The other face of the RTI Act
This is a discussion on The other face of the RTI Act within the RTI Think Box forums, part of the RTI Views, Analysis & Group Discussions category; Copying the article uploaded in the blog segment: http://www.rtiindia.org/forum/blogs/...r-t-i-act.html THE OTHER FACE OF THE R.T.I. ACT The Government of India has empowered its citizens with Right to Information Act in ...
- 09-10-2010, 08:06 PM #1
The other face of the RTI Act
Copying the article uploaded in the blog segment:
THE OTHER FACE OF THE R.T.I. ACT
The Government of India has empowered its citizens with Right to Information Act in the year 2005 with a noble intention to provide access to information to the people in public offices in order to promote transparency and accountability, which was hitherto kept away from the general public under Official Secrets Act 1923. The RTI Act has the overriding effect on Official Secrets Act. Now, nothing can be concealed except the information pertaining to integrity and sovereignty of the country or information, the disclosure of which would endanger the life or physical safety of any person, and such other few items listed U/S 8 and 9 of the R.T.I. Act for which exemption is given.
The R.T.I. Act has gained momentum and has become most popular within a short span of time, and its significance can be realized with the frequent debates and achievements made by the people through this Act being appeared in print and electronic media from time to time, even after the end of half a decade since its inception. The rude administration is compelled to be transparent, the red-tapism has to loosen its strong roots, responsiveness and responsibility have become undetached from the Act. In other words, the Act has become a weapon for the people to use it as and when required. Hence, it is also known to be called as Peoples’ Friendly Act. It can be instrumental to expose the truth or corruption in the interest of the public for whom the Act is essentially formulated.
While being so, this Act also has some negative aspects and lacunas which require urgent redressal:-
Clause 4 of the Act make certain obligations on public authorities to maintain all its records and ensure its computerization and connect through a network all over the country on different systems so that access to such records is facilitated.
It is well known that in most of the public offices, computerization of records are not yet done, required men and machinery is not available, hue and cry is made time and again to fill-up thousands of posts lying vacant since many years in the government departments. That means government is pulling up with limited resources. In this scenario, one can guess to what extent the P.I.Os., designated under the Act are expected to comply with the provisions of the Act in letter and spirit by attending to their usual duties simultaneously. In some offices more P.I.Os., are designated and relieved of their usual duties restricting them to solely deal with the applications received under RTI Act as per demand. Because attending to each and every application received under the Act is certainly time consuming and eat away the limited and precious resources available for public administration. Shedding away the main duties and responsibilities for which the personnel were appointed, for the purpose of responding to all the sundry applications received under RTI Act is not at all a healthy trend. On the other hand, it will certainly have bad impact on the already crippled administration with limited resources, and can not expect delivery of goods to the common men as envisaged through various welfare measures and schemes formulated by the government from time to time.
Clause 5 of the RTI Act obligates the public authority to designate Public
Information Officer. Here the Act has not prescribed any criteria or qualification for the P.I.O. to designate. As a result, there are so many public offices where the employees working in a clerical cadre have been designated as Public Information Officers with little information about the Act. This apart, proper maintenance of records is vital for effective implementation of the Act, which is also lacking in most public offices for want of necessary infrastructure and equipment.
Further Clause 19(5) says that “in any appeal proceedings, the onus to prove that the denial of a request was justified shall be on the Public Information Officer, who denied the request.”
It is noteworthy that decentralization of administration is not done in most of the public offices and the decisions are usually taken at highest level. Here the P.I.Os. designated from lower cadre who are supposed to execute the orders passed at higher levels, are subjected to answer to the decisions taken by some one else, and are put to scarification in the event of any lapse(s) occurred which are beyond their control, while processing the application(s) received under RTI Act, in accordance with the above clause.
As such, Clause 5 require amendment by prescribing the senior most officer next in command to the Head of the Institution and who is not less than to the rank of Gazetted Officer to designate as P.I.O. Further effective maintenance of records is to be ensured.
Clause 6 of the RTI Act does not specify or limit the quantum of information to be sought by an individual or an Association/Organization, nor its requirement or necessity. On the other hand, it has been stated that:
“An applicant making request for information shall not be required to give any reason for requesting the information or any other personal details except those that may be necessary for contacting him.” Further the PIO is required to render all reasonable assistance to the person making the request orally to reduce the same in writing.”
