Is the RTI Act gradually becoming ineffective?
Since its enactment in 2005, the Right to Information (RTI) Act has raised expectations amongst the citizens while evoking fear amongst the corrupt. However, the working of the transparency law has raised serious questions about the future of the Act. The Act is facing challenges from multiple fronts.
High number of appeals
There are nearly 1.5 lakhs appeals are pending before the different information commissions in the country, some of which since 2011. The high pendency is on account of low number of information commissioners and less disposal from the existing number of Information Commissioners. The figures show that:
· More than 24,000 appeals are pending before the central information commission
· More than 35,000 appeals are pending before the Maharashtra State Information Commission
· More than 24,000 pending are pending before the Karnataka State Information Commission
Denial of information on flimsy ground
The lack of disciplinary action against the erring public information officers (PIOs) has led to absence of fear amongst the officials. Statistics shows that the number of PIOs are penalised is less than 5 per cent of the cases. A penalty can be imposed under section 20 of the RTI Act if the PIO has not furnished the information sought within 30 days, or knowingly given incorrect, incomplete or misleading information. Absence of penal action has led to a situation where denial of information is becoming common. Some of the common replies for denial of information are:
· the query is not specific
· the documents are voluminous
· information is not available
· documents are missing or not traceable
· the information is in public domain
· deemed refusal where the applicants don't get a response or gets a reply after much delay.
Infrequent penalty on PIO
According to a statistics, penalties have been imposed on PIOs in only 1,000 cases of the more than 1.7 lakh appeals that were disposed in the eight years since the RTI Act has come into existence. Former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi feels that if the PIOs don't have the threat of penalty, then RTI is under threat.
Attacks on RTI activists
Attacks on the RTI activists cause a threat to their lives leading to a scare amongst the information seekers. As per statistics compiled by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), nearly 250 individuals have been allegedly harassed or attacked physically or their property damaged.
Many progressive orders of the Information Commissions have been stayed and are hence held in abeyance.
Absence of political will
The ruling class belonging to all the major political properties does not seem to be interested in enforcing the RTI Act on their own selves.
Lack of awareness
There has been an increase in the awareness levels amongst the citizens but the number of those who still have little or no information about the transparency law is very high. Many of the Public Information Officers and First Appellate Authorities are not adequately trained.
Suo-motu disclosure remains a distant dream. Will appropriate steps be taken to add teeth to the RTI Act?