Draft RTI rules, affecting millions annually, still hang in uncertainty
Nearly a year after the government came out with the draft RTI Rules 2017, they still lay in the backburner, with no progress in sight towards their approval. The delay has been attributed to objections from sections of the Central Information Commission (CIC), which means there hasn't been a unanimous agreement yet. Activists had argued the draft rules endangered applicants and reduced transparency.
Apart from many other proposals, the RTI Rules 2017 recommends that proceedings on an application be stopped when the applicant dies. This is a worrying factor since attacks on RTI activists aren't uncommon. According to activist Nikhil Dey, over 65 people have died for exposing corruption since RTI's implementation. Just last year, at least three activists were murdered, two of them in Odisha.
Another cause of concern is a second proposal: that applicants be allowed to withdraw an appeal if the matter hasn't been heard or order is pending. This increases risk for appellants drastically. "The minute you say you can withdraw, the guy who is affected will be at your throat," Dey says. By mid-2017, 50 RTI applicants had been attacked in Odisha alone.
There are other recommendations that will likely backfire on those seeking information. Eg, the proposal mandates more documents than before while applying under RTI. If they are found unsuitable, the appeal can be returned. "They have made the process more cumbersome," says activist Anjali Bhardwaj.
One proposal is that complaints must be accompanied by a copy of the RTI application submitted to the Public Information Officer. However, in many cases, the PIO refuses to accept an application. Even then, or in complaints related to non-appointment of PIOs, the appellant has to submit the PIO-approved RTI application copy, a mandatory requirement. This is also in direct violation of SC orders.
One proposal is appellants have to file complaints within 90 days of the cause. Afterwards, request have to be made to accept the delay. However, in most cases, violation of RTI Act by officials, such as providing false information, comes to light much later.
Officials agree there are some improvements. For one, a mechanism has been introduced to deal with non-compliance of information commissioners' orders, which is a common complaint. But the overall situation is worrying, especially because the RTI Act is currently the world's most widely used transparency law: as many as 4-6 million people use it annually.