Why is it in the news?
- Recently, according to a report, there are 3,21,537 pending appeals and complaints in 27 State Information Commissions in India, and this backlog has been steadily increasing.
- The report, titled ‘Report Card on the Performance of Information Commissions in India, 2022-23,’ notes that the backlog has grown from 2,18,347 as of March 31, 2019, to 2,86,325 as of June 30, 2021, and has now crossed three lakh cases as of June 30, 2022.
- The report is based on the performance of Information Commissions across India and information accessed through the Right to Information (RTI) Act, compiled by the Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS), a citizens’ group promoting transparency and accountability in governance.
Key Highlights of the Report
- Maharashtra has the highest number of pending appeals (1,15,524), followed by Karnataka (41,047).
- Four Information Commissions (Jharkhand, Telangana, Mizoram, and Tripura) are defunct due to a lack of new Information Commissioners after the incumbent’s left office.
- Six Information Commissions, including the Central Information Commission and those in Manipur, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Bihar, and Punjab, currently lack leadership.
- The report estimates that the West Bengal State Information Commission (SIC) would take around 24 years and one month to dispose of a case at the current monthly disposal rate.
- In Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, SICs take over four years to dispose of appeals or complaints. In Odisha and Arunachal Pradesh, it takes over two years. Ten Information Commissions take one year or more to dispose of cases.
- Analysis reveals that Information Commissions did not impose penalties in 91% of cases where penalties could have been imposed.
Right to Information (RTI) Act
- The Right to Information Act 2005mandates timely response to citizen requests for government information.
- The basic object of the Right to Information Act isto empower the citizens, promote transparency and accountability in the working of the Government, contain corruption, and make our democracy work for the people in a real sense.
Issues in the Implementation
- Non-compliance in proactive disclosure by public authorities.
- Hostile approach of Public Information Officers (PIOs) towards citizens and misinterpreting provisions of the Right to Information (RTI) Act to conceal information.
- Lack of clarity on what public interest is and right to privacy.
- Lack of political will and poor infrastructure.
- Rejection of information requests made by active citizens on important matters of public importance.
- Covert means of attacks and threats against RTI activists and applicants to suppress their voices.
- Proper functioning of information commissions is crucial for people to realise their right to information. Under the RTI law, information commissions are the final appellate authority and are mandated to safeguard and facilitate people’s fundamental right to information.
- There is an urgent need for the transparency watchdogs to function in a more effective and transparent manner.
- The digital RTI portal (website or mobile app) can deliver more efficient and citizen-friendly services which are not possible through conventional mode. This will be beneficial for both transparency seekers and the government.