At 15, RTI Act crippled by rising backlog


Fifteen years after the Right to Information (RTI) Act came into force, more than 2.2 lakh cases are pending at the Central and State Information Commissions, which are the final courts of appeal under the transparency law.

The increasing backlog is exacerbated by the fact that most Commissions are functioning at reduced capacity, including the Central Information Commission (CIC) which has been headless since August.

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A report card brought out by the Satark Nagrik Sangathan and the Centre for Equity Studies to mark the anniversary on Monday found that Maharashtra had the highest number of pending appeals, with over 59,000 cases, followed by Uttar Pradesh (47,923) and the CIC (35,653).

At the current rate of disposal, the Odisha Commission would take more than seven years to dispose of all pending complaints, while the CIC would take more than two years, the report said.

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Odisha is functioning with just four commissioners, while Rajasthan has only three. Jharkhand and Tripura have no commissioners at all, and have been defunct for months. The CIC has no chief, and only five commissioners.

Under the law, every commission should have a chief and up to 10 commissioners.

The analysis also found that government officials face hardly any punishment for violating the law. Analysing data from 16 commissions in 2019-20, report found that penalties were imposed in only 2.2% of cases that were disposed of, despite previous analysis showing a rate of about 59% violations which should have triggered the process of penalty imposition.

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“Non-imposition of penalties in deserving cases by commissions sends a signal to public authorities that violating the law will not invite any serious consequences. This destroys the basic framework of incentives built into the RTI law and promotes a culture of impunity,” said the report.

Out of almost 90,000 cases disposed of by the 16 commissions between April 2019 to July 2020, show cause notices were issued in more than 15,700 cases, and penalties imposed in 1,995 cases. Gujarat accounted for more than 9,000 show cause notices, but only 163 penalties. Overall, fines imposed amounted to ₹2.53 crore.

“The need to scrutinise the functioning of information commissions now is perhaps greater than ever before, given the unprecedented crisis gripping the nation due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the report, noting that relief and welfare programmes funded through public money are the sole lifeline for millions who have suddenly lost income-earning opportunities after the lockdown was imposed to contain the spread of the disease.

“If the poor and marginalised affected by the public health emergency are to have any hope of obtaining the benefits of government schemes, they must have access to relevant information,” the report noted.

“At a time when incentives for secrecy are great, and the scope for discretionary actions wide, the role of information commissions is crucial to ensure that people can obtain information on healthcare facilities, social security programs and delivery of essential goods and services meant for those in distress,” the report underlined.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2021 4:58:37 AM |

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