The Right to Information Act’s role in fostering a transparency has never been in doubt ever since its role out in 2005. Section 4 of the Act calls for proactive and voluntary dissemination of information
but only a few Central and State institutions have published relevant information; here, Rajasthan has taken a lead through its Jan Soochna portal.
The other problem has been persisting vacancies in the State and Central Information Commissions, and around 33,000 pending cases.
A three judge Bench led by the CJI allowed the request and asked the Centre and States to expedite filling up the vacancies.
The CJI also curiously observed that officials were sensing fear leading to paralysis of action due to the working of the RTI.
The kind of queries that were sometimes being asked were not always in public spirit and were posed by people who had no “locus standi” in the matter regarding the queries.
This argument by the CJI is difficult to accept as the RTI Act explicitly rejects the need for locus standi in Section 6(2) “an applicant making request for information shall not be required to give any reason for requesting the information.
Since 2005 yearly rejection rate (requests rejected as a percentage of those received) has come down steadily to 4.7% in 201819.
A change in the Act that seeks locus standi as a criterion could dramatically increase this number.
Rather than focusing on locus standi, public authorities would be advised to provide for greater voluntary dissemination on government portals, which should ease their load.
Chipping away power of RTI in the past:
The new rules of RTI Act based on July 2019 amendments to the 2005 Right to Information Act downgraded the office of the chief and other information commissioners at the Centre and in the states.
Parity with CEC broken – So far the CIC received the same salary and perks as that of the Chief Election Commissioner or a judge of the Supreme Court.
Now on par with Cabinet Secretary – The new rules make the CIC an equivalent of the cabinet secretary and central information commissioners the same as secretary to the government in terms of salary. In the states, the downgrading will be to the level of a secretary to the government, and additional secretary respectively.
Tenure – The tenure has been reduced from 5 years to 3.
Tampered appointments – Appointments to the posts have been used to grant sinecures to favoured retired bureaucrats or dispense favours to camp-followers.
Poor strength – There has been an enormous reluctance in many states to appoint the full strength of commissioners, leading to a large pendency.
Rejection of requests – The CIC returns a large number of complaints and appeals on minor grounds. Still, the RTI Act helped ordinary citizens feel empowered to take on corruption.
One-sided transparency – what the government wants to put out is rarely matched with what citizens want to know about its decisions.