The Right to Information Act, 2005, provides every citizen of India, access to information under the control of public authorities to promote transparency, accountability and good governance. The principle of maximum confidentially has been replaced by the principle of maximum disclosure. The applicant files an RTI application before the Public Information Officer (PIO). If the officer is not present then the applicant has the option to file a request in front of the state or “central information commission”. It also provides a time limit so that the process can be done speedily. And if the complainant is not satisfied, they can file a first and final appeal.
No law is free from imperfections. The implementation of this Act has been facing a few problems which hinder the citizens from accessing information.
Lacunae in The Implementation Of The RTI Act, 2005.
Improper answers or No answers to the queries: There are two major reasons for this. First, the applicant may ask confusing and vague questions. Many applicants ask for information which is not even available to the Public Information Officer (PIO). The applicant must ask for factual, to-the-point and only relevant information.
Secondly, the authorities (PIO) give confusing responses when they fail to maintain the proper record as mandated under the RTI Act, or they take the matter lightly or fail to understand the query. Also, as some authorities are ridden with a heavy workload, so to escape the liability, they provide a convoluted reply to the query.
Carelessness on the part of the First appeal authority: There is a provision of appeal against the PIO in case of unsatisfactory response to the query or no response within 30 days from the receipt of the RTI application. The First Appeal Authority is generally the senior officer of the PIO in the same organization.
While deciding the appeal against the PIO, the First Appeal Authority acts as a quasi-judicial authority. It has to pass a reasoned “speaking order” while deciding the appeal. Also, it should give the opportunity of a personal hearing to both the PIO and the appellant (original applicant) before deciding the appeal.
Many times, the First Appeal Authority fails to provide properly reasoned speaking orders. It often blindly confirms the opinion of the PIO. It sometimes fails to provide a personal hearing to the appellant even when requested for the same by the appellant. This leads to wastage of time, efforts and money of the RTI applicant and also increases the burden of the Final Appeal Authority, which has to decide the appeals filed against the First Appeal Authority (Central Information Commission in case of Central Govt. Authority and State Information Commission in case of State Govt. Authority).
Breach of a time limit: RTI Act, 2005 mandates that information should be provided within 30 days from the receipt of the RTI Application. However, it has become a new normal that applicants do not get timely information. The following example clarifies how it happens-
Mr. Samsam filed an RTI application before the PIO of ABC Govt. Authority on 1st August 2022. Then the PIO through a letter requests Mr Samsum to pay Rs. 20/- against 10 pages @ rate of Rs.2/- per page, for providing information, on 25th August 2022. Then on 27th August 2022, Mr Samsam pays this fee by sending Indian Postal Order (IPO) through the post and it takes around 7 days to reach the PIO. After receiving this fee, the PIO sends the reply which will take another 7 days to reach the applicant.
Here, just in asking and paying for the information cost, it took 32 days and further 7 days to reach the reply. Thus, it took approximately 40 days with no guarantee of the reply being satisfactory.
Problems in the Final Appeal stage: Here the main issue is that there is no time limit for the Final Appeal Authority of disposing of the appeal, unlike the First Appeal Authority. The hearing of a case may take months or even years. It is because the Final Appeal Authority is burdened with a plethora of appeals waiting for their disposal.
Frivolous RTI applications: Many times, the RTI Act, of 2005 is misused by filing frivolous applications. This leads to situations where officers are blackmailed and even threatened if they do not provide the desired information. In Paardarshita Public Welfare Foundation versus Union of India, The Delhi High Court has slapped a fine of Rs. 75000/- on an NGO for filing a frivolous RTI application asking irrelevant queries leading to harassment of two MCD engineers.
No accountability for private entities: The RTI Act is applicable only to public undertakings and government bodies. Like many laws of the World, it does not cover private entities. India is a welfare state where the majority of the sovereign functions are performed by these private bodies, hence the Act must apply to private enterprises as well.
No uniformity: Under the RTI Act state governments have been empowered to make RTI rules concerning fees to be charged to the RTI applicants. Different state governments and their organizations have drafted different rules relating to charging RTI fees.
No protection for the whistleblowers: The complainants file such RTI applications for public interest and risk their safety. Yet the Act does not provide any safety or security for such brave whistleblowers. Instances of murder and assault of such applicants show their precarious condition.
What Can You Do To Get The Correct Information?
- Before filing an RTI application, ascertain whether that information can be provided by the authority where you want to file the application.
- Ask only factual, relevant and straightforward questions.
- Clearly mention the relevant facts and follow a standard format in drafting the application and appeals
- Confirm mandatory formalities before filing the application like payment of fee, correct address of authority, time limit and reasonable format.
- For faster filing, and disposal of RTI applications and appeals, use the online portal to file the application.
The RTI Act, of 2005, was intended to promote transparency, fix accountability and establish good governance. RTI activists like Bhupendra Vira unearthed information about illegal constructions, helping the authorities to take timely action. However, some authorities do not properly follow the provisions of this Act and some citizens file RTI applications unnecessarily. The authorities must also keep the information intact and organized. Special training to the public authorities must be provided to realize the dream of good governance.
On the applicant’s side, one must avoid filing an RTI application if the information is available on the website of the organization or can be made available just by simply approaching the concerned authority. Also, there is a need for awareness among the public about the right way to use the RTI Act.
Author: Shubham Panwar, Legal Intern at PA Legal.
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