Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday is addressing a convention on the 10th-anniversary celebrations of the Right to Information (RTI) Act which was brought in ‘to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority’.
As the act completes a decade of existence, here is how (and why) it changed the way the government and public servants function:
1. What is RTI?
A law that empowers every citizen to seek replies from the public-funded organisations. It came into force on October 12, 2005, almost 25 years after the proposal was first mooted.
What does it do?
The law provides a mechanism to ensure that information is given in a time-bound manner and imposes a penalty for willful default by government officials. It provides transparency guidelines for the government’s functioning through suo moto disclosure.
It requires the appointment of public information officer, from the panchayat level to the Prime Minister’s Office.
What comes under its purview?
Citizens can ask for anything that the government can disclose to Parliament.
Information that can prejudicially impact internal security, relations with foreign countries, intellectual property rights, breach of parliamentary privilege and impedes investigations cannot be shared with the public.
Cabinet papers are exempt until a decision has been implemented. However, discussions within the Cabinet can never be disclosed.
2. RTI for change
Students can now access answer keys of objective type question papers. After much reluctance and a CIC order, the answer keys of civil service examination and IIT-JEE are now available on the websites of the Union Public Service Commission and IIT-JEE respectively, helping students to find out their scores even before the official announcement.
Transparency at highest level
Assets and wealth declaration of all public servants — PM and his entire council of ministers, civil servants — are now in the public domain.
Delay in appointment of the central information commissioner for almost eight months had increased pendency in the clearing of appeals by the information watchdog.
Also, public authorities delay or do not give information, leading to harassment of RTI users.
4. Effective law
Proactive declaration of information by the government as stipulated in RTI law will reduce applications. Putting all RTI replies on government websites will also curb unnecessary applications.
Empowering public authorities to give out information will make the process transparent.
There have been some complaints of frivolous RTI applications. Public authorities have also accused some applicants of using RTI for blackmail.