Cases of harassment and murder of RTI applicants are increasing across the country, and the biggest challenge in the upcoming years is to ensure their protection, according to a new report on the status of the implementation of the RTI Act.
The report by Transparency International India released on the eve of the RTI Day Monday said that in the last 15-16 years, at least 95-100 RTI applicants have been killed while 190 others attacked, while dozen committed suicide and hundreds of them reported being harassed from the powerful lobby.
Besides, the government does not maintain any data on the RTI activists and information seekers who lose their lives in the interest of the country, said the report titled State Transparency Report 2021′ by Transparency International India (TII), a non-government organization.
“The biggest challenge in the upcoming years is to ensure the protection of information seekers as cases of harassment and murder of RTI applicants is increasing across the country,” it said.
Considering the increasing number of RTI queries and applications with several public authorities, there is a dire need to create an agreed template to make proactive disclosure more effective and informative, the report said.
“The situation of implementation has improved over the years, several micro-level studies still point out a wide gap in the usage of the Act among urban-rural masses,” said the report released on the eve of RTI Day.
The Right to Information (RTI) Act became operational on 12th October 2005.
Issues like non-compliance in proactive disclosure by public authorities, hostile approach of PIOs towards citizens and misinterpreting provisions of the Act to conceal information, lack of clarity on what public interest is, right to privacy, stand in the way of effective implementation of RTI Act, it said.
“Many state Information Commissions are running without any Information Commissioners for years, Information commissions failed to get information from public authorities on compliance of RTI Act,” the report highlighted.
Currently, 36 out of 165 posts of Chief Information Commissioner & Information Commissioners are vacant, it said.
RTI activists insist that imposition of penalties and the payment of compensation to applicants can be used as tools for ensuring adherence to the norms of providing information within a reasonable time frame, the report said.
Probably fixing a time limit for the disposal of the first as well as second appeals may go a long way if the government takes a step in this direction as has been prompted through the initiative of Madras High Court recently, it said.
“Now in the 17th year of RTI Act’s implementation when the information regime is already facing challenges in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic similar to other spheres of life, it is an opportune time to look into the State of RTI implementation in the Indian States and check whether the act’s implementation has met the intention of the legislation,” said Rama Nath Jha, Executive Director of TII.
Bhopal-based RTI activist Ajay Dubey said the RTI Act has the potential to change the way governance is perceived.
“RTI can bring in desired public-friendly reforms in the governance of the law is implemented in its letter and spirit. Governments must ensure timely disposal of RTI applications and appeals besides ensuring that the Central and State Information Commissions work in full strength all the time, he said.
The report said that RTI queries are mostly personal in nature, which is another concern. “RTI will serve its purpose more if RTI applications are filed on issues of larger public interests.”
In this tech-savvy world, the use of innovative technology to disclose more and more information through the government websites across all platforms including vast mobile connectivity and mobile applications, in multiple languages will in itself make the system transparent, the report said.
The report also suggested anonymous requests must be allowed and all refusals to furnish information must be reasoned and appealable.