The scope given in the above clause permits an applicant to seek any quantum of data way back from last 20 years or so, file any number of applications under the Act with no limit, irrespective of its necessity to him/her. If the Public Information Officer fails to respond to the primary application filed under RTI Act within the stipulated period of (30) days as laid down U/S 7(1) of RTI Act, the PIO shall be compelled to provide entire information irrespective of its hugeness to the applicant absolutely free of cost without any charges U/S 7(6) of the Act. This is at whose cost? Obviously at Government’s exchequer! However, it is different that the PIO can be fined for his lapses for not responding within (30) days to the maximum of Rs. 25,000/- as laid down in Section 20 (1) of the RTI Act. But, the precious resources including men, money and machinery that were utilized to trace, collect and furnish the information at the cost of usual duties to be discharged which are also in public interest would be exhausted.
Clause 6 gives ample scope for misuse of the act by habitual complainants and greedy persons resorting to blackmail to achieve their illegitimate demands, by way of harassment of the public authorities especially the P.I.Os., under the guise of this Act. To elaborate further, here is an extract of a case dealt by A.P. High Court in W.P.No.20182/2008 filed by the Petitioner Mr. Divakar S. Natarajan against the A.P. Information Commission and A.P. State Government:
The Petitioner sought certain information under RTI Act for which part of the information available was provided to him and he was requested to be specific about the information required by him on rest of the items, which do not come under the definition of information. Subsequently, he filed an appeal in the State Information Commission, which was also dismissed on the same grounds. The petitioner has made reference only to the e-mails in the application. The respondents asked the petitioner at least to furnish the copies of e-mails, so that, they can verify whether anything can be done at their level, in the context of furnishing of information. The petitioner firmly refused to accede to that request and insisted that he is not under obligation to reveal the same. In fact, he claimed confidentiality, in relation to the e-mails. The learned Judge dealing with the above Writ observed that:
“Even before this Court, the petitioner refuses to divulge the nature of information, which he wants, nor did he furnish the copies of e-mails. The curious part of the matter is that, on the one hand, the petitioner stated that his work was highly appreciated by the then Chief Minister, and on the other hand, he complained that he suffered punishment in the hands of the same incumbent.
The Petitioner sought following relief:
The Hon’ble Chief Minister may accept responsibility for the cruel and perverse punishment I had endured at the hands of his predecessor and offer me a sincere and authentic public apology;
The Hon’ble Chief Minister would forward a complete report to the Hon’ble Prime Minister detailing the cruelty I had endured and renewing the request that I be commissioned as a “filmmaker of acknowledged eminence” to produce films to commemorate the 50th anniversary of our Independence.
That the Hon’ble Chief Minister would offer an immediately interim relief of Rs. Twenty Five Lakhs.”
The learned Judge further observed and cautioned that “the actual grievance of the petitioner was much more than mere collection of “information” as defined under the Act. A distinction needs to be maintained between information on the one hand and the reasons in support of an administrative action or inaction on the other hand.
Of late, a typical tendency is growing, viz. to be conscious, more and more about rights, and not the corresponding obligation. If every citizen feels that he is endowed with the right to question, but is not under obligation to answer, a stage may reach where the comparatively small number of persons, who are being questioned, may join the team of those who choose, just to question. If that happens, the society may face a situation, where it would become difficult to expect answers.”
While dismissing the said writ petition, the learned Judge concludes and opined:
“The Act is an effective device; which, if utilized judiciously and properly, would help the citizens to become more informed. It no doubt relieves an applicant from the obligation to disclose the reason as to why he wants the information. However, indiscriminate efforts to secure information just for the sake of it, and without there being any useful purpose to serve, would only put enormous pressure on the limited human resources, that are available. Diversion of such resources, for this task would obviously, be, at the cost of ordinary functioning. Beyond a point, it may even become harassment, for the concerned agencies. Much needs to be done in this direction to impart a sense of responsibility on those, who want to derive benefit under the Act; to be more practical and realistic.”
The recent statement of the President of India to keep away all the sundry applications, and the Prime Minister’s proposals to bring some amendments to the Act, is not without a just and sufficient cause.
As such, categorization of the applications being received under R.T.I. Act to curtail its misuse and save precious resources is highly essential, and this clause is to be modified accordingly.
Further it is seen that in some instances, the Public Interest Litigation Petitions (PILs) being filed are dismissed by Courts by punishing the petitioner with heavy penalties for wasting precious resources of the judiciary with no public importance; or on finding that the issue was already decided and disposed. Similarly, a provision should also be made in the RTI Act empowering the Information Commissions to decide first whether a particular application filed under the RTI Act seeking voluminous data has any public interest and useful purpose to serve or is filed just for the sake of the Act, and to set aside such applications, if necessary, by awarding suitable penalties to the applicant(s). This in some way curtails the indiscriminate usage of the Act thereby relieving public offices with some undue burden on them.
It is essential to ensure that the provisions of R.T.I. Act should not become an alternate for the wastage of crucial public resources, otherwise, the resultant injury will be irreparable.
