The Right to Information Act was passed in the Parliament in June 2005. Later on it became a law in October 2005 offering citizens the right to seek information from public authorities and thereby promoting transparency. RTI has become a landmark legislation empowering citizens to bring out any discrepancies in the functioning of government and hold them accountable.
The legislation has enabled citizens to unearth several important scams like Adarsh Housing scam, Commonwealth Games scam and 2G spectrum scam. RTI activists have been working hard and also guiding the common man about how to file RTI application as many of them are unaware about it and their rights. Political parties and bureaucrats are often worried about RTI as they feel that their wrong doings will be exposed.
Parties had opposed the Central Information Commission to bring political parties under the ambit of RTI act. The UPA government had brought a legislation to keep political parties outside the purview of the RTI act. They have often tried to dilute the legislation by bringing in various amendments in the law. Often public authorities deny providing information to RTI applicants at state and central level. Large number of RTI applications is pending with various departments and often there is shortage of manpower to provide information. Sometimes MPs allege that applicants try to seek information with an intention to blackmail them.
The success of the landmark legislation is often credited to citizens who have been relentlessly harnessing it as an act of public good—to redress personal grievances, to expose public scandals, and to compel authorities to be more accountable. However, the government officials have recently been taking steps to dilute the RTI act which has invited the ire of activists. As per a proposal, RTI applicants will have to furnish their identity, residence, educational qualification and occupation proof at the time of filing an application. The complainant’s name and details of the complaint will be put on the ward office’s notice board. The proposal has already been published in the newspapers.
This practice is already been followed in the D ward office and soon will be replicated in other wards too. Activists are already unhappy with the new proposal as it might endanger the lives of RTI applicants. They alleged that the municipal officials are hand in glove with businessmen. Thus the BMC’s plan is to target those applicants who are only exposing the malpractices prevalent in the system. Already, Maharashtra had witnessed a large number of deaths of RTI applicants. Many of them had lost their lives as their name had been made public. Former central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi has already said that the corporation will be responsible if any RTI activist is assaulted.
Earlier the state government had restricted the word count of RTI to 350 words. It also had imposed a limit on the subject of an RTI application to only one subject which was opposed by the activists.
The BMC should make the process of filing RTI applicants user friendly instead of imposing several conditions on it which will deter activists from filing RTI application. It should ensure that genuine activists should not suffer because of those people who merely use the RTI act as a tool to blackmail the officials. Finally, RTI is an important legislation which was not framed to make timely amendments for making it toothless.