Activists meet MoS for a discussion on RTI and governance related matters
As per a press release, RTI activists associated with the RTI Assessment & Advocacy Group (RaaG) met Dr. Jitendra Singh, MoS, DoPT on December 5, 2014 to discuss the key findings of the nation assessment of the RTI Act undertaken by RaaG. Being members of the National Campaign for Peoples' Right to Information (NCPRI), the activists also discussed issues related to other accountability laws including the Whistleblower's Protection Act and a legislation for Grievance Redress.
In the meeting, several concerns related to the implementation of the RTI Act, including poor implementation of Section 4 of the RTI Act, huge backlog of appeals/complaints in information commissions, ineffective first appellate process were raised. These issues were highlighted in the recently concluded national assessment of the RTI Act, titled 'Peoples Monitoring of the RTI Regime in India, 2011-13'. The report of the assessment can be accessed here, while the recommendations handed over to the Minister are attached.
The activists- Anjali Bhardwaj, Nikhil Dey and Amrita Johri- also raised the issue of the delay in the appointment of the Chief Information Commissioner in the Central Information Commission. It is for the first time in the history of the RTI Act that the CIC has been functioning without a Chief. The Chief has a critical role in the functioning of the Commission as envisaged in Section 12(4) of the RTI Act.
As part of NCPRI's 'Use RTI to Save RTI' campaign, former Chief Information Commissioner of Indian, Mr. Wajahat Habibullah had filed an RTI application to seek information about the reasons for the delay in appointment of the Chief. According to information received under the RTI Act, the “Prime Minister has desired … the procedure for selection of information commissioners which includes among other things, advertising the post and short-listing by a search committee, may be adopted for appointment to the post of Central Information Commissioner as well”. While these are commendable initiatives as they will ensure greater transparency in the process of appointment of the commissioner, the long delay in the process of appointment of the Chief Information Commissioner is extremely concerning. Already there is a huge backlog in the Central Information Commission with over 25,000 appeals and complaints pending in the Commission. The lack of a Chief Information Commissioner will cause the pendency in the Commission to further increase.
The Minister stated that the process of appointment of the Chief Information Commissioner was underway and would be concluded soon.
The issue of the delay in implementation of the Whistle Blowers Protection Act was raised in the meeting. While the law was passed by Parliament in February 2014 and received the assent of the President in May 2014, the government is yet to promulgate rules to operationalise the law. Information accessed under the RTI act, has revealed that the government is proposing to amend the law and has therefore not promulgated rules. The minister stated that the government is trying to move the amendment bill in the ongoing session of Parliament. As the nature of the amendments is not clear, the activists urged the Minister to put the text of the amendment bill in the public domain. The Minister was also urged to immediately operationalise the Whistle Blowers Protection law as every day of delay in implementing this law is exposing whistleblowers to potential threats and attacks.
The activists also urged the minister to introduce a legislation to provide a framework for time-bound and effective redress of citizens grievances related to non-delivery of entitlements and services. Such a legislation (Right of Citizens for Time-Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill) was introduced in the 15th Lok Sabha and was widely debated by the all party standing committee. Senior leaders of the BJP- Shri Arun Jaitely and Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad- had committed their support for the legislation on the floor of the house. The grievance redress bill lapsed with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha. The Minister stated that the government was committed to providing a framework for ensuring delivery of entitlements and rights to people.
It is hoped that the government will urgently act on the aforementioned issues to ensure a comprehensive framework for transparency, anti-corruption and grievance redress.