- State how the recent amendments have curtailed powers.
- Explain the need for broadening its ambit.
Although we are living in the 21st century but still more than 2/3rd of the Indian population is struggling to enjoy basic necessities. Upon deep introspection of this issue, we realise that there are various reasons for the failure of these governance models, but the prominent reason being the lack of transparency & accountability.
It is well recognised that without access to information, democratic governments cannot be held accountable for their actions. Although RTI is the first step towards combatting corruption & demanding accountability, but with the recent RTI amendment bill that was passed by both houses of parliament in 2019, the Central Government has drastically curtailed the autonomy of this institution and made it teethless.
This issue is about bringing Political Parties, Media, Corporate Houses, NGOs, etc. under the ambit of RTI. Now, one can ridicule this idea of broadening the scope of RTI when the legislature had already curtailed powers of Information Commissioners through the RTI amendment Bill of 2019. Despite this, it is felt that bringing key stakeholders under this law, may prove game changing for Indian democracy.
Although there is a 2013 CIC ruling on declaring political parties as public authorities in favour of Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) but still the CIC admitted in 2015 that it is powerless to enforce its own ruling. ADR had argued that national political parties receive hundreds of crores worth of indirect funding in the form of complete tax exemption, free airtime on government television /radio, bungalows and large tracts of land given free or at nominal rates. They also have constitutional-legal responsibilities as they are registered with the Election Commission of India (ECI) and play a vital role in public life and governance. A number of non-governmental organizations, trusts, schools and clubs have also been declared public authorities under the Act.
There is a need to bring mainstream media under RTI act as well because nowadays it’s very difficult to rely on the credibility of the news shown in print and electronic media in the era of fake & paid news. Bringing media under RTI can potentially improve the politics of this country. Hence, they will be reminded to actually play the role of the fourth pillar of democracy.
Corporate houses should also be brought under the ambit of RTI mainly because they are one of the main sponsors of political parties and after acquiring political power, some of them seek to serve the corporate interests.
Some NGOs are of dubious nature who are floated by vested interests and there is no provision to take stock of their doubtful activities; once they too come under RTI ambit, it will be easy to get crucial information about sources of their funds, disclosures about their board members and some other crucial information like their political affiliations, if any.
At the end, it can be concluded that although there are lots of benefits of widening scope of RTI act but the real challenge is that like politicians, the media, corporate houses, NGOs too will resist this initiative. The civil society should come forward to bring up a movement that makes transparency a ‘new normal’.