The Right To Information Act has been the only law which allows Indians power to question the government through a simple process. But over the years, several bottlenecks have cropped up. The RaaG’s study from 2011-13 tells us how and whys of the RTI regime.
Still low on public radar
Even after eight years of its implementation, RTI was an unheard concept for many urban citizens. Also of those who knew, most heard about it on media thus underscoring lack of initative on government’s part to promote it.
Show me why, show me how
The applicants have mostly been seeking information about the decisions and actions taken by the authorities. Enquiries and investigations besides information about norms to be followed are other common queries. This shows the will of people to verify if rational choices have been made by the officers.
Restricted to paper
Most of the applicants are still unaware or unwilling to access information through means other than direct reply and copy of a document. Samples and inspections are rarely sought.
Not very proactive
Public authorities have not been following Section 4 of the RTI Act that stresses on proactive disclosure of certain information. Almost half of the information asked for should have already been in public domain while 18 per cent should have been given as per prescribed office procedures or under other laws. Proactive disclosures help reduce load of RTI applications.
High on denial
Public authorities scored high (56 per cent) on denial of information. Central government authorities were the most forthcoming allowing 51 per cent of the information requests.
Almost nothing called frivolous
Of the applications scrutinised by RaaG, only 10 per cent were found to be problematic and though lot of hue and cry is raised about how people misuse RTI by filing frivolous and vexatious (troublesome) applications, only 0.2% of applications were found to be so by the study group. Complaints, grievances, and cries for help though were submitted in the guise of RTI applications.
Thanks to RTI Act, many offices have improved their record keeping by digitising the files, changing the procedure of decision making and being more transparent and responsible.
Not that busy with RTI
Data collected from PIOs suggests that 77 per cent spend less than 12.5 per cent of their time in doing RTI related work per week. This is in sharp contrast to general perception, which was supported by former PM Manmohan Singh, that government officials were forced to spend substantial amounts of their time dealing with RTI applications.
The great leveller
That RTI Act has been a great help to people whose grievances are not redressed by any authority is evident from the fact that over 60 per cent applicants said just getting information through RTI solved the issue.
First appellate are useless
RTI Act is very weak at the first appellate level as there are no penalties on the concerned authorities for not responding on time. Many interviewed information commissioners stated that there was no accountability of first appellate authorities, thereby unnecessarily increasing the burden on commissions. No wonder, more than 60 per cent applicants were dissatisfied with first appellate.
The national average of information allowed by the first appellate was a dismal 4 per cent. In another study it had been found that most orders passed by first appellate authorities of Central authorities are overruled by the Central Information Commission.
Get them trained
PIOs listed lack of training as the foremost constraint in implementation of the RTI Act. Deficiencies in applications and lack of staff were other constraints besides lack of guides. High number of RTI applications was the lowest deterrent.
Waiting for my turn
The ever-increasing pendency with information commissions is the biggest concern of RTI users. According to calculations, a new appeal filed with the Madhya Pradesh State Information Commission will be heard after over 60 years if the current disposal rate of 21 cases per month continues. For West Bengal, it will be over 17 years before a new appeal will be heard. Though UP had the highest number of pending appeals and complaints, it also had the highest disposal rate of over 3,000 cases per month.
Babus crowd the commissions
Government officers lord over most information commissions. Bureaucrats also occupy 77 per cent of the chief information commissioner posts.