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RTI Online Portal Data Loss and Maintenance

Context:

The Union government’s RTI Online portal has experienced data loss, including past applications and responses, highlighting challenges in maintaining accountability under the RTI Act. The portal is currently undergoing maintenance to restore the missing archival data.

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Right to Information (RTI) Act
  2. Challenges and Concerns in RTI Implementation in India
  3. Future Steps for Enhancing RTI Implementation

Right to Information (RTI) Act

  • Legislative Empowerment: The RTI Act, enacted in 2005, grants Indian citizens access to public authorities’ information, aiming to enhance transparency, accountability, and participation in governance.
  • Origin and Influence: Inspired by the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) in Rajasthan, which advocated for an RTI Act, it replaced the Freedom of Information Act 2002.
  • Legal Independence: Section 22 of the RTI Act establishes its supremacy over other laws, ensuring its effectiveness regardless of contradictions with existing laws.
  • Constitutional Basis: Rooted in Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and expression, and affirmed as a fundamental right in the Raj Narain vs State of Uttar Pradesh case.
  • Timely Information: The RTI Act mandates supplying information to applicants within 30 days, and within 48 hours if it concerns a person’s life or liberty.
  • Application Process: Information can be sought through the Public Information Officer (PIO) or an Assistant PIO, with certain days added for incorrect submissions.
  • Exemptions and Disclosure: Section 8(1) lists exemptions, including matters of national security, but information can be disclosed if public interest outweighs harm.
  • PIO’s Role: The PIO acts as a liaison between citizens seeking information and government entities holding the information, central to the Act’s implementation.
  • Appeals and Redress: If a request is denied or unsatisfactory, citizens can appeal to the First Appellate Authority within the same authority. Further appeals can be made to Central or State Information Commissions.

Challenges and Concerns in RTI Implementation in India

  • Backlog and Delays: With over 3 lakh pending complaints or appeals in various information commissions, the system is grappling with a substantial backlog, delaying timely responses.
  • Vacancies in Key Positions: A notable shortage of Information Commissioners (ICs) and State Information Commissioners (SICs) hampers the smooth functioning of the RTI mechanism.
  • Misuse and Frivolous Requests: The Act is sometimes exploited for personal or vexatious motives, causing inefficiency, resource wastage, and undermining genuine public interest.
  • Misapplication of Exemptions: While the Act provides exemptions to safeguard sensitive information, these exemptions have been misused to reject valid requests, potentially infringing on transparency.
  • Conflict with Data Protection: Emerging data protection and privacy laws have created a complex interplay between RTI rights and individual privacy, raising concerns about hierarchy and conflicts.

Future Steps for Enhancing RTI Implementation

  • Open Data Ecosystem: Establish a comprehensive open data platform that provides government datasets in user-friendly formats, reducing the need for RTIs and enabling better analysis by citizens, researchers, and journalists.
  • Blockchain Technology: Explore the use of blockchain for maintaining an unalterable and transparent record of government actions and RTI-related decisions, ensuring accountability and preventing data manipulation.
  • Transparency Index: Develop a transparency rating system for public authorities based on their responsiveness to RTI requests, fostering competition and encouraging improved accountability standards.
  • AI-powered Processing: Implement AI-driven systems to categorize and process RTI requests, enhancing efficiency and accuracy in responding to queries while streamlining the information retrieval process.

-Source: Indian Express


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