The Right to Information (RTI) Act was supposed to be India’s own version of Glasnost. But several trends suggest that the law may soon become ineffective.
The first and the foremost reason is the pernicious influence of some activists on the system. They are consciously deluging RTI functionaries with applications, reminders, appeals, submissions and request for compliance. Consequently, the functionaries are spending a disproportionate amount of time on sending letters after letters since the law does not have provisions for res judicata (a case in which there has been a final judgment and is no longer subject to appeal) without releasing much of information.
Second, the growing number of pendency of appeal/complaints before the Central Information Commission (CIC) is another area of concern. Official estimates indicate that there is a 68% rise of pendency of cases in September 2014 vis a vis September 2013. In some cases, information seekers are being forced to wait for a decision for about 12-15 months. Moreover, the CIC has been functioning without a Chief Information Commissioner since last August.
Third, the lackadaisical attitude regarding the disclosure of suo moto information by the public institutions also goes against the spirit of the RTI law. In April, 2013, the central government had directed public authorities to get their suo moto disclosure audited by a third party within six months and submit a compliance report to the department of personnel and training and the CIC. But to date no such audits have been done.
Fifth, the Madras High Court recently said RTI applicants must give reasons for seeking information. However, the law itself does not require specifying any reasons. If the information seeker has to give reasons, it is pretty likely that RTI applications would be opposed by the public institutions.
I am a short-term pessimist and a long-term optimist for the future of RTI in India. But the way things are going, I think this wonderful law could soon become another archaic one in a very short span of time.
Pankaj K P Shreyaskar is a civil servant.
The views expressed by the author are personal.