Saturday, June 09, 2018

Move on from RTI, to duty to publish

Economic Times: Edit Page: Saturday, June 09, 2018.
Right to Information (RTI) activists have reportedly sought the Supreme Court’s mediation to direct the government to swiftly appoint information commissioners.
Their public interest litigation seeks a directive to initiate the appointment process four months before a post falls vacant. This makes eminent sense. As the retirement dates of information commissioners are pre-determined, succession planning must be done well in advance to prevent a pile up of RTI appeals. Reportedly, 23,500 appeals are pending before the CIC.
The backlog in states, including Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka, is also huge. This is unacceptable and defeats the goal of the RTI Act that is meant to empower citizens and promote transparency in the working of the government.
Citizens should have the right to know what the government proposes to do about something of vital interest to them, even without asking a query.
This requires the government to steadily move on to a new paradigm, duty to publish. It must put in the public domain information proactively.
The RTI Act mandates public authorities to provide “as much information suo-motu to the public at regular intervals”. Implementing this is no rocket science.
The government should hold back only state secrets, information that could harm the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State or friendly relations with foreign States, and actively publish the rest on its website. The CIC can determine what should not be published.
It is eminently feasible for every department to apply this norm to the information it generates, and upload on its website all the information that can be made public. This will reduce both the number of RTI appeals, and the personnel needed to respond to them.