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- 09-10-2010, 08:07 PM #2
Re: The other face of the RTI Act
The WP you quoted here is not really a RTI Application !
RTI is only meant to get "information" and not any relief from the Chief Minister !
- 09-10-2010, 08:31 PM #3
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- Parbodh Chander Bali
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This is informatory but looks like a biased commentary. The ACT at this stage is ideal and need no amendments. What is needed, is working totally on electronic gadgets like Computers, digital cameras, scanners etc from very start of each and every issue in all PAs. I hope if the diary register is replaced with computer entry on daily bases, 98% of the problems will be over. every transfer of letter,email should be transfered electronically from computer to computer in a department (Like physical movement of a letter from desk to desk on peon book) if each and every writing, movement, noting, order is made electronically on this letter, every information could be available for ever to the public. Further the excuse of tabulating, compiling and collection will also be a talk of gone days. THE NEED IS TO START IT RIGHT NOW SO THAT FROM A DATE ONWARD, ATLEAST THE RECORDS ARE MADE AVAILABLE ON DEMAND. The government must make investment on it rather on "COMMONWEALTH GAMES" If such colossal arrangement can be made time bound, if the political will is there, in a small part of the funds allotted for the purpose of games, Complete computerization in RTI prospective can be done without doubt. The coming generations atleast could be happy that reply of PIO would be "Information available, make a credit card payment of fee and see online"
Further ICs are to be trained and be of prudence to decide the appeals without emotions and as per spirit of the act. The proceedings of IC courts should be video recorded and recordings be produced if needed to ascertain the arguments of the parties. So much rush of RTI cases should be that Let the breaking point come, if the informations can be given or not under the available staff force. Let then government decide that how to tackle this situation and how the staff for RTI purpose be spared in department. Ultimately, the information is needed when it is ordinarily not available. Why every information is not made available by departments, in other words, information not given intentionally in an ordinary way or on simple request. One had to adopt then RTI procedure. If the department is ready to give information on request and demand, I think, people will not take route of RTI, appeals and writs ever, why waste money & time. RTI still is being used for valuable information. The blackmailing part is not so prevalent. Anyhow every coin has two side then why to forget the merits if there some demerits too.
I again stress that position in a PA should be "Make online payment and get the information instantly"
Last edited by karira; 09-10-2010 at 10:30 PM. Reason: Merging three posts by same poster
- 09-11-2010, 10:50 AM #4
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- Hari Om
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Re: The other face of the RTI Act
Similarly, a provision should also be made in the RTI Act empowering the Information Commissions to decide first whether a particular application filed under the RTI Act seeking voluminous data has any public interest and useful purpose to serve or is filed just for the sake of the Act, and to set aside such applications, if necessary, by awarding suitable penalties to the applicant(s). This in some way curtails the indiscriminate usage of the Act thereby relieving public offices with some undue burden on them.]
[COLOR="seagreen"]WILL THIS NOT BREACH MY RIGHT FOR THE PIO/FAA/IC WILL START INQUIRING WHY WE WANT THE INFORMATION( FIRST SATISFY THEM WITH REASON WHY INFORMATION REQUIRED)[/COLOR
Similarly, a provision should also be made in the RTI Act empowering the Information Commissions to decide first whether a particular application filed under the RTI Act seeking voluminous data has any public interest and useful purpose to serve or is filed just for the sake of the Act, and to set aside such applications, if necessary, by awarding suitable penalties to the applicant(s). This in some way curtails the indiscriminate usage of the Act thereby relieving public offices with some undue burden on them.
WILL ADD TO ADDITIONAL POWER CREATING FEAR IN THE COMMON MAN OF THE DISCRETIONARY POWER IN THE HAND OF IC IF PRAYED WITH IMPOSING PENALTY]
the suggestion above by pcbali of making payment on line & pio going on line will get the quicker faster result to reply as pio too will be able to reply without delay & the excuse of posting the letter after 30days with a back date on the letter frustrating the applicant waiting for the reply
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- 09-17-2010, 05:44 PM #5Just Popping In
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- suersh pataskar
Re: The other face of the RTI Act
Re- the other face of RTI.
If Public interest is made the criteria for RTI, no doub t the burden will be lesssened. But what about the personal works like Ration cards, issue of certificates, civic amenities in which people are getting wonderful results by using RTI Act. If such cases are exempted, the officials will continue their age old red-tapism without any check. This aspect should also be taken into consideration. The CIC in theyear 2007 stated that the RTI is being used as Right to reddressal by using for passports and other civic amenities.- Thanks. SPPataskar, adilabad.a.p.