Shillong, Oct. 21: A call to refine the Right to Information Act, 2005 was made here today with an aim to curb abuse of the law in the name of seeking information for public interest.
Recently, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had called for a review of the law, which has been hailed as the most veritable weapon in the hands of the people since it came into operation half-a-decade ago.
While presenting suggestions to refine the act, Meghalaya Speaker Charles Pyngrope said any information disclosed under the RTI should be in the public domain as a statutory requirement.
“Any information given under the RTI should not only be given to the information seeker, but should also be made available in the public domain,” Pyngrope said while addressing a two-day seminar at Synod College, Jaiaw on Strengthening Participatory Democracy: Five years of the role of RTI.
The two-day seminar was organised by the P.A. Sangma Foundation in collaboration with Synod College, two NGOs Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) India Office, and Media for Change, New Delhi.
Pyngrope said, “To avoid abuse of the law, it is necessary to couple the Right to Information with public purpose.”
He said the public authority should be mandated with the responsibility to monitor whether the recipient of the information used the obtained information for public purpose or otherwise.
“This would render the operation of the act more purposeful and would make it result-oriented,” the Speaker said.
There have been allegations that the act has been used more as a means to settle scores with a public authority rather than using the information obtained for constructive purposes.
Pointing at the increasing number of fatal assaults on information seekers, Pyngrope said there was a need to protect the whistleblowers.
“The state feels duty bound to provide information to a public representative, but seeks to intimidate a common man if he seeks information,” he said.
Moreover, the Speaker said information must be given “free of cost” in view of the tremendous clerical exercise involved in payment of fees, calculation of costs, which discourages ordinary people from availing of the benefits provided by the act.
On the imposition of pecuniary punishment on public information officers, Pyngrope said, “If a request for information is unjustifiably denied, the topmost functionary of the public authority must forfeit his or her service benefits, a cut in his or her pension benefits, in that order, for the repetition and seriousness of the offence.”
He said forfeiture of service benefits instilled more fear than mere pecuniary penalties.
The Speaker said it was time for the law to be made applicable to even private organisations over and above public domains.
“With burgeoning privatisation and increasing public-private participation, the RTI must be applied to all institutions, which serve the members of the public. Recent exposures have shown that corporate corruption is far more monumental than governmental corruption,” Pyngrope said.
The seminar will conclude tomorrow.