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'Right to Information Act': Need for Process Improvement and Infusing Scalability

rti-udaipur

India is a country with strong fundamentals supported by a constitution that has been clearly laid down. The Right To Information Act (RTI) was introduced to ensure that everyone in the country has a constitutional right to inquire and retrieve information about the government and public bodies that operate within the purview of the Central and State government framework.

The Right to Information Act 2005 (RTI) is an Act of the Parliament of India to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens. Under the provisions of the Act, any citizen may request information from a “public authority” (a body of Government or “instrumentality of State”) which is required to be replied to expeditiously or within thirty days.

The Act empowers applicant citizens to:

  • Obtain copies of permissible governmental documents
  • Inspect permissible governmental documents
  • Inspect permissible Governmental works and obtain samples

The act was being foreseen as a significant change that would lead to transparent and fair working of government departments; however the present state of working is far from what it was foreseen to be.

There are a lot of malfunctions that people face while dealing with RTI and public information officers. The Act is being questioned in public forums regularly and problems that surface indicate lack of Accountability from people responsible for executing the Act. There is a need for change to ensure better working and mitigate the causes of delay in processes.

Need For a Change

Technology Upgradation and Process Re-engineering

  • Invest in building a real time mechanism and appoint workforce to manage data.
  • Standardization of processes wherein applicants are tracked with a definite reference number and are being intimated using it.
  • Developing acknowledgement mechanism to keep applicant updated about status of an application.
  • Building online request portal to bring down paper work and make procedures digitized

Unable to keep pace with technology

RTI website is an example of lax approach in keeping pace with technology. There is no provision of filing an online complaint or tracking the status of a complaint that was filed. The departments’ lack coordination as information update does not happen in real time. The dates that appear on website follow different formats like mm/dd/yy or dd/mm/yy. Database management remains a challenge for an Act that is solely based on data and information.

Tracking and Acknowledgement is absent

Providing an acknowledgement for an application is entirely missing from the system. There is no provision of informing an applicant whether application is received or being processed. An applicant has to wait for around 1 month when he finally receives information or a judgment to be heard in second appellate.

If there is no intimation, applicant has to either go through the process of filing his request again or inquire about status of an application which had no definite number or identity assigned to it. Getting a piece of information could sometimes take years and when information gets disclosed, the purpose of information obtained thus, is nullified. Getting the right information in the right time is what prevails but ‘RTI’ believes in giving partial information in an indefinite time.

Absence of standardized processes

There is a complete absence of tracking an application with an assigned identity. A person who has a number of requests filed with RTI has absolutely no idea of which case is being referred to in notice intimating hearing date. The person has to carry all files along as hearing could be for any one of them.

Infuse Scalability

Setting up hearing offices in every district; appoint qualified people to handle pending cases and cope with the rising number of applications.

Absence of Scalability: The provision has been enacted with no infrastructure to serve a large population base of 1.21 Bn today. There is a shortage of manpower to address bulk of applications that are gushing in every day and the number of applications is bound to rise as awareness increases. It is estimated that only 10% of cases accelerate for a second hearing.

The number of pending cases with the Second Appellate in Rajasthan are about 14,000 today, which are being heard at a rate of around 50 per day. This adds upto around 1 or one and a half year when all pending cases would be heard. The delays in procedures make information irrelevant for applicants till the time it is furnished to them. The Act ultimately ends up serving no purpose.

Making PIO’s accountable

The PIO’s must be held accountable to a questioning authority when rejecting a request and explain in detail, giving evidences as to why a rejection is happening

Irresponsible and Unaccountable attitude of PIO’s (Public Information Officers): The dealing officers are seen behaving ignorantly while attending an applicant. Making an applicant run to multiple PIO’s and withholding details of appropriate PIO to be approached is a common trend.

Giving misleading information or concealing exact details is also a challenge where the PIO has the sole right and power to reject an information plea just by saying that disclosure of information is not in public interests or that the record could not be located.

There is no accountability of the PIO if he/she is withholding information deliberately. However, if the applicant is able to prove that the officer was not fair enough in giving information, the PIO is penalized with a nominal amount of INR 25,000/-. It seems like the Act has been made for the convenience of people executing the Act and not for the ones for whom it is being executed

There are a lot more gaps that need to be addressed to serve the purpose for which ‘RTI’ was enacted.

Road Ahead

The incorporation of technological changes, infusing scalability and building accountability to contemporary framework would enable better resolution and expedite the overall delay in the processes. The trust that people place in the system would be enhanced, by ensuring a more transparent working of public and government bodies. The RTI Act would then be figured as more of a democratic set up rather than a political one.

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