Right to Information Act & Pending Pleas in India

Right to Information Act & Pending Pleas in India

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RTI, over 1.98 lakh cases are pending in 23 Information Commissions (IC) across the country. In Madhya Pradesh information commission appeal would come up after 60 years while it would be a 17-year wait in West Bengal. In Rajasthan the appeal would take over three years, while in Assam and Kerala the applicant would have to wait two years. And approx., six information commissions including the Central Information Commission have a waiting period of over a year. 

“The Right to Information Act” became operational on 12th October, 2005. This law,CORPORATE WATCH (5)

Allow Indian citizens to seek information from Public Authorities, thus making the Government and its functionaries more accountable and responsible. The Act applies to all States and Union Territories of India except Jammu & Kashmir. Under the provisions of the Act, any citizen may request information from a “public authority-a body of Government” which is required to reply expeditiously or within thirty days.

Recently, a report said-”The information commission is effectively denying people their fundamental right to information-it is resulting in citizens having to wait for excessively long periods of time to have their appeals and complaints heard.”

Information Commissions across the country giving in under the weight of pending cases. The collective build up in 23 commissions is about 1.98 lakh. The maximum number of appeals and complaints were pending in Uttar Pradesh-48,442, Maharashtra-32,390, Kerela-8,875 and the Central Information Commission-26,115. Whereas Tamil Nadu has not made much progress in implementing the act compared to the rest of the country. “There were no backlogs in Mizoram, Sikkim and Tripura”

The Madhya Pradesh commission, about 21 cases a month will force a new appeal to be heard only after 60 years and 10 months. While in West Bengal where the information commissioners decide on 40 cases a month the waiting period is 17 years and 10 months.
The Rajasthan information commission where disposal is 341 cases a month followed by 43 cases in Assam. The waiting period is 3 years and 4 months for Rajasthan, two years each for Assam and Kerala and over a year for Andhra, UP, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Maharashtra. 

According to the Act, all Government departments and public sector undertakings are supposed to publish details like employees’ names, designation, qualification and salary, fund utilisation and status of projects on their websites. Even after nine years of the implementation of the Act, only a few departments have published these details, that too after repeated directives from the State Information Commission.CORPORATE WATCH (2)

Where RTI is lacking?

Issues and constraints identified in the implementation of the Act are measured in three dimensions:

Demand Side

First, Low awareness level-It was revealed that only 15% of the respondents were aware of the RTI Act. The awareness level is low among the disadvantaged communities. Second, Constraints faced in filing applications-PIOs (Public Information Officers) are required to provide reasonable assistance to the applicant in drafting and submission of the application. Third, Poor quality of information provided and Constraints faced in inspection of records.

Non-availability of User Guides for RTI implementation for information seekers, non-availability of Standard forms for RTI application, inconvenient payment channels for submission of application fees and inconvenient submission channels for RTI application are the other reasons faced at demand side.

Another issue observed in the survey was that the payment mechanisms prescribed in some of the State rules are inconvenient to the citizens applying from locations outside the concerned State. For example, the application fee in Orissa can only be paid through treasury challans and bankers cheques. Also postal order, which is considered to bet the easiest payment channel, is not an available option in Maharashtra, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh.

Supply Side

The Information Commission gets to know the failure of the Public Authority in providing the information within 30 days (or 48 hours or 35 days or 40 days as may be the case) once the appeal or complaint is filed. Inadequate trained PIOs, only 55% of surveyed PIOs had received RTI training. It was observed that the training provided to the PIOs is restricted to RTI Act. While the PIOs are expected to-Provide assistance to the applicants as per the Section 5(3) of the Act. Manage official records as per the record management guidelines. No availability of basic infrastructure like photocopier machines at each Public Authority and basic level of automation such as necessary applications and connectivity.  PIOs lack the motivation to implement RTI Act.

Information Commissions

The number of RTI Appeals with the Information Commissions is growing at a rapid pace year after year. There is no clear division of responsibilities between the State Information Commission and the Nodal Department in terms of monitoring the implementation of RTI Act.

Analysis & Conclusion

The Public Authorities have to enhance the level of ownership to ensure the RTI delivery happens as per the spirit of the Act. They have to be ultimately responsible for identifying the gaps in their offices in the delivery of the information. Thereafter identify the resources needed and appropriately budget for it. Maintenance of the information required to be furnished to the State Information Commission.

The role of the Centre or State Government is to facilitate the Public Authorities in implementation of the Act. This can happen through providing support to Public Authorities for training, development of software applications, e-Training modules, generating awareness amongst citizens etc.

The role of the Information Commission has to go beyond the Hearing of the appeals. As per the Act, they are expected to issue orders and directions to the Public Authorities to carry out their duties. However till the time Information Commission assumes the role of ensuring the compliance of the RTI Act by the various Public Authorities, there would not be any control mechanism.

The State Government has to play a facilitative role to the Information Commission through issuance of supporting rules and orders to the Public Authorities. u

CORPORATE WATCH (4)

Estimated RTI Report*

Year

Complaints

Disposed

Pending

2006

4,923

2,905

2,018

2007

10,274

6,979

5,313

2008

14,565

10,285

9,593

2009

21,509

19,633

11,469

2010

27,500

23,500

15,469

2013

More than 2 Lakh

In Thousands

1,98, 739

2014

More than 2 lakh

In Thousands

More than Lakh, still on count

*Source for Statistics figures is Z NEWS India.

 

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CSR VISION
CSR VISION is India's (probably World's) first monthly magazine in print devoted to CSR and Sustainable Development for bringing together all stakeholders of SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT at a global and local levels and act as a platform for promoting strategic CSR and sustainable development practices through dissemination of information and knowledge.