Rules, Prudence and Public Value
You are a Public Information Officer (PIO) in a government department. You are aware that the RTI Act 2005 envisages transparency and accountability in administration. The act has functioned as a check on the supposedly arbitrarily administrative behavior and actions. However, as a PIO you have observed that there are citizens who filed RTI applications not for themselves but on behalf of such stakeholders who purportedly want to have access to information to further their own interests. At the same time, there are these RTI activists who routinely file RTI applications and attempt to extort money from the decision makers. This type of RTI activism has affected the functioning of the administration adversely and also possibly jeopardizes the genuineness of the applications which are essentially aimed at getting justice.
Q - What measures would you suggest to separate genuine and non-genuine applications? Give merits and demerits of your suggestions.
Answer: Subject Matter: A case of misusing of RTI. Values: Integrity, Probity in Governance, Transparency, Objectivity, etc. Stakeholders: Applicants of RTI, Government Officers, Society in general. Laws/Facts: Right to Information Act, Official Secrets Act, etc.
RTI promotes friendly relationship with the government officials and commons man. It also makes them to accountable, citizen-friendly and sensitive in terms of best ethical work culture by the administration.
The term 'misuse' was never defined either by Courts/Information commissions, it also doesn't inquire about the purpose of the information which is shared with people, which way it is used and what is the purpose of using this information?
Many are exploiting this loophole for eliciting information through applications with dubious motives, either of their own or of their hidden clients. The aim is to harass the honest, delay governmental work and bring in unnecessary suspicion into every decision that the government takes. This could discourage bureaucrats from taking decisions since each decision is fraught with the risk of being interpreted in a different way. It is being misused, but those who do so make up less than 5% of total applicants.
- Increase RTI fees to rupees 50 with copying- merits-increases costs of misuse demerits-increases costs for the weak & poor does not misuse by rich
- ID proof should be compulsory with RTI applications merits-promotes responsible use demerits- may create safety issues for activists, identity theft issues may complicate the situation
- Issue RTI stamps CIC’s repeated recommendations for introducing exclusive RTI stamps in several denominations on lines of erstwhile Radio & TV license-fees stamps should be implemented.
- Merits-brings systematic in process demerits-reduces access may increase the time needed
- RTI training-workshops necessary for staff handling RTI applications improves awareness, involves civil society in tackling misuse &self-regulation.
- Putting Important (SC) verdicts on important websites will make public-authorities utilize these to tackle frivolous and mischievous RTI applications. Increases information & right interpretation & info on how to deal with case
- Bring some technological changes in RTI status monitoring system which speed the process of RTI procedure. Organizing, clubbing similar requests.
Preventing misuse of RTI Act is of utmost national importance so that the transparency Act may become a tool to strengthen administrative structure by really inducing accountability and transparency in the system, rather than weakening it by being a burden on public resources through handing of mischievous, frivolous, fake and vexatious petitions. It should not be used to spill the beans, settle scores and sling mud.