As the world observes International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) on Tuesday, experts in India complain that the landmark legislation Right to Information (RTI) Act has lost its teeth over the past few years.
Enacted in 2005, the legislation had helped to expose many alleged scams and empowered people to get access to information from the government and even the right to check official notes on files.
According to official figures in the first 10 years since the enactment, the government had processed 17.5 million applications seeking information about various government decisions, programs, and constitutional authorities, including executive, legislature, and the judiciary as well as the political parties.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi said over the years it has become difficult for common people to get the requite information.
“I think the Central Information Commission is a major failure. At the Information Commissions level, an average weight of two-three years is not uncommon now,” he said.
The Central Information Commission (CIC) is a statutory quasi-judicial body, established under the Act to act adjudicate complaints of denial of information by government officials.
Gandhi, who has been a member of the CIC said it is taking two to three years for the CIC to adjudicate cases and there is a huge backlog of cases.
"So, the law was supposed to give you the information in 30 days. But now you have to wait two or three years for a decision. It renders the law toothless," he said.
He said unlike in the past the government officials do not feel the pressure of law.
“During the initial days, officers were worried and scared that they would get punished if they did not provide the complete information in time. Slowly that fear has gone because it takes a very long time at the commission level now," he said.
Siddharth Gupta, an information activist based in central India, said it is becoming increasingly difficult to get information nowadays.
“The authorities have made this law in such a way that people are feeling disappointed. If the information is not received on time, then it is of no use,” he told Anadolu Agency.
Another activist, on condition of anonymity, said that the Information Commission has now become a resting place for retired officers.
“When such people are appointed, their emphasis is on hiding the information related to their wrongdoings or of their colleagues,” he said, adding that there is also no transparency in their appointment.
- Government denies charge
Rolly Shivhare, a member of the National Campaign for People's Right to Information, said that they are back to the times when people had to struggle in corridors of power to get information.
The government, however, has rejected allegations that the law has lost its teeth. While replying to a question in parliament, Personnel and Public Grievances Minister Jitendra Singh said the government has taken various steps speedy disposal of pending cases related to information applications.
“The government has taken several steps like disposal of cases through training of central public information officers and has issued guidelines to public information officers and appellate officers, to enable them to effectively dispose of first appeals,” he said.
According to the last annual report released by CIC for the year 2019-2020, 96,812 were disposed of out of the 152,354 cases that it received during the period.