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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

It’s our right to know

commentpaper Updated: Oct 11, 2016 07:10 IST


The first decadal study conducted after the Right to Information (RTI) Act has revealed that over 17.5 million applications have been filed with one-fourth being requests to the Centre. The study, conducted by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, reveals that 27.2% (4.766 million) of the total RTIs filed between 2005 and 2015 were to the different ministries and departments under the Centre. This is a conservative estimate because many departments don’t file their compliance report: Earlier this year, the Lok Sabha was informed that over 350 government departments defaulted in following norms for mandatory public disclosure of information. The data is important since there is no official record of the number of RTI applications received in India even though the law was passed 12 years ago.

Allowing people to seek and receive public documents serves as a tool for fighting corruption, enabling citizens to participate in public life, making governments more efficient, encouraging investment, and helping persons exercise their fundamental human rights. For the government, an access to information law helps them establish record keeping and archiving systems. This is turn makes them more efficient, reduces their discretionary powers and allows them to make more constructive decisions based on information. More important, greater transparency can help re-establish trust between the government and its citizens.

The study correctly points out that the number of RTIs also needs to come down. In fact, annoyed with the non-stop flow of applications under the law, the Prime Minister’s Office recently put out a primer on what it is obliged to do and not to do under the law. A national daily quoted a senior PMO official saying that the provocation for the primer was the realisation that all kinds of applications seeking information on everything “under the Sun and on the earth” were being made. The PMO has shown the way: Along with fixing the processes, government departments must identify frequently asked questions that usually come from citizens and proactively disclose that basic information.

First Published: Oct 11, 2016 07:10 IST