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Issue No.: 571 | January 2015
 

Review of the Right to Information (RTI)

N. S, Venkataraman
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Nandini Voice for the Deprived, a Chennai based NGO, organised a meeting on September 21, 2014, in Chennai to discuss issues relating to the Right to Information Act [RTI]. The objective of the meeting, attended by several RTI activists and the general public, was to provide a forum to RTI activists to express their views on the implementation of the Act.

After an in depth discussions for over three hours, the views expressed are summarised below. 

Not implemented in letter and spirit.

While departments do provide response to RTI queries, the overall view is that the Act, in most cases, is not being implemented in letter and spirit by the government departments and the original expectations of the common man have not been met.

Time stipulation not followed 

Several instances were cited to highlight the fact that the thirty days stipulation to provide a reply to the RTI letters are not met and there have been a number of instances where the letters have been ignored or not acknowledged at all.

Appeals sent to the Information Commissioners [IC] are often treated in a lukewarm manner and require repeated reminders for the papers to move. Sometimes, the letters sent by the Information Commissioners to the Appellate authorities of the government departments are themselves ignored. One can take up the issue if adequate replies are not given. But, what can the person do if the queries are not acknowledged at all in spite of repeated reminders?

No proper system has been developed to ensure that the RTI letters are handled within the stipulated time which is one of the reasons for inordinate delay.

Lack of transparent procedures for appointing Information Commissioners and PIO

There are no stipulated and transparent procedures such as qualification and background for appointment of Public Information Officers [PIO]. For example, in a technically oriented organisation such as MMDA, a technically qualified person can serve better as PIO since he can better understand the intricacies of the issues. Further, for the PIOs, this is only as an additional responsibility. There are also no set procedures for appointment of ICs and sometimes such appointed ICs have unrelated background which affects their efficiency.

Personal security threat to RTI activists

Some RTI activists have faced personal security threats, since the content of the RTI letters are leaked out to the affected parties by the government departments. This has deterred several persons from filing RTI applications.

Lack of support from Consumers Court

If one does not get proper replies from the departments concerned and Information Commissioners also do not act, one cannot approach the Consumer Courts, since in several cases they have refused to entertain such applications.

RTI Activism - a full time job

In the normal course, if rules and regulations are followed as per the RTI Act, one should get a reply to queries without hassles. But, this is not the case. An RTI activist often has to fight hard to get a response and repeatedly follow up with the departments. Often the advice of legal professionals is required. A busy individual with his own concerns may not be able to devote the required time for RTI activities. 
Reflection on the quality of governance

While the rules and regulations of the RTI Act are, by and large, well drafted, the problem arises in the quality of implementation and the level of commitment of the top bureaucrats to implement the Act adequately. The inability of the government to successfully implement the RTI Act is a reflection on the quality of governance at the central and state level.

N. S. VENKATARAMAN, Trustee, Nandini Voice for the Deprived, Chennai
 nsvenkatchennai@gmail.com Website: www.nandinivoice.org
 
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