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Missing Public Information on RTI Online Portal

  • 28 Aug 2023
  • 8 min read

For Prelims: RTI Act, Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, Central Information Commission, Public Information Office, Blockchain technology.

For Mains: Issues Associated with RTI in India.

Source: TH

Why in News?

The Union government's RTI Online portal has encountered a situation where a significant amount of public information, including past applications and responses, has gone missing.

  • The portal is undergoing maintenance with the aim of restoring the vanished archival data. This incident underscores the challenges associated with upholding accountability within the framework of the RTI Act.

What is the Right to Information (RTI) Act?

  • About:
    • The Right to Information (RTI) Act is a legislative framework that empowers Indian citizens to access information held by public authorities. Enacted in 2005, the act aims to promote transparency, accountability, and participation in government processes.
      • It replaced the Freedom of Information Act 2002.
      • Earlier Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), an NGO, in Rajasthan that forced the state government to pass the right to information Act in 1997.
    • According to Section 22 of RTI Act, the provisions of this Act will be effective regardless of any contradictions with the Official Secrets Act of 1923, existing laws, or any agreements established through laws other than this Act
  • Constitutional Backing:
    • The RTI Act is derived from the Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, which guarantees the freedom of speech and expression.
      • In Raj Narain vs the State of Uttar Pradesh case, the Supreme Court ruled that Right to information will be treated as a fundamental right under article 19.
  • Time period:
    • In normal course, information to an applicant is to be supplied within 30 days from the receipt of application by the public authority.
    • If information sought concerns the life or liberty of a person, it shall be supplied within 48 hours.
      • In case the application is sent through the Assistant Public Information Officer or it is sent to a wrong public authority, five days shall be added to the period of thirty days or 48 hours, as the case may be.
  • Exempted Information:
    • Sec 8 (1) of RTI Act talks about which information is exempted under RTI, it includes information related to national security, strategic matters of the state, foreign relation, incitement to offenses etc.
  • Implementation:
    • The Public Information Office (PIO) is a pivotal component of the RTI Act’s implementation.
      • A PIO is a designated officer within a public authority who acts as a bridge between citizens seeking information and the government organization holding that information.
  • Appellate Authority and Mechanism:
    • If a citizen's RTI request is denied or they are not satisfied with the response provided by the PIO, they can appeal to the First Appellate Authority within the same public authority.
    • If the citizen is still dissatisfied with the decision of the First Appellate Authority, they can file a second appeal to the Central or State Information Commission.

What are the Recent Amendments in the RTI Act?

  • Amendment in 2023: Recently, section 44 (3) of the Digital Personal Data Protection Act 2023 modified Section 8 (1)(j) of the RTI Act, creating an exemption for all personal information from disclosure and removing the previously established exceptions that permitted the release of such information.
  • Right to Information (Amendment) Act, 2019: It brought changes to the tenure and conditions of the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information Commissioners (ICs) at both the central and state levels.
    • Term of ICs: Their terms became subject to central government prescription (currently, set for a period of 3 years), unlike the previous fixed 5-year term.
    • Determination of Salary: It also provides that the salary, allowances and other service conditions of the CIC and an ICs (of centre as well as states) shall be such as prescribed by the central government.
    • Deductions in Salary: Act of 2019 removed the provisions of the deduction of pension, or any other retirement benefits for previous government service, at the time of the appointment of the CIC and ICs.

What are the Issues Associated with RTI in India?

  • Pendencies of Cases: At present, more than 3 lakh complaints or appeals are pending with various information commissions across India.
    • In addition, there are significant vacancies in the positions of Information Commissioners (ICs) and State Information Commissioners (SICs).
  • Misuse of RTI Act: Some people use the RTI Act for frivolous, vexatious, or personal motives, rather than for public interest. This leads to wastage of time and resources of the public authorities and hampers their work efficiency.
  • Excessive Exemptions: The act provides for exemptions to protect sensitive information. However, there have been instances where these exemptions have been misused to deny legitimate requests for information.
  • Right to Information vs. Right to Privacy Laws: The tension between the RTI Act and emerging data protection and privacy laws raises questions about the hierarchy of these rights and the potential conflicts between them.

Way Forward

  • Open Data Ecosystem: There is a need to establish a comprehensive open data ecosystem where relevant government datasets are available to the public in readable formats.
    • This could bring down the cases of RTI and enable citizens, researchers, and journalists to access and analyze data more effectively.
  • Blockchain for Data Security: There is a need to explore the use of blockchain technology to create an immutable and transparent record of government actions and decisions related to RTIs, ensuring accountability and preventing data tampering.
  • Transparency Index for Authorities: There is a need to develop a transparency index that rates public authorities based on their responsiveness to RTI requests, fostering healthy competition for better accountability.
  • AI-Assisted Responses: There is a need to implement AI-powered systems to categorize and process RTI requests, making the response process more efficient while ensuring accurate information retrieval.

UPSC Civil Services Examination, Previous Year Question (PYQ)

Q. The Right to Information Act is not all about citizens’ empowerment alone, it essentially redefines the concept of accountability.” Discuss. (2018)

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