Thursday, April 03, 2008

CIC to clean its own house

India's RTI Act is supposed to be a way for all citizens to get information about records in the Government; it has been moderately successful, sometimes leading to great results, just by filing a simple form. However, it is dependent on Government departments maintaining records in a way that they can simply get access to such information when requested, and being in the spirit of RTI in providing such information. Towards this end, the CIC (Chief information Commissioner) has always pushed Government Departments to take further steps in this regard, including taking the action of penalizing the concerned officials when they are seen to be not acting on RTI requests.
However, as of now it seems that the emperor has no clothes. It seems a basic assumption that the RTI would be having a record of how many cases are currently open, how many have been closed successfully, and so on. Such records are fairly easy to do in the current age of computing, and are necessary if the performance of RTI Act needs to be evaluated. However, the CIC admitted that such records are not being maintained:

The Central Information Commission has been caught on the wrong foot after an RTI activist exposed how the commission — known for ticking off public authorities which fail to maintain records, leading to lack of transparency — is itself unable to furnish to the public information as basic as the number and status of cases and appeals pending with it. The reason: it maintains no such record.
"The CIC’s registry will take immediate steps to computerize and maintain a record of appeals/complaints admitted, date of hearing of each appeal, decision in each case with the state of announcement," the chief information commissioner decreed while deciding an RTI plea filed by Shruti Singh Chauhan.

It is good that the CIC has ordered keeping of such records. Like the RTI activist in this case, there are many others who will start to mine these records and find out how many Government departments are responsive, and how many are not. And using the media to apply pressure on unresponsive departments would be the next step. The RTI Act is a great first step in opening of information access, and it needs to be exploited to the maximum.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:11 PM