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Sunday, February 5, 2023

Is The RTI Act Serving Its Purpose?

The RTI Act, of 2005 empowers people to participate in the policy-making process by providing access to information relating to the functioning of all public authorities. Various sections of citizens including activists, lawyers, bureaucrats, researchers, and journalists are using RTI to unearth all kinds of corruption from the panchayat level to parliament. The basic objective of the Right to Information Act is to empower the citizens, increase transparency and accountability in the functioning of the government, curb corruption and make our democracy truly work for the people

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By: Dr. Satyawan Saurabh

The RTI Act, of 2005 empowers people to participate in the policy-making process by providing access to information relating to the functioning of all public authorities. Various sections of citizens including activists, lawyers, bureaucrats, researchers, and journalists are using RTI to unearth all kinds of corruption from the panchayat level to parliament. The basic objective of the Right to Information Act is to empower the citizens, increase transparency and accountability in the functioning of the government, curb corruption and make our democracy truly work for the people. An informed citizenry is better equipped to exercise the necessary oversight over the instruments of governance and makes the government more accountable to the public. This act is a big step towards making the citizens aware of the activities of the government.

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Most of the RTI applications are filed by people who are asking about their basic rights and entitlements. So it has served its purpose to that extent. Anti-corruptionists have used the RTI Act to find out what is happening with taxpayers’ money. This has helped him to expose big scams like Adarsh, Commonwealth Games, and Vyapam. According to estimates, about 60 lakh applications are filed every year. It is used by citizens as well as the media. They have also been able to expose human rights violations, and then fix accountability in those cases as well. Every citizen has the right to claim information from public authorities under the Act. This strengthened democracy with the active participation of the people.

All government departments have been brought under RTI issues along with several bodies receiving substantial funds from the government. The beauty of this act is its simplicity. But, in some states, complicated formats or rules create hurdles for the people. Information commissions have a large number of vacancies, which means that appeals and complaints remain pending. Uncooperative group of untrained employees and Public Information Officers (PIOs). Many commissioners have been seen openly expressing their political leanings. This creates a feeling of partiality among the petitioners. Not all institutions are covered under the Act. e.g. Judiciary is not subject to the Act. Implementation of RTI requires the PIO to provide information to the applicant through photocopy, soft copy, etc. These facilities are not available at the block and panchayat levels.

There is a lack of awareness and widespread adoption of this law even today. There are some states with RTI applications within 150 words, especially for those people who cannot get the benefit of formal education. The Public Information Officer uses such words that the department does not have the information. Under the RTI Act, it is the responsibility of the officer to locate the information holder and transfer the RTI application. The vast majority of denials are where people are simply told that this information cannot be provided to them, which is an illegal denial.

Seeking information from the government is not encouraged and keeping datasets and information in the public domain has become a major problem. Example: During Kovid-19, when the government was asked how many people lost their lives due to lack of oxygen, about the number of migrant workers, the government said, we do not have any data. Information Commissioners do not have sufficient powers to enforce the RTI Act. As per the order of the Commission, in the matter of the award of compensation to workers by a public authority, compliance cannot be secured. Poor record-keeping practices undermine complementary laws such as the Whistleblower Protection Act, and a lack of adequate infrastructure and staff to run information commissions. Amendment efforts by the government also dilute it, such as file notings not being part of the Right to Information, and political parties being kept out of the purview of the RTI Act.

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Despite threats, attacks, and killings of RTI users, people are still using the law extensively, which testifies to the fact that it is something they find very powerful. The Data Protection Bill will set up a system to amend the RTI Act in such a way that all personal information will be exempt. There is granular information that is planted saying that it is the name of the person, [these are] the ratio they are being given, their address, to enable social audit to put pressure on the government and keep them Can go

The Right to Information Act was enacted to achieve social justice and transparency and to make the government accountable but the Act has not been able to achieve its full objectives due to certain constraints created due to systematic failures. The awareness about RTI is still very low. The awareness level is particularly low among disadvantaged communities such as the female rural population, and OBC/SC/ST population. A strong political system is essential for the RTI regime to flourish. A code of conduct should be evolved to keep the Central and State Information Commissioners away from any political influence. (The author is a Research scholar, poet, freelance journalist and columnist, All India Radio and TV panellist)

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The Hills Timeshttps://www.thehillstimes.in/
The Hills Times, a largely circulated English daily published from Diphu and printed in Guwahati, having vast readership in hills districts of Assam, and neighbouring Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur.
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