Allow inspection of files to dispose off lengthy RTI queries quickly, avoid backlog, says CIC
The citizens' response to the Right to Information Act is encouraging; but there is serious concern about a massive backlog choking the system. In this context, allowing inspection of files in the case of lengthy and voluminous queries could make things easier for both public information officers (PIOs) and citizens, central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi has said.
"I have come across RTI queries that go up to 100 pages, with hundreds of questions," Mr Gandhi said. "I tell the PIOs to grant inspection of files in such cases. The applicant can check everything he wants to, there will be no backlog, and fewer chances of appeal." Mr Gandhi was addressing a seminar hosted by Moneylife Foundation in Mumbai on Saturday.
With more people taking up RTI, PIOs have to discharge more replies daily. In many cases, PIOs are lethargic in their replies, which are either delayed or dissatisfactory. Subsequently, appeals and counter-appeals pile up, and often matters are dragged to the courts. A huge backlog has built up and this may end up choking the RTI, just as it has happened with the country's judicial system, the central information commissioner warned.
His concern was echoed by VS Das, executive director, Reserve Bank of India, who also serves as the appellate authority for the institution. "We receive unreasonably long queries that tax the resources and time of a busy organisation. Still, we can say that out of the 18,000 applications we have received till date, only 16% have gone for appeals," Mr Das said.
Mr Gandhi said that in many instances where there are lengthy queries, the applicant usually has no objective as to how he will use the information. "During a hearing, I once met this man who wanted a massive amount of information about a government project, including details of the tender. I asked him what he will do with the information. He said that he wanted it, but was clueless about what he exactly wanted," Mr Gandhi narrated. "In such cases, I would say that if you don't have any objective in mind, drop the idea."
The central information commissioner cautioned against such use of the RTI, saying it should not become a tool for harassment. Inspection of files not only saves time, but will also save the applicant's money, because he can just copy the relevant information he needs.
"Also, authorities should voluntarily disclose information and put up files, documents, etc in the public domain. Everything has to be stored in digital format anyway, so why not upload them on the website while storing them on the computer," Mr Gandhi said.