Public Hearing on the implementation of the RTI Act Nov. 8, 2016
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Press Release

Nov. 8, 2016

The National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI) held a public hearing today to discuss the implementation of the RTI Act and the challenges faced by people in using the law. The hearing was attended by RTI users and activists from across the country, the Chief Information Commissioner of the CIC, Mr. R. K. Mathur, information commissioner Mr. Acharyulu and former commissioner Mr. MM Ansari, Mr. Shailesh Gandhi & Mr. A. N. Tiwari. Members of the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI) including Anjali Bhardwaj, Nikhil Dey (Rajasthan), Venkatesh Nayak, Bhaskhar Prabhu (Maharashtra), Sheikh Ghulam & Balvinder (J&K), Pradeep (Haryana), Rolly Shivhare (MP) participated in the hearing.

At the hearing, RTI users testified about their experiences of using the Act and the findings of a study on the performance of adjudicators of the RTI Act- namely the information commissions, high courts and the Supreme Court- undertaken by RaaG & SNS were also discussed.

Status of proactive disclosure

Section 4 of the RTI Act requires the government to proactively disclose information about its functioning to people in the most accessible form and manner and in the local language. This provisions of proactive disclosure is critical to ensure that people have easy access to relevant information and do not have to file an RTI application and follow-up on the appellate mechanism to access basic information about their rights and entitlements. Despite the critical nature of the provision, Section 4 is very poorly implemented.

Estimates suggests that 70% of RTI applications sought information that should have been provided without people having to file an application under the RTI Act. More importantly, the poor implementation of section 4 means that people have to file RTI applications and wait for a long time to access even the most basic information about their rights and entitlements.

From Delhi, Balraj spoke about the difficulty he faced in accessing information about the status of his daughter, Deepika’s application for Ladli Scheme. The Ladli Scheme was initiated by the Delhi government to encourage families to educate girls by providing financial incentive at the time of the birth of the child and subsequently as she completes her schooling. His daughter had applied for the Ladli Scheme in 2010. However, the family received no information about the status of his daughter’s application form and did not receive the entitlements under the scheme. Eventually, in 2015 upon learning about the RTI Act, his wife Neetu filed an RTI application seeking details of the status of the Ladli application form. Upon not receiving information any information, eventually the matter reached the Central Information Commission (CIC). Eventually, it was only after the CIC ordered that full information be given that in August 2016, the Delhi government released Rs. 18,500 to Deepika under the Ladli Scheme. Information about the status of the application should in any case have been provided proactively to the family under Section 4 of the RTI Act.

Similarly, several people receiving old age or disabled pension spoke about the problems they suffered when their pensions were stopped without providing them any information. Section 4 requires the government to proactively provide details about its decisions to affected people. Chandravati, a resident of a slum settlement in Delhi testified that her pension was discontinued without providing any information or reasons to her in September 2014. For many months, she visited the Department and the bank but could not access nay information on why her pension was discontinued. Finally, she filed an RTI application in March 2015 seeking details about the reasons for the stoppage of her pension and it was only in January 2016 after the order of the CIC that the department contacted her regarding her pension. Finally the department her whole pending amount of pension of Rs. 18,000. Similarly, Parvati, a resident of Moti Lal Nehru Camp, whose pension was stopped for more than 2 years, had to finally resort to filing an RTI application and received her money only after the CIC’s intervention.

The findings of the study which showed that information commissions themselves were not proactively disclosing information about their functioning were also discussed. The analysis of the IC websites revealed that many of the commissions had not posted their annual reports on the web and very few had updated the information. 21 out of 28 ICs (75%) did not provide the annual report for 2015 (see attached report). In fact, 4 of these, the SICs of MP, Manipur, Tripura and UP, had no information about annual reports on their websites.

Backlogs and waiting time in commissions

Across the country there are huge backlogs in terms of pending appeals and complaints in information commissions which is one of the most serious problems being faced by the transparency regime in India. The high levels of pendency in ICs result in applicants having to wait for many months, even years, for their appeals and complaints to be heard.

Kanso Devi, a resident of Savitri Nagar used to received her old age pension of Rs. 1000 per month from the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. Using this money, she would pay for her monthly rations and medical expenses. When her pension was suddenly stopped she filed an RTI application seeking details about it. Not getting any reply, she filed a first appeal and eventually a second appeal before the CIC in November 2015. Despite the passage of more than an year, her case has not been taken up for hearing by the commission.

Families of two old age pensioners testified at the hearing about how the long waiting time meant that by the time the case came up for hearing or some relief was granted, the pensioners had in fact died. Rukmani Devi, a resident of Lal Gumbad camp that filed an RTI application and followed up the matter till the commission to find out details of why her pension was discontinued. However, finally, by the time the CIC took up her case for hearing, she had passed away. In another case from the same locality, Dharmo Devi received the pension which the Department had discontinued without giving her any reasons only in 2015 after the CIC’s intervention. However, she passed away within a month of receiving the pension due to illness.

Using the monthly disposal rate of ICs, and the number of appeals and complaints pending, the study done by RaaG & SNS calculated the time it would take for an appeal or complaint filed on January 1, 2016 to be heard by the IC. The analysis (see attachment) shows that a matter filed on January 1, 2016 would come for hearing in the Assam state IC after 30 years – in the year 2046! In West Bengal after 11 years, and in Kerala after 7 years!

The Chief Information Commissioner of the CIC, Mr. R. K. Mathur acknowledged that long waiting time was a key issue which needed to be addressed. He said that listening to peoples’ testimonies made him realise how much people valued the RTI Act and how it was often the only resort in their struggle to access their basic rights and entitlements. He committed that the commission will examine and adopt a mechanism to ensure that matters relating to basic rights and entitlements are expedited for hearing by the CIC.

Non imposition of penalty

The RTI Act empowers the ICs to impose penalties of upto Rs. 25,000 on erring PIOs for violations of the RTI Act. The penalty clause is one of the key provisions in terms of giving the law its teeth and acting as a deterrent for PIOs against violating the law. Despite Section 20 of the RTI Act clearly defining the violations of the law for which PIOs must be penalised, ICs impose penalty in only an extremely small fraction of the cases in which penalty is imposable. The study by RaaG & SNS shows that penalty was imposed in only 1.3% of the cases in which it was imposable. The estimate shows that an estimated loss of Rs. 290 crores is being caused annually by ICs not imposing penalties in cases in which it was imposable.

Surender from Begumpur Delhi testified that although the CIC in September 2014 had ordered a show cause notice in his case and had ordered a penalty of Rs. 12,500, till date he had not received either the compensation or any information about the penalty imposition even though he had filed a non complaint to the CIC in December 2014.

The commissioners present at the hearing stated that they were also concerned about the issues raised at the hearing and will convene a meeting of the CIC to discuss strategies to address these problems.

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