was available. In 9 out of 16 Information Commissions, the waiting time for a hearing was more than a year. Moreover, there is a significant lack of transparency in the Information Commissions themselves. 75 percent of them did not publish their annual report for 2015.

RTI is a tool which has the potential to expose the malpractices of government. So whenever a person files an RTI against an issue which may expose corruption in the government, there is a possibility of him or her being harmed by the authorities. The total number of RTI activists killed across the country is 65 and about 400 activists have been attacked for requesting information under the Act. The law has also become a source of corruption for RTI activists. In 2016, Mumbai police arrested an RTI activist for blackmailing a contractor who was renovating the first floor of a house. The RTI activist told the contractor that he knew he had paid BMC for permission, so now he had to pay him ₹ 15,000 or get the house demolished.

If people have a right to information then why should they must go through these bureaucratic hassles, deficient replies from Information Commissions, wait for years, and above all this put their life to risk, to get information which is their fundamental right to begin with.

Wouldn’t it be better if all information held by the government be made public rather than people filing an application for them? The government should disclose all information which could be a matter of public interest (possibly barring sensitive information relating to national security) on their websites without someone sending them an application. This will reduce the cost of obtaining information, both in terms of time and money, and will also free up government officials to focus on governance rather than replying to RTI queries individually.

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