The Right to Information (RTI) Act, which was passed by the Indian Parliament on 15 June, 2005 is regarded as one of the most powerful tool in fighting corruption and ensuring transparency in the government. Prior to the Indian RTI Act, various states enacted their own RTI legislation such as Tamil Nadu (1997), Goa (1997), Rajasthan (2000), Karnataka (2000), Delhi (2001), Maharashtra (2002), Madhya Pradesh (2003), Assam (2002) and Jammu and Kashmir (2004). The RTI Act is inspired by the Freedom of Information (Access to Information) legislation that has been in existence in countries like United States of America (1967), Sweden (1766) etc. Around the world, there are some 85 countries which have their own FoI legislation.
The RTI movement was initiated by the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) in Dungarpur, Rajasthan so as to demand minimum wages for the labourers employed in public work. When MKSS found that ghost entries were made in the muster rolls to siphon off the money meant for the labourers, it was compelled to demand official information recorded in government files. Hence, originated the social audit campaign. When Aruna Roy became a member of the National Advisory Council (NAC) under UPA 1, she held widespread public consultations with civil society organizations and key govt. officials on India's RTI legislation due to which the law finally got enacted.
Innovative initiatives under the RTI:
- The Bihar Govt. has initiated a six seater Jankari call centre, which facilitates a caller in drafting the RTI application and the fee is collected through the phone bill. RTI Helpline in Bangalore is providing RTI information to citizens.
- Maharashtra has created 5 offices of the Information Commission in Pune, Mumbai, Aurangabad, Amravati and Nagpur to enable citizens to approach the most convenient regional office.
- Assam has adapted a “Train the Trainers” concept, where the Government trains the CSOs/NGOs to impart training to citizens on RTI in order to maximize the reach of RTI and ensure that there is local ownership and sustainability.
- Review of Public Authorities by Andhra Pradesh State Information Commission.
- Public hearings at the district headquarters by Kerala State Information Commission.
- The CIC website has a feature for online submission of complaints and second appeals
- Since its formation in 2009, Society for Social Audit, Accountability & Transparency (SSAAT) in Andhra Pradesh has succeeded in creating a massive social capital by identifying and training more than 60,000 educated youth in the villages in conducting social audit.
Source: Understanding the “Key Issues and Constraints” in implementing the RTI Act, June 2009
The RTI law has witnessed mixed successes so far. A Times of India report dated 7 April, 2011 says that the Chief Information Commission (CIC), which has 6 information commissioners (ICs), has a pendency of around 15,000 appeals and the disposal rate is below 3,000 per commissioner.
A report titled Understanding the "Key Issues and Constraints” in implementing the RTI Act (2009) by PricewaterhouseCoopers show that there exists low awareness about RTI law among women, SCs, STs, OBCs and rural people and the quality of awareness is too poor. Unavailability of user guides is a major obstacle in RTI implementation. RTI application forms are not standardized across the states. Inadequate efforts have been made to receive RTI applications through electronic means, i.e. emails, websites etc. There is no convenient payment channel for submission of application fees. Citizens are not assisted everywhere to file RTI applications and the public information officers (PIOs) are unfriendly towards them. Most citizens are dissatisfied with the quality of information provided. It takes more than 30 days to receive information from the PIOs. PIOs are not adequately trained. The Record Management System is obsolete to carry out timely disposal of a RTI application. Unavailability of basic infrastructure such as photocopier machines hampers implementation of RTI. Information is not disseminated on a suo-moto basis. There is dearth of skilled staff. The study titled Safeguarding the Right to Information-Interim Findings of the People’s RTI Assessment 2008 tells that of the total RTI applications filed, nearly two-thirds got a response from the public authorities.
Understanding the “Key Issues and Constraints” in implementing the RTI Act* June 2009, http://rti.gov.in/rticorner/studybypwc/index-study.htm
Dispose of 3,200 pleas every yr: CIC by Viju B, The Times of India, 7 April, 2011, http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-04-07/mumbai/29392081_1_appeals-and-complaints-rti-applicants-rti-activist
Safeguarding the Right to Information-Interim Findings of the People’s RTI Assessment 2008, October 2008, conducted by RTI Assessment & Analysis Group (RaaG) and National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) (in collaboration with other institutes/ organizations), http://rti-assessment.org/interim_report.pdf