Three years on, RTI a boon but needs more teeth

October 13th, 2008 - 5:13 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Oct 13 (IANS) Sixteen-year-old Shahnaz knew nothing about the Right To Information (RTI) Act till a few months ago, but today she is grateful for the three-year-old law that helped her secure admission in a government school. “The school made me undertake an entrance test and failed me in that since I live in a resettlement colony. Finally I filed an RTI application asking the government education department to tell me if there is any provision of an entrance test for a student who has successfully passed Class 10,” Shahnaz told IANS.

Such is the power of the RTI act that within three days of her application, she was admitted to the school.

Shahnaz’s story is just one of the many about how the RTI Act has empowered people since it came into force on Oct 12, 2005. However, many feel that a lot still needs to be done to strengthen the law.

“The RTI Act has great potential and has helped a lot of people. But there are some issues, which the government needs to tackle proactively,” Malay Bhattacharyya, a Kolkata resident, told IANS on phone.

“The government needs to appoint more information commissioners, who should not be from the government. The information commissioners need to deal with pending cases effectively and impose more penalties on the erring officials,” Bhattacharyya added.

RTI activists who are using the act to expose corruption in the system feel that the government needs to do more to ensure that the act is effective.

Ahmedabad based RTI activist Pankti Jog, who also runs an RTI helpline, described the act as the best law the Indian parliament has passed since independence.

“The RTI Act has been the first act which has reached the grassroots. We have a helpline on which we regularly receive calls from farmers, working class and people from all walks of life,” Jog told IANS.

She, however, felt that the government is not doing anything to promote the act and its only people themselves who are carrying out the awareness work.

“The act can only progress if public authorities encourage proactive disclosures and pending cases are tackled effectively. The public information officers also need to be trained properly,” Jog added.

“RTI has huge potential but it is not being used properly. The orders of the information commissioner are not complied with. The government needs to give them contempt powers,” Pune based RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar said.

He added that the other major factor affecting the act is the appointment of retired bureaucrats or people close to government to the post of information commissioners.

Echoing his views is Orissa-based RTI activist Biswajit Mohanty, who has filed more than 450 RTI applications to various government departments since the act came into force.

Mohanty usually seeks information from the forest and environment department. Of his total applications, he has got information only against 60.

“While in 40-50 cases wrong doings of the concerned officials have come to the fore, in five cases I have got evidences of corruption against officials. But hundreds of other applications are gathering dust and the PIOs are harassing applicants so that they don’t seek further information,” Mohanty said.

The activists also voiced their concern over the mode of sending RTI applications to the government department.

At present, RTI applications can be filed by paying the fees through cash, banker’s cheque, bank draft or postal order.

Prominent RTI activist and Magsaysay award winner Arvind Kejriwal said: “There should be multiple modes of filling a RTI application. The ultimate solution being a RTI call centre, which Bihar is following at present.”

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