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Pending RTI pleas:

GS Paper 2:

Topics Covered: Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability.

 

Context:

A report on the Performance of Information Commissions in India, 2021 was recently released.

 

Key findings:

  1. CIC has three vacancies left and has not functioned at its full strength of 10 Commissioners.
  2. There were delays in disposing of cases due to both shortage of personnel and inefficient operations.
  3. Based on the present strength, twelve State Information Commissions plus the Central Information Commission (CIC) would need at least a year to dispose of their appeals.

 

About the RTI Act, 2005:

It sets out the rules and procedures regarding citizens’ right to information.

It replaced the former Freedom of Information Act, 2002.

  • This act was enacted in order to consolidate the fundamental right in the Indian constitution ‘freedom of speech’. Since RTI is implicit in the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, it is an implied fundamental right.

 

Key Provisions:

  • Section 4 of the RTI Act requires suo motu disclosure of information by each public authority.
  • Section 8 (1) mentions exemptions against furnishing information under RTI Act.
  • Section 8 (2) provides for disclosure of information exempted under Official Secrets Act, 1923 if larger public interest is served.

 

Information Commissioners and PIOs:

  • The Act also provides for appointment of Information Commissioners at Central and State level.
  • Public authorities have designated some of its officers as Public Information Officer. They are responsible to give information to a person who seeks information under the RTI Act.

 

Time period:

In normal course, information to an applicant is to be supplied within 30 days from the receipt of application by the public authority.

  • If information sought concerns the life or liberty of a person, it shall be supplied within 48 hours.
  • In case the application is sent through the Assistant Public Information Officer or it is sent to a wrong public authority, five days shall be added to the period of thirty days or 48 hours, as the case may be.

 

Applicability of RTI to:

Private bodies:

Private bodies are not within the Act’s ambit directly.

  • In a decision of Sarbjit roy vs Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission, the Central Information Commission also reaffirmed that privatised public utility companies fall within the purview of RTI.

 

Political parties:

The Central Information Commission (CIC) had held that the political parties are public authorities and are answerable to citizens under the RTI Act.

But in August 2013 the government introduced a Right To Information (Amendment) Bill which would remove political parties from the scope of the law.

  • Currently no parties are under the RTI Act and a case has been filed for bringing all political parties under it.

 

Chief Justice of India:

Supreme Court of India on 13 November 2019, upheld the decision of Delhi High Court bringing the office of Chief Justice of India under the purview of Right to Information (RTI) Act.

 

The RTI Amendment Act of 2019:

  1. The Centre shall have the powers to set the salaries and service conditions of Information Commissioners at central as well as state levels.
  2. Term of the central Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners: appointment will be “for such term as may be prescribed by the Central Government”.
  3. While the original Act prescribes salaries, allowances and other terms of service of the state Chief Information Commissioner as “the same as that of an Election Commissioner”, and the salaries and other terms of service of the State Information Commissioners as “the same as that of the Chief Secretary to the State Government”, the amendment proposes that these “shall be such as may be prescribed by the Central Government”.

 

Why these amendments are criticised?

  • The amendments are seen as a “threat to the independence” of the Central Information Commissioner.
  • By diminishing the status of the CIC, IC and State CIC from that of a Supreme Court judge would reduce their ability to issue directives to senior government functionaries.
  • The amendments would empower the Centre to make rules to decide the tenure, salary, allowances and other terms of service of information commissioners of the Central and also State Information Commissions. This will fundamentally weaken the institution of the information commissions as it will adversely impact the ability of commissioners to function in an independent manner.
  • The government held no public consultations on the Bill.

 

Insta Curious:

Do you know the Right to Information Act in India and UK Freedom of Information Act came into force the same year – 2005? Click here

 

InstaLinks:

Prelims Link:

  1. Definition of Public Authority under the act.
  2. Exceptions under the act.
  3. About Chief Information Commissioner.
  4. State Information Commissioners.
  5. Public Information Officers.
  6. Latest amendments.

Mains Link:

Discuss the significance of the RTI Act, 2005.

Sources: the Hindu.