Does Right to Information work in India?

One great leap forward is Telangana has launched an outline portal dedicated to receiving applications from the Right to Information Act.

By M Sridhar  Published on  17 Oct 2023 6:21 AM GMT
Does Right to Information work in India?

Hyderabad: The government machinery, both in the Centre and States, is not interested in providing the information under the Right to Information Act, 2005. Another major problem in almost all state governments, few are ready to initiative action to appoint Information Commissioners, while the public authorities equally do not care to fill vacancies and even second appeal state-level officers.

Invariably, an activist should file a PIL, and wait for some months, only then High Court find the bench available, and there could be hope the Government has to appoint. The question is, why not the state or Centre not fill recruit before vacation arises?

Starving IC’s

Starving institutions like CIC and State Information Commissioners, like judicia also. Why does the Government allow the system to this kind of suffer uncertain artificial crises?

Neither Centre nor several states, as if, none found a person of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media, or administration and governance, as required by the RTI Act.

Terms and Conditions of Service of Chief State Information Commissioner / State Information Commissioners in the State Information Commission RTI Rules, 2019 as revised from time to time, which means, the Centre will control every state, as if no federal governance is absent.

Another instance is the entire Telangana is ‘vacant and at standstill’. In July 2023, fortunately, the Government acted at least a notification was issued. It is proposed to appoint the Chief State Information Commissioner and State Information Commissioners in the Telangana State Information Commission.

Plight of ‘transparency and accountability’ in RTI

But when the vacancies fell, there was confusion among others. There was no position for ‘acting Chief Information Commissioner. For the vacant position of Information Commissioner, the government issued an advertisement in December 2022, the DoPT received 256 applications. The tenure of all the sitting information commissioners - Suresh Chandra, Uday Mahurkar, HeeralalSamariya, and Saroj Punhani - will end in November, media reported. On September 3, 2023 - when the tenure of incumbent Chief Information Commissioner Y K Sinha ended - the Central Information Commission (CIC), the newspapers hit headlines saying the Central Information Commission goes headless, and this was the fifth time since August 2014. As a result, several administrative and financial positions need to nun the Commission by officers. The government has received 76 applications for the post of Chief IC in CIC - including three sitting information commissioners (ICs) and one former IC. The RTI Act is used to inform that there are vacancies.

Plight of first and second appeals

The authorities at the first level, will delay, and send them to the next appellate ‘second appeal’ which is within the higher officers in public authority itself. Routinely, the second appeal officers simply repeat the denial from the public information officer. It will force the appellant to go to information commissioners either in the State or at the Central Official Commissioners, respectively state government officers and central officers at the Delhi level. If they are taken to the next level beyond state authorities and land on High Courts in respective states. One knows when a common man can get their turn to come to the Information Commissioner, which depends upon luck and a long time.

One great leap forward is Telangana has launched an outline portal dedicated to receiving applications from the Right to Information Act. Though delayed by 18 years, it is welcome can enhance transparency and accountability in administration, as underscored by Section 6(1) of the RTI Act, 2005, and Telangana Right to Information Rules, 2005. The problem is that the Government's Public Authorities are not readily available to common citizens. This is continuous delay in giving information in public works, shortfalls, and leaks in welfare schemes, which makes the people understand and question the recklessness government’s decision-making.

Since June 21, 2023, an affidavit furnished by the Chief Secretary stated that the files about the appointments of a CIC and ICs are under ‘active consideration’ of the highest competent authority. None knows how this ‘active’ act happens. Unless some RTI activists knock on the doors of the Telangana High Court, has to ask the state government to furnish details on steps it has taken to appoint a chief information commissioner and information commissioners to the TS Information Commission. Under the RTI Act, of 2005, it is mandatory to appoint not less than 11 information commissioners in the state as well as the Central Government. At every state or centre, the Government does not care to appoint a new Commissioner is appointed in the vacant post. Every time, or most of the time, around 80-year-old M Padmanabha Reddy of the House for Good Governance an NGO. Unless the High Court questions what happened to the appointment, the Government will not move in the Secretariat. The Government generally waits for the public interest litigant is question the delay. Perhaps many a time, the Good Governance must have filed PILs, naturally, it involves money. That enthusiastic Padmanabha Reddy should investigate to know numbers and delay in appointment. The term of the chief information commissioner ended on April 21, 2022, and one of the information commissioner’s terms, the latest, ended on February 23 this year, since the posts are vacant and the pendency of cases increasing. At one point of time in the affidavit, the then Chief Justice Ujjal Bhuyan observed that "the affidavit is vague." The High Court many a time expressed its “surprise” that the affidavit failed to mention when the proposal was submitted, to whom, and its current status. Any time people will be surprised, as a matter of normal. The court also expressed discontent over the lack of hearings in the Information Commission on the grievances before it under the RTI Act.

It is again the case same, as the government counsel informed the court that the staff of the Information Commission was attending to the grievances of litigants regularly. It will be done regularly postponed, ‘thareek se thareek’. However, the Chief Justice sought to know from the government counsel as to who would pass orders on appeals filed by a litigant, in the absence of a CIC and ICs. What can the judges do, though interested in filling the vacations, the bureaucracy should act.

The lethargy is sunk into the machinery to delay, postpone, and wait for a decision. One former judge of the High Court holding an official authority asked me “What happens if I do not answer the request for information from the Government, though it is available”. A former Central Information Commissioner, Shailesh Gandhi, and other ex-CICs were shocked to know the response that ‘why should I give information could be given under the RTI Act, it can wait until the High Court of Supreme Court resolved. The appeals will take decades of years when the applicant is frustrated and failed. It is how the mechanism has been ingrained in lethargy from top to small public authorities, bent upon to fail the RTI. The RTI seekers and public authorities are starving. This one of the great Acts, which is almost equal to the Constitution of India, failed to make people accountable. Unfortunately, none in RTI is countable.

(Disclaimer: The author is a former CIC. The opinion expressed in this article is his own)

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