Analysis: RTI portals, a viable option?

Reading time: 6-8 minutes.

On October 13, 2019 Supreme court of India asked the centre and 25 other states to reply on the plea seeking directions to establish RTI web portals across all the states in India. The plea was based on a PILs filed by an NGO named Pravasi Legal Cell in which the petitioner has contended that in no other state except Delhi and Maharashtra any RTI web portal has been established since the central government’s direction in this regard.

In December 2013 centre had requested all the state governments to explore if there is any feasibility to establish online RTI regime in the respective states. But since then none of the states except Delhi and Maharashtra have implemented online RTI system. In this article we’ll try to peruse the viability of establishment of RTI Portals across various States in India

What are the salient features of the RTI Act ?

Right to Information Act, 2005 remains a milestone of great importance in the evolution of Indian democracy. The various features of RTI Act are as follows:

  • Every citizen has right to sought information from public authorities.
  • Public authorities are under obligation to give information subject to certain restrictions such national security, privacy etc. within a specified period of time i.e.30 days.
  • Public authorities are required under the act to maintain records for a large amount of information and publish it in public domain.
  • All government departments along with some private bodies which receive the direct aid of government comes under the act.
  • Public Authorities are under obligation to provide the information as early as possible but not later than 30 days and in case of information affecting the life and liberty of an individual not later than 48 hours.
  • The act provides for setting up of State and central information commission in state and centre respectively which act as second appellate authority and also supervise the actions of public information officers.
  • In case of delay on the part of information officer or for non disclosure of information, a penalty of upto Rs 25,000 can be imposed on them by the State or central information commission.

What is the procedure to  file an RTI in India ?

There are two ways in which RTI may be filed:

  1. Physically/Offline
  2. Online

Physical method

There is no specific format in which an RTI application may be filed but there are a few particulars which need to be taken care of while filing an application.

  • Application of request may be typed or may be handwritten either in English, Hindi or in official language of area.
  • Application should be addressed to Central/State Public information officer and the name of concerned department form where information is sought must be mentioned along with its complete address.
  • The information to be sought must be clearly mentioned in specified form and if any document is sought must be mentioned for which applicant is required to pay extra fees specified by the  government.
  • A fees of Rs10 need to paid either by cash, money order, bank draft or a court fee stamp. The applicant who falls  below the  poverty line (BPL) are exempted to pay such fees provided a copy of BPL certificate is attached by them to the application.
  • Applicant’s full name, complete Address and contact details must be mentioned and the application should be properly signed.
  • Application may be send by post or may be hand over in person to the concerned department.

Online Application

As mentioned earlier this option is available across 431 public authorities in India. Following steps are required to file a RTI application online:

Step1: go to RTI Website and click on button Submit Request after checking the option I have read and understood the above guidelines.

Step2: The form will appear in which required details can be filled. Select the appropriate Ministry,  Department and fill in the contact details. Email Id is required but mobile number is optional.

Step3: Now the application plea can be filed in the textbox next to Text for RTI application in not more than 3000 characters. If the number of characters in application exceed this limit a separate document file  can be attached in PDF format of up to 1 MB size.

Step4: After filing the Security code click on Submit.

Step5: Now Application fee may be paid via credit/debit card or net banking.

Step 6: After the payment of fees an acknowledgement page will appear with unique registration number for request through which status of request can be regularly checked on RTI Page.

 What are the existing loopholes ?

  1. Pendency of cases: As per an article published in economic times (PTI DEC 5,2012 5.12 PM IST)there were around 27,000 appeals pending in CIC. According to same article each commissioner disposes 28,000 cases each year. CIC takes on an average 319 days to hear and pass an order for appeals while the maximum time taken was reaching 862 days. Hence, the delay in the disposal of cases causes the public distrust in the system.
  2. Non-Uniformity in State Rules: Section 27 and 28 of the act empowers the “state government” and ”competent authorities” respectively to make rules for the proper implementation of the act. By the virtue of this provision competent authorities misuse its power by increasing the fee required to seek information. Delhi High Court by the virtue of rule 10 of HC has raised the prescribed fees to Rs.500 instead of Rs.10 and and decreased the penalty for not furnishing information to Rs. 50/day from Rs. 250/day.
  3. Expensive Procedure: Due to non-uniformity of rules the competent authoritoies charges unreasonably expensive fees for furnishing information which makes such information inaccessible to common man.

What are the suggestions for reform ?

A few amendments in my opinion which should be made in the current act in order to cope up with problems of current RTI regime are as follows:

  • Appointments and Selection of officers: The aim of RTI act was to reduce corruption by bringing transparency in the administration of governance. Hence, it is the imperative that the CIC or SICs remain autonomous bodies without any influence of government. The present mode of appointment of officers is not proper and needs to be changed. The panel of recommendation committee for CIC must include “the chief justice of India” in place of “a union cabinet minister appointed by  Prime minister”.
  • Another measure should be bringing the position of CI commissioner close to election commissioner with fixed salary and tenure.Some kind of accountability should be there on First appellate authority  for wrong judgment and undue delay
  • Centralization of RTI Rules: Another challenge in the proper implementation of RTI acts is the non-uniformity of RTI rules in various public departments. This could be done by bringing some kind of uniformity in the RTI rules in some areas such as fee required and penalty imposed.
  • Rise in RTI Infrastructure: In order to cope up with increasing pendency of cases state must invest in RTI infrastructure. Both the centre and the states must allocate some part of its revenue for the RTI fund which must be utilized in raising infrastructure such as online RTI portals etc.  

What are the arguments raised in the petition?

The petitioner in this case argues that the objective of RTI is increasing transparency in the governance and it can only be achieved if there is timely response of request by the concerned department. Developing RTI portals online helps in reducing the the time of disposal of RTI request in the following ways:

  • Ease of Filing: RTI web portals contains the list of concerned departments along with their complete profiles. Further, particulars required to be mentioned are clearly mentioned on the web page. Hence filing of RTI becomes a lot easier through online portal.
  • Ease of payment: The payment of fee is much easier on the online portal as compared to physical method. On the top of that physical method requires Postal order to be made which is a further time consuming process.
  • Section 7(1) of the act requires the information regarding the life and liberty  to be given within 48 hours which is nearly impossible through physical method
  • Through online portals NRIs can easily seek information from concerned department who have to otherwise go through physical method in respective departments which is a tedious job.

Conclusion: The way ahead

RTI is the most powerful law in India as all the constitutional authorities in India comes under it. It has created a new generation of activists such as Anna Hazzare and Arvind Kejriwal. It has helped in strengthening civil societies who can further push government to make its policies more people-centric.

It makes the government more accountable to public by giving more power to a common man who can demand information from any government department and the department has to furnish information as soon as possible within 30 days. Establishing RTI portals online throughout the states will the raise the scope of this objective by timely disposal of RTI requests. The scope of RTI will also expand to NRIs who can easily seek and resolve their grievances online.

There are infrastructure challenges to development of online RTI regime. In this direction state and centre must allocate some part of their revenue to RTI fund and and utilize them in developing RTI infrastructure. Some modifications also needs to be made in the act to make the information officers more accountable for their actions. As they say “Knowledge is power” accessibility of RTI online to farther areas of the states shall also help in their future development. 

This article is brought to you in collaboration with Ankur Tyagi from Indian Academy of International Law and Diplomacy (ISIL), Delhi.

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