Ten Years of the Right to Information (RTI) Act: A Review

By Neha Mahal 

In 2015, the Right to Information act completed ten years, though amidst mixed opinions evaluating its journey so far. On one hand, there is a sense of rejoice for its role in establishing citizens’ right to seek information from public authorities. On the other hand, inaction on reforms needed for efficient implementation of the act have raised doubts over how far things have practically changed at the ground level. The reality of RTI act’s implementation lay somewhere in the middle of these two standpoints. In its decade long existence, the act has managed to bring transparency by exposing slew of corruption cases running into thousands of crores such as CWG, 2G and Adarsh society scam. But, accountability in the routine working of the public authorities is yet to take roots as majority of common citizens still find access to information difficult due to delays, supply of insufficient information and limited reach of the act.

Pendency: Key Barrier in Flow of Information

Citizen’s participation in everyday governance entails supply of information in due time. According to a study, pendency of cases in 23 Information Commissions (ICs) across India is 1, 98,7391. And, it takes at least a year for an appeal to come up for hearing before an IC. The resultant delay in accessing information undermines citizens’ right to know and redress individual grievances, access entitlements such as ration cards and pensions, investigate government policies and decisions, and expose corruption. One of the main reasons for high pendency of appeals with ICs is ineffective process of information supply at the level of Public authorities (PAs) during first application and subsequent first appeal2.

The information Seeker Survey found that “75 per cent of the citizens are dissatisfied with the quality of the information provided by PAs” 3. Even the process of first appeal does not yield substantial result. Except for first appeals filed with the central government or Delhi government, there is less than 4% chance of getting any information by filing a first appeal4. The reason behind such state of affairs is not only bureaucratic resistance to transparency but inefficient information collection and management system within government agencies5. As the files and information are dispersed across several offices of one department for lack of digitisation of records, it becomes difficult to provide information completely and timely on the part of PAs6.

Along with it, suppliers of information, the Public Information Officers (PIOs) are not properly equipped or trained to handle the responsibility of supplying information. According to a study, 45% of the PIOs have not undergone any form of training related to the RTI act7. Thus, lack of comprehensive capacity building efforts make it difficult for them to process the bulky information held by government agencies into legible one sought by citizens8. The IC report also observed that many cases may not have been brought up for adjudication if well informed PIOs had resolved the issue earlier9.

Impending administrative reforms

The obstructions faced by ICs and PAs in maintaining flow of information arise from weakening of SICs’ role as implementing agencies. Under section 18 of the central RTI act, SICs, along with disposing off 2nd appeals and complaints, are also responsible for supervising compliance of the act by PAs10. Recognizing the importance of modernization of record management by introducing information technology and capacity building of PIOs for proper implementation of the act, SICs have regularly recommended to their respective state governments to carry out these reforms. Yet, it eludes implementation because SICs do not have the authority to enforce its recommendations. The authority rests with the state governments which have so far shown negligible progress in implementing these recommendations11.

Lack of substantive authority also reduces capacity of SICs to uphold other channels of bringing in accountability in functioning of PAs. The RTI act allows SICs to impose penalty on PIOs for delaying or refusing the supply of information. Since, SICs lack power of enforceability of its orders, even penalties that are imposed are not recovered12. There is a connection between the number of penalties imposed and both the willingness of PIOs to make information available, and consequently, the number of appeals and complaints reaching information commissions. Hence, authority of SICs is an important dimension in tackling issues of information supply under RTI act.

Lack Of Ownership By State Government

Lack of ownership of the act by state governments has also resulted in scarcity of financial resources for the functioning of the act. Union Government, on the recommendation of the 2nd Administrative Reform Commission had advised state governments to earmark 1 % of the funds meant to implement major welfare schemes towards necessary reforms such as digitization of records and buying necessary infrastructure to provide information over a period of five years13. A study by Research And Advocay Group (RAAG) highlights that state governments have merely forwarded the circulars of Directorate of Personnel Training (DoPT) on RTI implementation guidelines to the Public Authorities without undertaking any financial or administrative reforms themselves14

Along with delaying reforms, scarcity of funds has thwarted initiative at the level of ICs to deal with issue of backlog of cases. ICs require competent and professional full time employees to help in preparing case backgrounds but there is no allocation in budget for such posts15. Thus, ICs have to make do with smaller and ad hoc staff lacking expertise which delays work adding to mounting pendency. Further down, an inadequate budget is available to public authorities at the district level to implement the RTI Act, be it in terms of undertaking training programmes for its officers, creating awareness about the Act, providing publicity material, user guides to the public and other related matters16. Lack of infrastructure with the public authorities at the district and village level makes dissemination of information about welfare schemes related to education, health and right to work practically impossible.

