Skip to main content

Apply, apply, no reply? RTI faces quiet death as CIC is all set to go into 'lockdown mode'

By Rosamma Thomas* 

In September 2023, twenty-four hours after being released by police after 10 days of questioning by Karnataka police in a case of theft of a motorcycle, Muniraju, a 24-year-old villager in Andhra Pradesh, died. 
Karnataka police did not publish details of the arrest on their website, as required by law; when a concerned citizen sought CCTV footage of the police station, that request was stonewalled by the Public Information Officer (PIO) of the Nangali Police Station in Kolar district, where the questioning occurred. 
The PIO at first declined the request for footage citing privacy concerns, and later claimed that the cameras were not functioning. The Karnataka Information Commission imposed a fine of Rs 25,000 on the PIO, to be deducted from his salary; orders were also issued to submit a report about the compliance with the December 2020 judgment of the Supreme Court seeking functional CCTV cameras in all police stations.
Transparency in the actions of those in authority is one – and usually the surest – way to prevent abuse of power and ensure justice when abuse occurs. In Muniraju’s case, the life that is lost cannot be retrieved; the fact that this was a custodial killing could only be established because of the intervention of one concerned citizen who used the Right to Information Act.
October 12, 2023 marked 18 years since the Right to Information became law. "The Hindu" reported recently that over three lakh appeals and complaints were pending before the information commissions, established under the Right to Information Act, 2005. A release from Press Information Bureau commemorating 18 years of RTI noted that over 3.5 lakh second appeals and complaints had been disposed of by the Central Information Commission (CIC) in these years.
The last Chief Information Commissioner was YK Sinha, whose tenure ended on October 3, 2023. For the fifth time now, since August 2014, the Central Information Commission  is headless. A five-storey building was constructed in Munirka, Delhi, to house the CIC at great expense. 
 Buildings alone, however, do not make institutions. There ought to be at least 10 information commissioners at the CIC; there are currently only four. Even the term of these four will expire in November – will the CIC then go into “lockdown mode”?
Transparency activist Commodore Lokesh Batra says: 
“Unlike courts where acting chief justices are invariably appointed, the RTI Act does not make provision for such appointments. There is no ‘Acting Chief Information Commissioner’. Thus, a vacant position means several administrative and financial decisions remain in limbo.”
There ought to be at least 10 information commissioners at CIC. There are currently only four, and their term will expire in November
On October 6, 2023, in response to an application from Commodore Batra, the Department of Personnel and Training released a list of 80 names of people who had applied for the position of Chief Information Commissioner, four of them marked “late applications”. 
An advertisement seeking applications for the position was issued on August 7. In December 2022, an advertisement was issued for filling vacancies of information commissioners at the CIC – 256 applications were received in response to that advertisement. Yet, the government appears in no hurry to fill vacant positions.
Satark Nagrik Sanghatan, a citizens’group, compiled a report card of the information commissions across the country, and noted that 3,21,537 appeals and complaints are pending, with the backlog rising incessantly. 
Four information commissions – Jharkhand, Telangana, Mizoram and Tripura – are defunct now, as no new information commissioners were appointed once incumbents demitted office. Six information commissions are currently headless, including the Central Information Commission. 
 Relevant information was available for 28 information commissions across the country, and this is what the citizens’ group accessed and analyzed in the report. Using average monthly disposal rate and pendency, the group assessed that West Bengal State Information Commission would take 24 years to dispose a matter, while 10 information commissions would take one year or more. In over 90 per cent of cases where a fine could have been imposed, no fine was imposed.
*Freelance journalist



'Very low rung in quality ladder': Critique of ICMR study on 'sudden deaths' post-2021

By Bhaskaran Raman*  Since about mid-2021, a new phenomenon of extreme concern has been observed throughout the world, including India : unexplained sudden deaths of seemingly healthy and active people, especially youngsters. In the recently concluded Navratri garba celebrations, an unprecedented number of young persons succumbed to heart attack deaths. After a long delay, ICMR (Indian Council for Medical Research) has finally has published a case-control study on sudden deaths among Indians of age 18-45.

SC 'appears to foster' culture of secrecy, does not seek electoral bond details from SBI

By Rosamma Thomas*  In its order of November 2, 2023 on the case of Association for Democratic Reforms vs Union of India contesting constitutional validity of electoral bonds, the Supreme Court directed all political parties to give particulars of the bonds received by them in sealed covers to the Election Commission of India. SC sought that information be updated until September 2023. 

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Only 12% of schools RTE compliant: Whither 6% budgetary allocation for education?

By Ambarish Rai* Despite Indian state’s commitment of 6% GDP on education, the Finance Minister completely ignored right to education for children and strengthening implementation of RTE Act which makes education a fundamental right in her budget speech . The Right to Education (RTE) Forum, which is a collective of different stakeholders in education, condemns this neglect of a legal entitlement, which is unconstitutional and demand for overall increase in the budget to ensure improvement in learning outcomes and overall enhancement of quality education.

Savarkar in Ahmedabad 'declared' two-nation theory in 1937, Jinnah followed 3 years later

By Our Representative One of the top freedom fighters whom BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi revere the most, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, was also a great supporter of the two nation theory for India, one for Hindus another for Muslims, claims a new expose on the man who is also known to be the original proponent of the concept of Hindutva.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

'Ambiguous policy': India late in advocating EVs as energy storage in national grid

By Shankar Sharma*  This is regarding the points raised by the Chief Electricity Authority’s (CEA's) advocacy for usage of electrical vehicles (EVs) as energy storage technology, and few associated issues . An objective reading of what he states should reiterate the enormously growing importance of battery energy storage systems (BESS) in our need to transition to a net-zero carbon scenario for the country.

Union Health Ministry, FSSAI 'fail to respond' to NHRC directive on packaged food

By Our Representative  The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has expressed deep concern over the adverse health effects caused by packaged foods high in salt, sugar, and saturated fats. Recognizing it as a violation of the Right to Life and Right to Health of Indian citizens, the quasi-judicial body called for a response from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) regarding its selection of front-of-pack labels aimed at providing consumers with information to make healthier choices.

How national chauvinism 'overtook' sport despite cricketing glory of World Cup 2023

By Harsh Thakor*  The recently-concluded cricket World Cup was a testimony or manifestation of the thrills, intensity, twists and turns in sport and evolution of the game of cricket. It carried on the trend of the World Cups of yesteryears. Possibly, this was the best ever Indian team in a World Cup, and arguably amongst the best ever to contest a World Cup.