Two years after an Indian's fundamental right to know was reinforced by law, many people are still, well, clueless. The Right to Information Act, which came into effect in 2005, is facing problems with red tape at all levels, creating bottlenecks in the proper flow of information to the people.
The National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI), held a three-day review meeting recently to access the implementation and impact of Right to Information (RTI) in 18 states. This was done through a questionnaire-based survey carried out in these states by state groups.
RTI activists, prominent human rights lawyers, and information commissioners attended the meeting from different states.
The survey revealed some glaring problems that are impeding proper implementation of the Act. Out of the 18 states, only seven have produced training manuals in local languages, despite Section 26 of the Act stating that producing guides and educational material in local language is the responsibility of the state governments.
The respondents from all the states pointed to poor implementation and non-compliance with Section 4 of the Act, the proactive disclosure section, which is considered to be one of the most important.
The survey also revealed people's frustration with the chief information commissioners of their respective states; most of them are former IAS officers who are reluctant to part with information.
''The functioning of Information Commissioners in the states is highly questionable as most of them are political appointees and are weak. There are no penalties for officers who refuse to part with information,'' said RTI crusader and Magsaysay Award winner Arvind Kejriwal.
The survey revealed that the second appeals are being upheld by the Information Commissions in only six of the 18 states. The average period for the second appeals to be heard is 45 to over 120 days. The survey indicated that the final disposal of a case after it has reached the Information Commissions takes 90 to over 120 days for disposal.
''Information Commissions are becoming consumer courts. Pendency of cases to be heard has stretched to over three years in states like Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh,'' he added.
The survey identified factors like poor awareness, lack of bureaucratic/political will, closed mindset of information providers and half-hearted government support to these commissions, responsible for hampering the proper implementation of the Act.
''There are lots of bottlenecks in the implementation of the Right to Information Act. Media is only highlighting success stories. There are a lot of people facing problems in getting information, which is not getting highlighted,'' Kejriwal added.
Another drawback that was highlighted at the three-day meet was the cumbersome procedure of filing an RTI application, which is largely responsible for common man not availing this facility.
''There is a need for a simple procedure to file an RTI application. Bihar has introduced a unique system wherein people throughout the state can file RTI application on phone. The call centre for handing this system is located in Patna,'' said Kejriwal.
The delegates at the meet also pointed out that the application fee for filing an application also varies from state to state, which is clearly in conflict with the guidelines of the Act.