An RTI, or the Right to Information Act, 2005 is undoubtedly one of the best tools in maintaining the transparency and accountability among the governing and the governed. The mission of this act clearly objectifies and commits to providing factual information, reliable data with an authentic source. The Preamble puts a cherry on the cake by reading it very loud and clear “An Act to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority, the constitution of a Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”
The RTI act is a powerful tool to safeguard the interest and faith of the citizen in the economy and the system, but unfortunately, the way RTI is responding to the applicants is a matter of severe concern and great disappointment. It will not be a blunder to say that ‘Yes, RTI is a grossly misused tool’ and the authorities who are responsible for its smooth flow are the root cause of this problem.
- Mainly, it’s the attitude of CPIO, very pessimist towards their work. CPIO, instead of providing information tries to deny it with the provisions under section 8 of the Act. CPIO usually denies the application stating the reason for third party information u/s 8(1)(j) which reads as “information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information”. There is a need to understand the difference between personal and public information of the third party. The commission in its various orders issued the show cause notice to CPIOs and asked them to prove, how the concerned third party information is the private information, and how that very general information of contextual party is going to harm him. It has been observed that either CPIOs are very protective towards the records or they are not willing to give the information to the public. Commission’s order in case number CIC/SH/A/2016/001055 is a precedent for this issue.
- Another reason is the delay in transferring the application to the concerned department. If an officer is not the informing authority towards an application then there is a situation of delay in forwarding that paper to the relevant table. This leads to the imposition of the highest degree of penalty upon the authorities. It has been observed that CPIOs never felt it important to record the transfer of the application to their colleagues, for example, attaching a letter or taking the signature for the transferring of the document to the concerned officer might be a proper solution to this problem. Following points can be considered for this issue: CIC/EPFOG/A/2017/173925:
- CPIO, if forwards an application for information then he must write on a formal dated letter, which will show his attentive attitude and active effort.
- The first appellate authority should entertain the case more sincerely and must analyze the case with the intention to provide information to the applicant.
- CPIO should be informed and trained about the manner to furnish the response to an RTI application.
- There must be provisions for the penalty on first appellate authority for responsible and sincere working.
- Assisting officer should assist the CPIO more responsibly and quickly, else penalty may go on him too.
- If the information is tough or large enough to draft then CPIO can suggest an inspection to the applicant.
There is the need to strengthen the transparency of files and records and bring parallel to act’s section 4(1)(a).
- The never-ending problems include the basic loopholes as well. CPIO lacks basic writing skills. There is an immediate need to train the CPIOs. They should follow the basic writing skills when replying to an application. There are instances when CPIO forgot to mention the date in the application or a subject on the application is either not clear or not added. This practice not only confuses the citizen but also troubles the commission to determine the exact date sheet of the case.
- The Role of assisting authority is vital in helping the CPIO. Many a time, it is the assisting officer or the concerned officer who fails to help the CPIO in furnishing the information. As per the provision of Section 5(4), the assisting officer acts in the capacity of assisting CPIO and he has all the relevant duties and rights to furnish the information. Case number CIC/EPFOG/A/2017/173925 is based on the same issue. Not to forget that if the assisting officer lacks the efforts then the penalty can be imposed on him also.
- CPIO, sometimes, excuses that they are unable to submit the reply as there is more work on their shoulders and this an additional charge of CPIO disables them to work properly on any of the position. The gravity of this excuse cannot be ignored as it may be possible that the overloaded work pressure does not allow the CPIO to deal with the applications attentively. There is a need to study this issue and to understand the depth as up to where does this effect.
- Sometimes the summoned officer is represented by another officer, especially in the case of transfer or retirement. This causes the delay in the order of commission as the summoned CPIO is actually absent and he is the actual party who was involved on the prima facie basis. Presiding CPIO must be instructed that if they receive the notice on the behalf of summoned CPIO then it is their duty to forward it to them and keep the option of his own representation as to the last resort because as per the precedents it may be possible that if facts and circumstances turn out to be rude then the representative can be fined.
- A CPIO should interpret the application and try to furnish the information. What happens is that CPIO also plays this tactic to deny the application stating an error in the application. Section 5(3) of the RTI Act, a CPIO or SPIO has to render reasonable assistance to the person seeking the information if required. As per the orders of the Commission the CPIO should try to talk the applicant and sort out the matter as conveniently as possible. The same fundamental was observed and ordered by the commission in the case number CIC/POSTS/A/2017/125738.
- One of the biggest turning points in the RTI cases is that CPIO initially deny furnishing the information sought by the applicant on whatsoever ground but when they held answerable to the show-cause notice issued to them the commission then they provide the information with immediate effect. This attitude in CPIOs is very discouraging because not everybody files an appeal. This is trouble not limited up to applicants only, this levies the unnecessary burden on the commission also, especially as those cases which are in less of judicial mind or legal issue or any real problem. The commission was set up with the motive to ensure the fast redressal of case but such practices depress the motive behind the formulation of this RTI Act. Case number CIC/EPFOG/A/2017/151493 is one of the cases dealing with the same issue.
All are these instances when CPIO brought the misfortune for the RTI Act. The promise delivered by the preamble remains undelivered and the tool gets depleted because of such corrupt activities. Section 26(1)(d) of the RTI reads it very clearly “train Central Public Information Officers or State Public Information Officers, as the case may be, of public authorities and produce relevant training materials for use by the public authorities themselves.”
It is important to ensure the workshops for the training and assessment of the CPIOs so that the improper working situation and this level of unprofessional behavior can be avoided. These kinds of activities not only cause a problem to the applicants but also attract a penalty over CPIOs.
The author has the field experience of being an intern with Prof. M.S. Acharyulu, Central Information Commissioner of India, CIC, Delhi. He has worked multiple times with the CIC.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anchit Jain is pursuing law from the ICFAI University Dehradun. He is a third-year law student in B.B.A. LL.B (Hons.). He is interested in ADR, RTI and Consumer Laws. Debating, Dramatics and Chess are the hobbies he carries with him.