Millennium Post

Information denied

With the Centre struggling to pass big-ticket legislations through Parliament, a silent, yet more sinister trend is underway. Activists across the country are of the firm belief that the present dispensation has taken the sting out of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Over the years, the Right-to-Information Act has emerged as a powerful tool for the Indian public to promote transparency and hold those in power accountable. Eliciting information from the government, they argue, has become nearly impossible. In a written reply to the Lok Sabha in February, the Centre said that close to 38,000 second appeals under the RTI are pending with the Central Information Commission (CIC).

The CIC is the top agency entrusted with the implementation of the RTI. The state of the CIC is a definitive indicator of how the dissemination of public interest-related information has broken down. The commission has been working without a chief for more than six months, ever since the last incumbent Rajiv Mathur put in his papers. Also, against the sanctioned strength of 10, it has only seven information commissioners, signalling a great deal of apathy on the part of the present dispensation. As per the Act, applications and first appeals are required to be disposed off within 30 days of their receipt. For second appeals, however, no time limit has been prescribed for its disposal.

Therefore due to vacancies at the CIC, officials have begun to withhold information, forcing RTI applicants to go for multiple appeals.  In addition, the Whistleblower’s Protection Act, which was passed by Parliament in February 2014, is yet to be operationalised because the present dispensation has been slow to frame the rules necessary for its implementation. It is a sad indictment on our democracy that such a powerful tool is being muzzled due to bureaucratic apathy. With around 4.5 million RTI requests being generate every year, information delayed is information denied.

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