This has resulted in information divide between urban and rural areas. Urban areas have multiple sources to access information such as newspaper, radio and television, internet. While rural areas depend mostly on government channels to get information about initiatives and policies. The resultant gap reflects in the profile of RTI users. While majority of RTI applicants are BPL citizens but they live in urban areas (86%) and rural based users constitute miniscule proportion of users (14%)17. Limited access to RTI in rural areas eludes the objective of the act which was to enable free flow of information, especially, to the grassroots level.

To Conclude

RTI is a landmark legislation as it was enacted after a sustained demand and struggle from the grassroots level. It empowered ordinary citizen to question government accustomed to function in unbreachable secrecy. Where people and activists have been able to make use of RTI, results have been rewarding- from uncovering human rights violations in Hashimpura, to bringing transparency in IIT-JEE entrance exams and making MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee act) related information public.

Yet, a lot remains to be done to make transparency and accountability a regular feature of governance in India. The urban-rural divide in its access contradicts its foremost objective of bringing information and thus, empowerment to the masses at grassroots level. The lack of reforms denies citizens the opportunity to make governance people-centric. Given that the weakness of the RTI lies in its weak implementation, the next phase of RTI act needs to focus on increasing the authority of implementing agencies, especially SICs, of the act in order to set in motion the practical regime of RTI by ensuring much needed compliance from government agencies.

References:

  1. http://nebula.wsimg.com/93c4b1e26eb3fbd41782c6526475ed79?AccessKeyId=52EBDBA4FE710433B3D8&disposition=0&alloworigin=1
  2. Ibid.
  3. http://rti.gov.in/rticorner/studybypwc/key_issues.pdf
  4. Ibid.
  5. http://cic.gov.in/Sub-Com-1-Report/1_Title.pdf
  6. Ibid.
  7. http://nebula.wsimg.com/93c4b1e26eb3fbd41782c6526475ed79?AccessKeyId=52EBDBA4FE710433B3D8&disposition=0&alloworigin=1
  8. Ibid
  9. http://cic.gov.in/Sub-Com-1-Report/1_Title.pdf
  10. http://rti.gov.in/rti-act.pdf
  11. http://nebula.wsimg.com/93c4b1e26eb3fbd41782c6526475ed79?AccessKeyId=52EBDBA4FE710433B3D8&disposition=0&alloworigin=1
  12. http://cic.gov.in/Sub-Com-1-Report/1_Title.pdf
  1. http://persmin.gov.in/DOPT/RTICorner/Compendium/COMPENDIUM_Final.pdf
  2. http://nebula.wsimg.com/93c4b1e26eb3fbd41782c6526475ed79?AccessKeyId=52EBDBA4FE710433B3D8&disposition=0&alloworigin=1
  3. http://cic.gov.in/Sub-Com-1-Report/1_Title.pdf
  4. http://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/publications/rti/compliance_with_rti_act_survey.pdf
  5. http://nebula.wsimg.com/93c4b1e26eb3fbd41782c6526475ed79?AccessKeyId=52EBDBA4FE710433B3D8&disposition=0&alloworigin=1

The Global Health Impact Index: A Human Development Index for Health

By Nicole Hassoun (special guest contributor to CDHR)

LogoThe world is not on track to meet the sixth Millennium Development Goal to combat malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis (TB) — some of the world’s worst diseases. Millions of people with these diseases cannot access the essential medicines they need. A new Global Health Impact index can help us address this problem. It evaluates the impact of key drugs on malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS in every country in the world and provides something akin to a Human Development Index for health (global-health-impact.org).

On the Global Health Impact index, drugs are having the second greatest impact in India primarily because there is a great deal of successfully treated TB in India and also some successfully treated HIV/AIDS. In Nigeria, drugs for malaria are making a larger difference and, in South Africa, we are having more success in alleviating the burden of HIV/AIDS but having a much smaller impact on TB and malaria.

The index estimates drugs’ impact in each country based on assessments of the need for the drug (in disability adjusted life years lost to the disease states it treats), access to the drug (treatment coverage), and drug efficacy estimates (from, e.g., clinical trial data) in that country. You can learn more about the index by checking out our methodology and resources.

Because the index is focused on evaluating the global health impacts of key malaria, TB, and HIV/AIDS medicines available in each country in a rigorous way, and not on countries’ efforts or policies, countries’ scores depend on many other factors besides the nature of country-level health systems. They depend, for instance, on international aid efforts, and what other drugs are already around. That makes the Global Health Impact index a promising basis for incentivizing many organizations (governmental and non-governmental) to address the access to medicines problem and increase our collective global health impact. One can also see the overall impact we are having on the diseases and drug impact scores aggregated by originator-company.

