Sensible to make RTI replies public

Since its enactment and implementation nine years ago, the Right to Information Act (RTI) has shown what genuine democracy can mean in practice and the power it gives the ordinary citizen to expose wrongdoing of people and governments in authority. The RTI, thanks to some perceptive questions by citizens, has frequently managed to prise open the iron curtain behind which governments usually try to sugar-coat decisions and deceive the public. Producing information in the public realm has managed to unseat top-ranking ministers, open investigations into the working of ministries and brought about changes in laws to make them more people-friendly. The RTI Act, therefore, has turned into a bugbear for the bureaucracy. Governments have attempted to alter its provisions angering activists who fear the law is being diluted. Bucking the trend, the Union government’s latest decision to publish replies to RTI applicants on the website of the ministries or public authority is a welcome step that aims to promote transparency.  
Until now, replies under the RTI Act were sent only to the applicants by post. This led to situations where similar questions were asked by various individuals several times over.

A directive which came into effect on October 31 will mean that questions by RTI applicants to which answers have already been given need not be repeated as the applicant can check the website concerned before sending in questions. This will save a lot of time, effort and money. The long wait list of applicants too will be reduced to some extent if repetitions are avoided. One more positive outcome is that information officers will be forced to give comprehensive replies as they will be accessible to all.

The directive issued by the Centre’s Department of Personnel and Training on October 21 states that it is in pursuance of an earlier order issued on April 15, 2013 by the previous Congress-led government which was not implemented. While the order states that all information must be available on the website, there is a line which says where that does not serve public interest, it need not be published. This is heartening as otherwise, information on private individuals which could have embarrassed them need not appear on the website. The directive also states that the applicants’ names will be published along with the replies. While this has raised questions about privacy and whether it will endanger the RTI applicant, what overrides this fear in favour of public listing of all information is that in many cases, the applicants themselves release the information to the media where the applicants are duly credited and their names made public.

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