Hamstringing the RTI Act

Instead of holding a public debate on making the Act more effective, the government is seeking to dilute its provisions The Right to Information (RTI) Act, operationalised in October 2005, was seen as a powerful tool for citizen empowerment. It showed an early promise by exposing wrongdoings at high places, such as in the organisation of the Commonwealth Games, and the allocation of 2G spectrum and coal blocks. However, it now faces multiple challenges. The Act, path-breaking in many respects, did not give adequate authority to the Information Commissions to enforce their decisions. Besides awarding compensation to an applicant for any loss suffered, the commissions can direct public authorities to take the steps necessary to comply with the Act, but are helpless if such directions are ignored. True, if an officer fails to fulfil his duty, the commission can either impose a maximum penalty of Rs. 25,000 or recommend disciplinary action against him. However, this deterrent works only when the piece of information lies at the lower levels; it is ineffective in many cases where information relates to higher levels of government. Implementation of decisions taken by the commissions, therefore, remains a weak link. Proposed amendments The recently proposed amendments to the Act would, instead of strengthening the hands of commissions, weaken them. The government proposes to do away with the equivalence of the Central Information Commissioners with the Election Commissioners on the ground that the two have different mandates. The underlying assumption that transparency is less important for a democracy than holding of free and fair elections is preposterous. The government also proposes to replace the existing fixed five-year tenure of the Information Commissioners with a tenure as may be prescribed by it. This would make the tenure a largesse to be bestowed by the government. This would be detrimental to the independence and authority of the Information Commissions. The Act struck a balance between privacy and transparency by barring the disclosure of personal information if it has no relationship to any public activity or would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy. However, the Justice Srikrishna Committee has proposed an amendment that would broaden the definition of ‘harm’, restricting disclosure of personal information even where it may be clearly linked to some public activity.

Source  :  https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/hamstringing-the-rti-act/article25232115.ece

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