The Congress party-led government that drafted the Right To Information (RTI) Act in 2005 touted the law as one of its success stories for the average Indian in the last election. Whether it played any role in the election’s outcome is difficult to say, but activists who specialize in RTI requests throughout India say that government workers have found many ways to frustrate their attempts to get responses to their questions.
Filing an RTI is easier than it used to be, but extracting information is getting harder each year, said Neeraj Goenka, an RTI activist in Sitamarhi, a town in the state of Bihar.
“Bihar government brought a number of amendments to the RTI act to discourage people from asking questions. Bureaucracy is totally dominant here also like in any other state,” he said. “From top to bottom, everyone knows how the information can either be denied or delayed, and the application keeps moving from one authority to the other for months.”
An RTI works like this: a citizen files a request for information to a state office, and the office is required by federal law to respond in 30 days. The trouble is, a lax attitude toward enforcing the turnaround time coupled with an overburdened bureaucracy can lead to slower or absent responses.
A report this week said 66,000 RTI complaints and appeals are pending.
Goenka said that he filed a request in 2012 to find out what kind of penalties bureaucrats received for various mistakes on the job, and has received no information. “I filed a first appeal also, but in vain. If this is the situation with the information commission itself, which is supposed to be the guardian of RTI, you can easily imagine the rest of the scenario,” he said.