Has the Delhi Right to Information Act, 2001 made a difference to citizens’ lives?
Theoretically, yes. Practically, there is a need for greater awareness. Since the Act provides access to information on the functioning of and services provided by government departments, autonomous bodies and local bodies, it is a powerful tool that serves a strong public purpose. It checks corruption and increases accountability because it exposes how the systems are supposed to work and actually function. Some 7,550 applications have been filed so far and about 1,300 have come in appeal. This shows that by and large, people get the information sought.
What happens to the Delhi Act once a Central Act comes into force?
To my understanding, the Central Act prevails, unless the state Act is expressly saved while notifying the new Act. The new Right to Information Bill has a wider outreach.
What’s your experience with the Delhi RTI Act?
It’s been an eye-opener because the questions posed give an insight into the problems the public face. Getting into the working of many departments and making suggestions for their improvement was rewarding. We made numerous suggestions relating to transport, delays in registering societies, complaints relating to supply of rations, etc. It is a part of the charter given to the Public Grievances Commission to suggest systemic reforms.
Have you had problems in implementation?
There are two problems. First, because penalties are mentioned in the Act, the public is anxious to see punishment meted out. This authority vests with the disciplinary authority who controls the official, not with the PGC. We have, however, made recommendations about delays and harassment but it is for the disciplinary authority to initiate action.
Secondly, there is a misunderstanding that personal disputes can be addressed through the Act. The Act specifically restricts provision of information that constitutes invasion of privacy, has no relationship to government activity and subserves no public purpose.
How have you built awareness about the Act?
We’ve placed the Act, rules, application and appeal forms on our website www.pgc.delhigovt.nic.in, published ads, addressed TV programmes and distributed booklets to RWAs.