Years of missing Right to Information applications will be restored on the Union Government’s RTIOnline portal, the website said in a message on Thursday, after The Hindu reported Wednesday that public records obtained by RTI applicants over many years had disappeared from many users’ accounts. The episode shed a light on several issues plaguing the portal, which facilitates RTI queries to most public authorities under the Union.
“Due to maintenance activity, Archival Data (Before 2022) will be available soon,” the portal said in a new message on its website. “And the archival data will be plugged into present provided reports.” This is the third time in recent months that the RTIOnline portal has gone into ‘maintenance’ mode without offering any new features or showing improvements in performance.
The site requires very little internet bandwidth to serve users. On a typical March weekday, the maximum data load on RTIOnline was 8Mbps, according to data obtained by The Hindu earlier this year from the National Informatics Centre, which maintains the site. That is less than one sixth the data that even a typical WiFi connection in India can handle.
These episodes of ‘maintenance’ are not the only instance of data disappearing from the site. Srikanth Lakshmanan, a contributor to the grassroots Cashless Consumer initiative, found earlier this month that a PDF file containing the response to one of his RTI applications to the National Health Authority (NHA) had disappeared from the site. It remains missing, he said.
The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), which administers the RTIOnline portal, did not respond to a query by The Hindu on whether public authorities have the power to remove responses after they have already been submitted online.
Changing the law
The RTI Act, 2005 was amended this month in Parliament to prohibit all disclosure of personal information; earlier, personal information could be disclosed in public interest. Activists have argued that this may make holding public authorities accountable more difficult, in matters such as social audits of rations distribution.
In 2019, the RTI Act was amended to give the government more powers over appointments to the Central Information Commission (CIC), the body which hears appeals for RTI applications filed with the Union Government and issues decisions. The CIC and States’ own information commissions have long-pending vacancies, and lakhs of backlogged cases, according to a report by the Satark Nagrik Sangathan.
Venkatesh Nayak, the Director of the New Delhi-based Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, said in an analysis of the CIC’s latest report, that RTI appeals were at an all-time high at Union Government bodies, with 1.62 lakh applications being appealed. “This indicates a very high degree of dissatisfaction with the performance of these public authorities of their obligations under the RTI Act,” Mr. Nayak wrote.