Few takers for the RTI Act

Ineffective reform

The Right to Information (RTI) Act 2005 is a blessing in disguise. While the procedure may seem tedious to some, the fundamental right that it stands for puts power into the hands of the common man.

This Republic Day, Metrolife speaks to RTI activists in the City to understand how the act is being used by the people in the City.

According to RTI activist Umapathi S, only a limited percentage of people are using the act.

“The current approach is to file applications only when services aren’t being met as a means of addressing public grievance. But the purpose of RTI is to ensure accountability and transparency. The problem is that people don’t know that it has a wider scope.

The awareness isn’t up to the expected level and the responsibility of doing that should be placed on the state government. Another issue is
 that people are scared of exposing officials as they feel they’ll be threatened even though this rarely happens,” he says.

N Vikramsinha of Mahithi Hakku Adhyayana Kendra has been an RTI activist since 2000. While he acknowledges that Bangalore has an active RTI community, he finds that ‘the current trends are nullifying the effect at every
 stage’.

“The activism is higher than other cities but people are only making applications about the BBMP, BDA and BSNL. The biggest problem is that we cannot get any authentic statistics or information in Karnataka.

Unlike the Central information website where all the information is available with one search, the Karnataka Information Commission (KIC) website requires the applicant to know the name of the petitioner, responder or case number. We keep reminding them to re-design it but they’re not inclined to for obvious reasons. The information we get is mostly from our own sources,” he informs.

In 2011, a forum was created to facilitate dialogue between the KIC, active citizens and the department of personnel and administrative reforms.

 “We met quarterly but that system has been discontinued since the appointment of the new chief information commissioner AKM Nayak. The problem most applicants face is delay in the process and eventually, no information being procured. Rectifying this will require continuous vigilance and persuasion on the part of citizens,” adds Vikramsinha.
R Manohar, an independent RTI activist for the last 20 years, notes, “It’s a fundamental right that needs to be enforced. Some activists and NGOs are using the act. But it’s essentially been ineffective in the recent past because officers know how to manipulate the situation. They frequently reject the application and render the file ‘untraceable’, which leaves the petitioner with nobody to blame.”
However, Ravindra Nath Guru, who runs an NGO called Coalition against Corruption, is optimistic about the RTI community and says that not only activists but common people are also using it.
“There’s no point in playing the blame game till people start asking questions about why concerned authorities aren’t doing their job. For example, if garbage isn’t being collected, citizens can apply for the work order and make sure that it’s followed. There needs to be an increasing awareness about the RTI Act with the increasing number of information seekers,” he says.

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