Government ignores 15th anniversary of the RTI Act as vacancies cripple the ‘Commissions’
October 12, 2020 marked 15 years of the implementation of the RTI Act, which empowers people to question the Government. A Report Card prepared by Satark Nagarik Sangathan reveals sad state of affairs
“Absolutly shocked to see not a single tweet from any ministry/leader for RTI 15 years!!!” exclaimed a RTI activist on Monday. The Prime Minister and BJP leaders were busy tweeting and marking the centenary of #RajmataScindia and did not spare a word for the RTI Act till well past Noon.
One of the first leaders to remind people of the occasion was Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, who tweeted, “Today is the 15th anniversary of the truly transformative RTI Act. Many claim credit for it, but had it not been for the National Advisory Council, RTI would not have become a reality. Since 2014, however, there has been a systematic assault. Its future is bleak and uncertain.”
It is not a secret that the Modi Government has diluted the Act, kept the Information Commissions dysfunctional, failed to fill up posts and also refused to answer questions under the Act. Most recently the PMO has refused to respond to questions raised on the PM CARES fund under the pretext that it is not a public but a private fund.
RTI activists point out that the Supreme Court had ruled as far back as in 1976 that Right to Information is part of a citizen’s fundamental rights. The RTI Act was finally notified in 2005 though and a Bill to amend the Act was passed by Parliament in 2019.
All Constitutional authorities, ministries, departments and agencies owned and controlled by the Government and also organisations substantially financed by the Government are covered by the RTI Act.
The Act came into being as a result of a people’s movement initiated in Rajasthan spearheaded by the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan.
On RTI’s 15th anniversary Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) has compiled a report on the performance of the 29 Information Commissions set up across the country. Key findings of the report titled, ‘Report Card on the Performance of Information Commissions in India, 2020’ are as follows:
• 9 out of 29 (31%) Information Commissions are currently headless
- The Central Information Commission and the SICs of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Goa, Manipur, Telangana, Jharkhand, Tripura and Nagaland are without a chief IC.
• 2 SICs- Jharkhand and Tripura- are completely defunct as no new commissioners have been appointed upon the incumbents demitting office
• The number of appeals and complaints pending on July 31, 2020 in the 20 information commissions, from which data was obtained, stood at 2,21,568. The backlog has been steadily increasing.
- No website could be found of the Bihar State Information Commission
- The Central Information Commission currently has six vacancies including that of the Chief Information Commissioner
- Backlog of pending cases in the CIC is 36,500
• The report calculates the estimated time each commission would need to dispose of a new appeal/complaint. Odisha SIC would take 7 years and 8 months to dispose a matter. In Jharkhand SIC, it would take 4 years and 1 month, while in Maharashtra, CIC, Rajasthan and Nagaland it would take 2 years or more. The assessment shows that 9 commissions would take more than 1 year to dispose a matter.
• Penalty was imposed in just 2.2% of the cases disposed by Information Commissions.