Monday, October 12, 2009
Some views of CIC on RTI
Dear Friends , here is the summary of interview with CIC and his view on RTI . This article gives some +ves and some -ves also what is required to improve its functioning - which can be part of main answers .
The chief of India’s Central Information Commission (CIC), Wajahat Habibullah, is “not satisfied” with what the Right to Information (RTI) Act has been able to achieve so far. He also feels the government has benefited from it.
“No, I am not satisfied. More could have been done. Levels of awareness and slow pace of computerisation of government records are something I am not satisfied with,” CIC chief Habibullah told IANS in an interview, exactly four years after the act came into force Oct 12, 2005.
“As far as computerisation of records is concerned, the government of India and the Delhi government are still better as compared to other states,” he said.
“Inclusion of non-resident Indians is also an area of concern where the problem lies in the procedure. The issue has been taken up with the ministry of external affairs,” Habibullah added.
The RTI Act was passed by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in June 2005 after years of struggle by NGOs and civil society groups.
The CIC chief said the biggest beneficiary of the act has been the government.
“Nobody but the government, the biggest beneficiary of the act has been the government itself because it has given them a chance for self analysis. It has given the government a chance to see the public’s view’s of the entire system. Slumdwellers, particularly in Delhi, have also been major participants in the act,” he said.
Habibullah said people should be asked whether the act had helped in better governance, but it had yet to reach its full potential.
“RTI is not a weapon; it is just a tool, a mean and a part of the government system,” he said. A retired Indian Administrative Service officer, Habibullah had joined the CIC has its head when the body was set up in 2005.
Last month, the Delhi High Court had upheld the CIC’s verdict that the office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) comes within the ambit of the RTI Act. The Supreme Court, however, appealed against the order a few days ago.
The high court, in its Sep 2 verdict, held that the CJI was a public authority and his office came within the purview of the transparency law.
Habibullah praised the apex court and the high court for taking up a lot of matters relating to public interest and against corruption. They “are the main players. The CIC is just a secondary player”, he said.
Till August 2009, the commission has disposed of nearly 33,000 cases, but there is a backlog of nearly 10,000 pending cases.
“Our process of disposal is speeding up. Initially the commission was able to clear only 200-300 cases a month. The number is close to 1,800-1,900 cases a month now,” Habibullah said.
The CIC chief also raised concern over the lack of suo motu disclosures by the government departments as mandated by the act. “Suo motu disclosure by the government department is not proper, that is why people are asking for information,” he said.
RTI activists have always accused the commission of not penalising government officers. When asked about it, he said: “Imposition of penalty is not as effective as the fear of penalty. A department like the MCD (Municipal Corporation of Delhi) which has a high number of penalties against its officers has shown no improvement in the system.”
“On the other hand, a small penalty like of Rs.1,200 on an officer in the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research galvanised the system in that organization.”
“Earlier the president’s secretariat never used to send an acknowledgement, but now they do. Even the Lok Sabha secretariat is doing great work as most of the information such as the attendance of an MP is easily available on its website. Such information was earlier kept secret and wilfully not disclosed. RTI has changed that.”
The Department of Personnel and Training is the nodal department for handling issues related to RTI. The fourth RTI convention is being organised here Oct 12-13.
On the demand for more transparency in the appointment of information commissioners, he said: “It is a perfectly legitimate demand and the appointment should only be on the basis of merit.”
“But initially, the appointment of government officials helped as they knew how government functions. Now, our experience with someone like Shailesh Gandhi (an information commissioner at the CIC), who is purely an activist, has also been very good,” he said.