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It's Been 15 Years Since RTI Act Was Passed, But Is it Really Working?

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19.10.2020

Even before the rising vacancies in Central and State Information Commissions, the delay in responding to second appeals was killing the spirit of the Right to Information Act. And now, with the non-appointment of chiefs at the Centre and in several states, besides leaving five positions vacant in the CIC, the RTI is facing a deep crisis, even as the Act completed 15 turbulent years on October 12, 2020.

The movement for transparency and access to justice is suffering since second appeals and complaints are languishing in the information commissions for indefinite periods. The commissions, either because of vacancies or pendency, are not adhering to timelines. There is no time-bound disclosure. With around 40,000 second appeals and complaints pending at the CIC and around two lakh all over the state ICs, the implementation of the RTI is disappointing.

As an information commissioner, I have the experience of facing administrative hurdles caused by the absence of a chief information commissioner for at least ten months, spelling the denial of the RTI to thousands of applicants seeking information from high offices of the president, prime minister, Supreme Court, etc.

During Narendra Modi’s prime ministership, the CIC went without a head for about ten months in 2014-15, after Rajiv Mathur’s retirement.That was the beginning of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government.

The RTI Act does not prescribe that senior-most of the commissioners should be the chief information commissioner. The high-powered committee led by the prime minister must select the chief, and recommend that the president appoint this person.

In the constitutional frame of structuring the Supreme Court, it is not mentioned that senior-most judge should become the chief justice. Installing the senior judge as the chief is a constitutional convention, which cannot be breached. Fortunately, successive governments have filled the office of the chief justice of India promptly, without leaving it vacant even for a day. Unfortunately, that is not the case in high courts. Several high courts are left without chief justices for many days and compelled to function under acting chief justices.

The institution of the Central Information Commission is similarly important, though not at the same level as the Supreme Court is. The CIC and SICs are formed under the statute of the RTI Act, and hence called statutory institutions. But they implement a constitutionally guaranteed right to information evolved from rights under Articles 19(1)(a), 14 and 21. They should be given the same importance as a constitutional institution is given.

Also read: ‘Mounting Pendency,’ Petitioners Ask SC to Urgently List Information Commissioner Vacancies Matter

In August 2014, for the first time the administration of the CIC came to stand-still because of the absence of a chief with the retirement of Rajiv........

© The Wire


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