RTI Act: A decade of stonewalling information
When the Right to Information Act (RTI) was passed in 2005, the view across the political spectrum was that the law will provide access to services and rights, and bring in transparency.
Unfortunately, 10 years on, that ambition/promise is far from fulfilled because authorities at different levels have more often than not stonewalled information requested by citizens by using different — sometimes even lame — excuses.
Take for example, the College of Vocational Studies, Delhi University. In 2012, Kumar Ram Krishna, an RTI applicant and a teacher in the college, who suspected irregularities in the buying of books, filed a query seeking yearly and department-wise details of purchases and payments made to booksellers between 2003 and 2012.
Instead of providing the information, the college asked him to pay `80,000 for honorarium and conveyance charges to the staff to be engaged for compiling the information.
According to reports, till 2014, there were 962,630 requests pending disposal. In less than 3% of the cases, penalties were imposed on government departments. The reasons for delays are: Poor record-keeping practices, lack of adequate infrastructure and staff for running information commissions and dilution of supplementary laws like the whistleblowers protection Act.
While the law may not be very popular among public authorities, yet muzzling it is not a great idea because transparency is the bedrock of any democracy. In fact, the Act should be extended to include political parties and public bodies.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court sought a response from all national political parties on why they should not be brought within the ambit of the Act. There is a strong case in its favour as political parties get donations on the ‘tacit understanding’ that when they come to power, they will return the favour.
The details of such transactions can only come to light if political parties are within the ambit of the RTI as their income is exempt from taxes. There really can be no argument against removing the veil from such dubious practices and honour a promise they made in 2005.