RTI version 2.0

As the transparency law completes five years, activists suggest ways to improve it

danish

Danish Raza | October 6, 2010


Law minister Veerappa Moily inaugurating the RTI convention held last month
Law minister Veerappa Moily inaugurating the RTI convention held last month

Here is what the people working closely for the RTI Act have to say on improving the law:

Arvind Kejriwal, RTI activist

- There should be a transparent and participatory process to select information commissioners.

- We should formulate rules to implement the Act. For example, there is no clarity on when to impose penalty and what should be the format of the same. The result is that the concerned officers in various states are implementing the act as per their own understanding.

- The process of filing RTI application should be simplified. In Bihar, people can file RTI applications over telephone. Models like this should be replicated all over the country.

- Government should create awareness about the act. Officials from department of personnel and training  (nodal department for the implementation of RTI act) should consult non government organizations to devise creative ways of making people aware about the act. Just giving advertisements in newspapers will not serve the purpose.

Subhash Chandra Agrawal, RTI activist, Delhi

- Sections 27 and 28 of RTI Act giving often-misused powers to states and competent authorities to make their own RTI rules should be repealed to make the transparency-Act uniform and same for all states and public-authorities. Presently many states and public-authorities have drafted their own RTI rules which are even contrary to basic sections of RTI Act itself. Repealing sections 27 and 28 will automatically remove all confusions about different amounts of RTI fees being charged by public-authorities.

- Written submissions by public-authorities at least twenty days before scheduled hearing at Central Information Commission should be made compulsory with a copy to the petitioner. Since public-authorities are much-more elaborative in their response at the Commission, ever-increasing work-load on the Commission may be considerably reduced by abandoning the hearing in case petitioner is satisfied by suggested compulsory written submissions of public-authorities.

- To save time and money for both the public-authorities and of RTI petitioners, say first six pages should be provided free-of-cost charging from the first page in case copied pages exceed six. Public-authorities should be asked to send all replies by ensured and economical Speed Post.

- Central Information Commission should have power to review its single-bench decisions by a larger bench at Central Information Commission itself.

Sandeep Pandey, Ramon Magsaysay award winner

- Information commission should be neutral in passing orders. They have been found to be favouring the public information officers. I believe the spirit is to withhold the information rather than passing it. This mindset should change if we really want to strengthen the act.

- There should be public participation in the selection of information commissioners. The selection committee should be broadened to include people from judiciary and eminent citizens from various walks of life.

- Currently, there is lot of leniency on imposing fine on PIOs. I believe they should be fined each time they are found not complying with the act. And all the details of the fines imposed on them should be included in their performance report.

- Proactive disclosure is very weak in almost all the government offices. This should be strengthened.

Rakesh Reddy Dubbudu, United Forum for RTI campaign, Andhra Pradesh

- There should be digitization and indexing of records at the earliest possible. Right now, if an information commissioner in Andhra Pradesh is giving an order, it is now known to an RTI applicant in Delhi. The result is that despite the order being passed in one state, the applicant will go for appeal in a similar case. Digitisation will save resources. It will reduce the burden on information officers as well as applicants.

- There should be a timeframe for the information commission to decide cases. That will make them accountable. Currently, the commissions take years to decide cases.

- There should be transparency in the selection of information commissioners. Once good people are selected, they will use the provisions of the act in the right spirit.

- The government should make a law to protect whistleblowers. In the recent past, we have seen cases where RTI applicants have been threatened and even killed because they could unearth malpractices in governance.

Rolly Shivahare, Jano Re Abhiyan, Bhopal

- Information commissioners should be more strict in penalizing the PIOs.

- There should be a time frame for the commission to decide cases.

- Government should create more awareness about the act

- Proactive disclosure has to be strengthened. When the act came into force, it gave 120 days to all the government offices to put all the important information on the website. It didn’t happen.

Mujibur Rehman, RTI activist, Chhatisgarh 

- There should be protection for whistleblowers.

- There is an urgent need to create awareness about the RTI act. People, especially in rural areas are still scared of filing RTI applications. 

- Lately we have seen people filing complaints against information commissioners. However, there is no rule under which action can be taken against them. It should be taken seriously.

Parveen Amanullah, Bihar RTI Manch

- There should be some procedure to stop bureaucrats from becoming information commissioners. Retired government officials becoming information commissioners, has become a trend across the country. This needs to be checked. They are not implementing the act in spirit. I would like to see lawyers, social activists and people from similar backgrounds as watchdogs of the transparency act rather than bureaucrats,

Vijay Kuvalekar,  Information Commissioner, State Information Commission, Pune

- The information commission should be given more teeth. Currently, the commission has no powers if its order is not implemented. The commission can issue arrest warrant, but then compliance to the order is a different thing.

- Except the central information commission, all the state information commission are at the mercy of the state when comes to infrastructure. They should be given some financial autonomy.

- There should be limitation on the information to be given free of cost to BPL applicants.

D B Binu, RTI Kerala Federation

- Government should take appropriate action to implement section 4 of RTI Act which requires every public authority to maintain all its records.

- There should be transparency in the process of selection and appointment of information commissioners. This will bring up the individuals having no bureaucratic hangover.

- There should be educational programmes to make the people aware of the RTI Act. This is specifically emphasized in the 26(a) of the RTI Act.

- Government should provide basic facilities like computer photocopiers fax etc.to the Public authorities and also provide sufficient training to PIO/APIO and Appellate Authority which will nourish the free flow of information.

- There is a need to establish information providing call centers like we have in Bihar. Call centers bring easy access for the illiterates and others.

Panki Jog, Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel

- Audiovisual media should be used for awareness about the act. For example, Ahmedabad  DoorDarshan is telecasting ‘Janwano Haqq’ programme (twice in a week) from Ahmedabad DD, one of the first RTI programme in regional language. In tribal areas, in coastal areas people know RTI by the name “Janwano haqq".

- Government should issue easy to understand RTI manuals to PIOs in various departments. All the government notifications and decisions related to the RTI act should be circulated to the PIOs and appellate authorities.

- There should be RTI training programmes for citizens on regular basis. This will educate citizens on drafting RTI applications precisely in context of information need. This will reduce vague and lengthy applications, appeals and complaints.

- Dialogue between citizen and system should be facilitated at various levels beginning from village to block, district and state level. However great care should be taken that government should not take defensive position when criticized by citizens but to take it in right spirit.
 

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