Power to Remove Difficulties:
Section 30 of the RTI Act stipulates as follows:
“If any difficulty arises in giving effect to the provisions of the RTI Act, the Central Government may, by order published in the Official Gazette, make such provisions not inconsistent with the provisions of this Act as appear to it to be necessary or expedient for removal of the difficulty: Provided that no such order shall be made after the expiry of a period of two years from the date of the commencement of this Act”
(i) All organisations listed in the Second Schedule have to appoint PIOs. Appeals against orders of PIOs should lie with CIC/SICs.
(ii) Provision should be made to include annual confidential reports, examination question papers and related matters in the exemptions under the RTI Act.
(iii) Provision has to be made for designation and notification of Appellate Authority for each public authority.
(iv) The CIC and the SICs should be entrusted with the task of monitoring effective implementation of Right to Information in all public authorities.
(v) A National Coordination Committee (NCC) may be set up under the chairpersonship of the Chief Information Commissioner with the nodal Union Ministry, the SICs and representatives of States as members. A provision to this effect may be made under Section 30 of the Act by way of removing difficulties.
(vi) The following norms should be followed for determining applicability of the Act to non-governmental organizations.
- Organisations which perform functions that are ordinarily performed by government or its agencies, and those which enjoy natural monopoly should be brought within the purview of the Act.
- Norms should be laid that any institution or body that has received 50% of its annual operating costs, or a sum equal to or greater than Rs.1 crore, during any of the preceding 3 years should be understood to have obtained ‘substantial funding’ from the government for the period and purpose of such funding.
- Any information which, if it were held by the government, would be subject to disclosure under the law, must remain subject to such disclosure even when it is transferred to a non-government body or institution.
(vii) The stipulation of making available 20-year old records on request should be applicable only to those public records which need to be preserved for such a period. In respect of all other records, the period of availability will be limited to the period for which they should be preserved under the record keeping procedures.
If any public authority intends to reduce the period upto which any category of record is to be kept, it shall do so after taking concurrence of the CIC/SIC as the case may be.
(viii) It may be provided that information can be denied if the work involved in processing the request would substantially and unreasonably divert the resources of the public authority.
Provided that such a refusal shall be communicated within 15 days of receipt of application, with the prior approval of the appellate authority.
Provided further that all such refusals shall stand transferred to CIC/SIC, as the case may be and the CIC/SIC shall dispose the case as if it is an appeal under section 19(3) of the RTI Act.
Right to Information law of 2005 signals a radical shift in our governance culture and permanently impacts all agencies of state.
The effective implementation of this law depends on three fundamental shifts: from the prevailing culture of secrecy to a new culture of openness; from personalized despotism to authority coupled with accountability; and from unilateral decision making to participative governance.
Its effective application depends largely on the institutions created, early traditions and practices, attendant changes in laws and procedures, and adequate participation of people and the public servants.
The Commission firmly believes that the Official Secrets Act, 1923 in the current form is antiquated and unsuitable to emerging needs.
The second set of issues relates to implementation of the RTI Act itself, in particular process engineering, record keeping, disclosures, access and monitoring.
It is well recognized that right to information is necessary, but not sufficient, to improve governance.
A lot more needs to be done to usher in accountability in governance, including protection of whistle blowers, decentralization of power and fusion of authority with accountability at all levels.
Nevertheless, this law provides us a priceless opportunity to redesign the processes of governance, particularly at the grass roots level where the citizens’ interface is maximum.