According to a recent analysis by the organization known as Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS), there are more than 2.55 lakh pleas under the Right to Information Act, 2005, which are yet to be opened and answered by the responsible ones.
One can understand the grim situation because the Chief body, i.e., Central Information Commission, which is empowered to deal with such cases, has pending cases, several of which runs into thousands. However, one also needs to keep in mind that it is not functioning with the full strength of the sanctioned post of 10 Commissioners and a Chief for the past five years.
This report by Satark Nagrik Sangathan also observed the performance. It highlighted the issues of shortage of personnel and inefficient operation method, which are the leading causes behind such delay in the disposal of cases.
This report calculated what time it would take for the authorities to answer the current pending applications if the current rate of operation remains constant. Interestingly it turned out to be that a complaint filed in the state of Odisha on 1 July 2021, under this Right to Information Act, cannot be disposed of before the year 2028 as it would take six years and eight months to dispose of the matter, assuming there is no variation in the current rate of disposal of pleas.
Right to Information Act, 2005
Right to information has been seen as the step to strengthen the element of participatory democracy and to realize the need for people-centric governance. Access to information can empower the poor and the weaker sections of society to get information about public policies and actions and demand for their right, thereby leading to their welfare.
No amount of developmental schemes can improve the quality of life of the citizens if there is a lack of good governance. Good governance has four important pillars- transparency, accountability, predictability, and participation. Transparency refers to the availability of information to the general public, which seeks and provides clarity about the functioning of governmental institutions. Since this Right to Information Act compels the government’s records to be made available to public scrutiny, it provides the citizens a vital tool to question the government authorities about what the government does and how effectively, thus making the government more accountable to the public. This element of transparency in government organizations also makes them function more objectively, thereby enhancing predictability. Information about the functioning of government also enables the citizens to participate in the governance process more effectively. To summarize, it can be said that the right to information is a fundamental necessity of good governance.
Acknowledging the need of the hour, which demanded transparency in public affairs, the Parliament enacted the Right to Information Act in 2005. It is a path-breaking legislation that aims to promote transparency in the system and empower people to question the authority.
Approach of the Judiciary
The Indian Judiciary, from time and again have tried to bring out reform or initiate the reform in the traditional Indian society. There is no exception in this case as well. The Supreme court has, in various judgments have highlighted the need for transparency and accountability in the government process.
The Supreme document of the country i. e the Constitution of India under Article 19 (1) (a), has enshrined this concept underneath it which is as follows-
1) All citizens shall have the right-
(a) to freedom of speech and expression
While interpreting, the Hon’ble court has discovered the underlying concept of the right to information which is also a fundamental right, i.e., one can claim remedy in the Apex court if it has been violated.
There is no denying that the Right to Information law of 2005 is no less than a radical shift in the existing governance culture as it impacts all the state agencies. However, changes still need to be made to ensure accountability in governance which includes bringing changes such as decentralization of power, protection of whistleblowers, and fusion of authority with accountability at all levels in the law. Nevertheless, this law allows us to redesign governance processes, particularly at the grassroots level where the citizens’ interaction with the system is maximum. After 16 years of its implementation, it has undoubtedly become one of the essential tools for the public to control the executive. Approximately 40 to 60 lakh pleas are filed under this Right to Information Act every year.