Question: You are a Public Information Officer (PIO) in a government department. The act has functioned as a check on the supposedly arbitrarily administrative behaviour and actions. However, as a PIO you have observed that there are citizens who filed RTI applications not for themselves but on behalf of such stakeholders who purportedly want to have access to information to further their own interests. At the same time there are these RTI activists who routinely file RTI applications and attempt to extort money from the decision makers. This type of RTI activism has affected the functioning of the administration adversely and also possibly jeopardises the genuineness of the applications which are essentially aimed at getting justice.
What measures would you suggest to separate genuine and non-genuine applications? Give merits and demerits of your suggestions.
Answer: RTI is one of the pillars of transparency in governance that ensures that government functions in a just and fair manner. But it has been blatantly misused for political gains as well as a tool for blackmail. It is a challenge to identify and stop misuses of this novel provisions.
Measures to separate genuine and non genuine applications
- Screening committee
A screening committee has to be constituted that will study the RTI applications in order to segregate genuine applications from non-genuine ones. This will surely help in reducing the unnecessary efforts in providing the information, which could be blatantly misused.
- The screening committee will shortlist the genuine applications thereby reducing the paperwork and efforts taken by official to furnish the details.
- It will also prevent RTI from becoming a tool in hands of miscreants to be used unethically.
The decision of the screening committee should be non partial and genuine. Any other intentions of the members will make this process a failure.
- Background and history check
The background check of the applicant has to be conducted in order to understand the intentions behind the application. Efforts should be put to identify of the concerned individual has any previous history of either blackmail or political intentions.
This will provide the proof for denying the information citing the previous activities of the applicant, which could prevent misuse of information.
- This measure is a time consuming effort as it involves studying previous history as well checking on the activity of the applicant.
- There are chances of misleading regarding details of applicant due to intervention of vested interests. This may lead to dead end.
- Creation of RTI courts
This measure can be a real game changer due to its validity as a genuine body to look into cases related to RTI. This court can also decide on the extent of the information that could be furnished. The judges must be former judges of Supreme Court or High courts.
It removes chances of allegations that could have been levied against the screening committee due to its non statutory nature.
The biggest demerit would be the time that will be consumed in RTI process. This will kill the very purpose RTI was formed.
Thus, identifying genuinity of RTI application is one of biggest challenge. There should be efforts to reduce the workload on information officials so that better usage of the provision can be carried out.