Although there have been numerous success stories ever since the landmark RTI (Right to Information) Act came into force four years ago, there’s still a long way to go. Considering that RTI not only covers public bodies but also private organisations, one would expect it to be a very powerful tool.
Earlier, the balance of power was tilted heavily in favour of bureaucrats and politicians; the RTI has shifted it in favour of the people. However, those who drafted the policy know the best ways to dodge, stall and side-step the information that is demanded by terming it sensitive or ‘being searched for’.
To dissuade information seekers, the commissioners often use tried and tested tactics. They are willing to part with the information, but at a whopping price. Often, applications are rejected on the grounds that ‘it is not in the correct format’, and when one does apply in the ‘right’ format, there are many cases where files conveniently get lost.
Even more disturbing is the fact that some commissioners have rejected applications in more than 80% of the cases. Worse, RTI applicants often face harassment from the very people they are seeking information about.
There are structural flaws in the Act, which have left it open to such abuse and must be immediately rectified. It is indeed ironical that a piece of legislation meant to enable greater transparency has no provision by which it can render the appointment of commissioners, tasked with its enforcement, less arbitrary.
Amendments to the RTI Act must make it mandatory for governments to throw open the process of selection of information commissioners to wider public consultation.
The Central Information Commission, the apex body under the RTI Act 2005, has disposed of 33,000 cases in the past four years. However, nearly 10,000 cases are still pending with the commission. This is something that needs to be changed.
The RTI Act is as much a trigger for participatory democracy as its consequence. It is in the interest of all citizens that the RTI Act slowly becomes a part of the system. For that to happen, information seekers should continue to file RTIs and gradually move to second appeals, seeking even more information.
Arvind Kejriwal is Founding Member, Parivartan
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