Right to skip information meet

PM not to attend convention

By Anita Joshua
  • Published 6.11.16
Modi in New Delhi on Saturday. (PTI)

New Delhi, Nov. 5: Last year, the invitation card was printed thrice - first with the Prime Minister's name, next without his name and finally with his name.

This time, the organisers have been spared the agony of uncertainty: the card has been printed without the Prime Minister's name.

Narendra Modi will be skipping the Central Information Commission's annual convention for the first time since the Right to Information Act was enacted in 2005.

The Prime Minister's Office today confirmed that Narendra Modi would not be inaugurating the commission's 11th convention on Monday but did not mention any reason. Home minister Rajnath Singh will attend the event, which concludes on Tuesday.

Information activists had been privy to Modi's possible absence but were speculating about a last-minute change in plans, given that the invitations had been printed thrice last year.

"The Prime Minister not coming is a huge lost opportunity because this is where he could have shown his commitment to the transparency agenda and shared his vision for the transparency regime," Anjali Bhardwaj of the Satark Nagrik Sangathan said.

Activists rued the lost opportunity to tell the Prime Minister that his suggestion at last year's convention, that the ministries analyse the RTI queries, had not been implemented at any level.

"Only if we analyse the RTI queries properly would the ministries concerned get to know what is impelling people to raise questions repeatedly," Modi had said last year.

He had added that such an analysis would enable the government to identify the policy changes it needs to make.

A national assessment of the performance of adjudicators of the RTI Act - information commissions, high courts and the Supreme Court - undertaken for the second time over the decade has found public authorities failing to proactively provide basic information.

Past studies have shown that if done properly, this would cut down RTI applications by 70 per cent, bringing down the growing pendency rate.

Modi himself had flagged this last year. "The question is, why can't we be proactive in making available information to the people so that they don't have to struggle to obtain it?" he had said.

The latest study, by the Satark Nagrik Sangathan and Research, Assessment & Analysis Group, shows the backlog is so huge in some states that it could take 30 years for an appeal filed in Assam on January 1 this year to be heard.

In Assam, the pendency has risen by 240 per cent since January 1, 2014, when a case filed on that day would have been heard by the information commission (IC) in two years and eight months.

Asked how this was being calculated, Bhardwaj said: "We looked at pending appeals in a particular IC and that commission's disposal rate. With these two numbers, we calculated the time it will take to hear an appeal."

In Bengal, the time for an appeal to be heard has come down since January but it still comes to 11 years and three months. This is down from the 17 years and 10 months it would have taken a case filed in January 2014 to be heard.

The study found that the ICs of only 16 among the 28 states and seven Union territories had data for the current year. For nine of these 16, the waiting period for a hearing was more than one year.

One of the main reasons for the backlog, the report says, is the ICs' reluctance to impose fines - penalties up to Rs 25,000 are allowed - on public information officers who violate the RTI Act.

Across the sample the study looked at, penalties had been imposed in only 1.3 per cent of the cases that may have merited fines.