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Successful RTI brings transparency

After five years of the watershed Right To Information Act, which allowed common citizens to question a government body, the new Chief Information Commissioner AN Tiwari talks about the act's journey so far and its future.

india Updated: Oct 17, 2010 22:51 IST
Chetan Chauhan

After five years of the watershed Right To Information Act, which allowed common citizens to question a government body, the new Chief Information Commissioner AN Tiwari talks about the act's journey so far and its future. Excerpts:

What do you think about RTI's journey so far?
The RTI has been a unique experience; because, for the first time, citizens got a right to question public authorities. We as the highest appellate authority had the task to interpret the law. The task, we did best to our abilities. I will be happy to say that it has been one of the most successful laws in India.

There have been complaints of misuse of the RTI. Do you think it is a serious problem?
No law in the world can prevent misuse. Same is the problem with RTI, as the law does not define misuse. Therefore, technically, there is no misuse. The law says whatever question is asked has to be replied in yes or not.
It has lead to frivolous and vexatious RTIs. I will give you an example. A person, whose services were terminated, filed 400 RTI applications consisting of 5,000 questions.
When answers to all questions were given, he asked his friend to file a similar RTI. We, in the CIC, can only reprimand the application but the laws say that the information has to be provided.
There is a school of thought that says there is no category as frivolous and vexatious RTI applications.

What is the solution?
Under the present law, I plead guilty and will say there is no solution. Those who file such applications are a strong group, which use all measures to harass public authorities and also oppose any changes.

Do you suggest that the law should be changed? Have your views been sought?
Change in law is the prerogative of the legislative, but I haven't been asked yet.

What are your priorities as the CIC?
The RTI is much about transparency. So, the individual government department should look at voluntary declaration. Each department should have a positive list, where information should be provided without an RTI and a negative list, where information can be sought by using RTI.
This can bring a big change in transparency. I am already talking to a small group of nine public authorities to adopt the new transparency module. For that, the authorities need more efficient information handling system and trained personnel.