- As you are aware, the introduction of the Right to Information Act (RTI) by the then United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was not only considered as most appropriate but also provided hope for the citizens of the country about ushering in much-needed transparency in the governance. We know how the government machinery at the Centre and state function where the bane of corruption has established a deep-rooted presence that cannot be simply eradicated over time. One of the efforts to address this increasingly multiplying issue was the introduction of the RTI Act where the citizens could seek information about the functioning of the governments by filing a request in the standard format.
- Mind you, the RTI is an act of the Parliament that sets out the rules and procedures regarding citizens’ right to information. Sadly, there were so many exceptions introduced subsequently by the Centre that the growing perception that the RTI Act is severely diluted and compromised from the intended objective of ushering in transparency in the administration seems justified. Yes, any matter surrounding national security and sovereignty should be guarded from being made public, but what about those pertinent subjects that have a bearing on the day-to-day lives of the citizens? Unfortunately, the apathy of the administrative authorities towards the RTI has only leapfrogged over the years with no signs of strengthening the Act anytime soon.
- As reported recently, the Supreme Court made a damning observation by mentioning that by failing to fill up vacancies in information commissions, governments have rendered the RTI Act a dead letter law. The observation is not only scathing but also shows how the SC is annoyed by the continued apathy toward a law that could have been a watershed moment in the history of our democratic existence. This also reflects the grimness of the data presented by the petitioners in the instant case. For instance, 7 of the 11 information commissioner posts in CIC are vacant and the body will become defunct if replacements for the 4 incumbent commissioners due to retire in November are not put in place in time.
- Not only this, but Telangana’s SIC has also been defunct since February 2023, Tripura’s since July 2021, and Jharkhand’s since May 2020. What bears underlining is that this is not the first time this case has been in the Apex Court. Its 2019 judgment directed governments to fill up vacancies, in the future, without any delay. It specified the process for filling out vacancies within 2 months before the date on which these are likely to occur. While the vacancies persist, governments continue to say all the right things about the importance of the RTI Act to democracy. In the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the law, we should have been discussing how to make the information commissions stronger. Will the governments wake up and do the needful? Let’s wait and watch.