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Monday, 4 February 2013

RTI: Challenges so far and the changes needed


3 FEB, 2013, 06.05AM IST, SHANTANU NANDAN SHARMA,ET BUREAU 

RTI: Challenges so far and the changes needed



While the UPA likes to package the RTI as its big-ticket achievement, the non-serious attitude of many public authorities towards RTI is a serious concern
While the UPA likes to package the RTI as its big-ticket achievement, the non-serious attitude of many public authorities towards RTI is a serious concern
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With over two million RTI applications filed every year, here's a snapshot of the challenges so far and the changes needed.


Burdened by frequently asked RTI queries, the Central government has been preparing a template to make proactive disclosure of at least 16 types of information. These include basic information such as the power and perks of employees as well as the categories of documents with each Central government agency. 

"But the exercise will be more meaningful if everything, including file notings, is made public in one go," says Satyananda Mishra, chief information commissioner and the final arbitrator in RTI disputes. "It will be of some help to information seekers who are clueless about what to ask from a sea of government info." 

At times, information seekers bundle more than 50 queries in one application and on a range of issues from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre to the torture of horses (see Tell Me Why). The frustration of officers in replying to such queries was echoed by the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, when he talked about "striking a balance" between the need to have disclosure of information and the limited time and resources available with public authorities. But that requires constitutional amendment, and Singh's government does not have the political backing to dilute theRTI Act in any form. 

While the UPA likes to package the RTI as its big-ticket achievement, the non-serious attitude of many public authorities towards RTI is a serious concern. For example, the Indian Army, ONGCBSE -2.08 %Coal IndiaBSE -1.31 % and the Supreme Court, among others, are on the list of over 600 defaulters who have failed to file the mandatory annual RTI returns, giving the details of the number of cases that they have handled. 

Harassment and murder of RTI applicants across the country is also a grave challenge, forcing the court to step in and to ask authorities to give special protection to RTI applicants. But the Centre is simply passing the buck to the law-enforcing machinery of state governments. ET Magazine gives an overview of the twists and turns in the RTI journey so far, and what lies ahead. 

2 million: Approximate number of RTIs filed in India annually. But no RTI application can give you the exact number. 

Because... 33%: Public authorities under Central govt fail to report to the Central Information Commission (CIC) the no. of RTIs they handle in a year. This is despite the fact that filing of annual RTI returns is mandatory under Section 25 (2) of RTI Act. 

LIST OF DEFAULTERS 

Many of the 600 defaulters of RTI returns (in 2010-11) are prominent names. 

Indian Air Force, Indian Army, ONGC, Indian OilBSE -2.35 %, IRCTC, All India Radio, Coal India, Supreme Court of India, LIC, Central Board of Direct Taxes, Bureau of Civil Aviation Security, Archaeological Survey of India 

OFFICER'S CHOICE 

For officers who exhaust manpower in replying to RTI queries, the Supreme Court's observation in the CBSE vs Aditya Bandopadhyay case in 2011 was a big relief. 

What the SC said:- 

Public authorities don't need to collect and collate non-available information. 

Public authorities are under no obligation to furnish information that requires them to make assumptions. 

They need not provide "advice", "opinion" to an applicant. 

Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) Further Instructs Officers: 

Only such information can be supplied under the RTI Act which already exists. 

Public information officer is not supposed to create information, or solve problems.