Moreover, it is possible to partner with the Global Health Impact organization — a collaboration of scholars from universities and civil society organizations from around the world – to look at the determinants and consequences of global health impact. Researchers might consider, for instance, how countries’ levels of development affect, or are affected by, health impact.

Nicole H graph
Disease Burden (Disability Adjusted Life Years) Averted with Key Medicines in Each Country

The Global Health Impact index has the potential to foster great improvements to global health. It should be of interest to policy makers, researchers, companies, investors, and others interested in promoting global health. Although data alone will not solve any of the health problems people face, it can help many people secure essential medicines that save millions of lives every year.

For news about the project, see:

http://www.marketplace.org/topics/health-care/new-effort-ranks-drug-makers-impact

http://blogs.wsj.com/pharmalot/2015/01/23/a-new-index-measures-impact-pharma-has-on-infectious-diseases/

http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/01/8560712/suny-professor-indexes-pharma-companies-impact?news-image

Nicole HassounNicole Hassoun heads the Global Health Impact project intended to extend access to medicines to the global poor and is Associate Professor of philosophy at Binghamton University. From 2006-2012 she was an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University, affiliated with Carnegie Mellon’s Program on International Relations and the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Bioethics and Health Law. In 2009-2010, she held a postdoctoral position at Stanford University and visited at the United Nation’s World Institute for Development Economics Research. She has also been a visiting scholar at the Center for Poverty Research in Austria and the Center for Advanced Studies in Frankfurt. Her book Globalization and Global Justice: Shrinking Distance, Expanding Obligations was recently published with Cambridge University Press.

Strengthening civil society solidarity networks in global health

By Kaila Mintz (special to CDHR)

LogoAn independent global civil society solidarity movement is essential to effectively encourage, monitor, expose and critique institutional global health responses. Solidarity and mobilization on HIV/AIDS is generally the standard-bearer for other global health responses founded on human rights principles. Activist Mark Heywood, a founder of South Africa’s influential Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), notes that, “the game-changer was to be the rise of a global activist movement that reset the agenda for AIDS.”[1]

During the 45th Union World Conference on Lung Health, I witnessed the lessons and legacy of human rights-based collective activism around HIV/AIDS in action. My new colleagues in the global tuberculosis (TB) activist community pushed conference organizers to adopt strategies from International AIDS Conferences, such as establishing a civil society focal person in the conference secretariat, to better integrate civil society activism into discussions for a more effective global health response.

Given complex health interdependence and a lack of global government, some call for “international collective action” to displace the central role of states in global health.[2] However, local health systems and broader national and international policy frameworks, including free trade agreements, remain central to health outcomes. Beyond these high-level policy considerations, how can “Western” civil society and non-governmental organizations most appropriately support and build the capacity of “Southern” partners for advocacy? How can we help amplify a range of voices, while recognizing the multiple, interdependent benefits accrued through solidarity?

These are questions I have been contemplating lately, as global health engagement from the perspective of civil society solidarity is a relatively new area for me. Making a professional transition from the world of government diplomacy to civil society research and advocacy is necessitating a great deal of reflection, learning – and humility. Through this process, and with incredible mentors, I’m seeking to grasp how efforts to address the injustices that underpin and sustain global health challenges such as HIV and TB can be achieved in ways that are respectful, inclusive and responsive to the needs, concerns and strengths of partners around the world. In this spirit, these initial personal reflections are not meant to represent the views of my own organization or others.

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Is India’s tough stance on intellectual property under threat?

By G Pramod Kumar*

LogoAmidst the feel-good roadshow of Barrack Obama and Narendra Modi and the promise of $ 4 billion American investment, something critical to the survival of India and the rest of the developing world went under the radar – continuing pressure by America to dilute India’s intellectual property regime that saves the lives of millions of people in India and elsewhere.

In the name of doing more business in India, Obama raised it, yet again, at the CEO’s meet on Monday. In response, Modi said that India was willing to accept the suggestions  of a joint Indo-US working group on intellectual property rights. Its biggest impact will be on India’s health sector.

Modi’s promise is the beginning of a dangerous acquiescence to the dictates of America, which wants India to play by its intellectual property rules, whereas what India does is absolutely within its rights under the WTO (World Trade Organisation) framework. America wants to circumvent India’s WTO protection and meddle with its policy environment. In fact, two moves in the recent past – the constitution of the joint Indo-US working group on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), and a think-tank to draft a national IPR policy – appeared to have resulted from US pressure.

The American pharmaceutical industry has been peeved by India’s refusal to allow silly patents and ever-greening (patenting the same drugs with minor modifications), as well as it exercising its right of issuing compulsory licences for drugs that are vital for the health of its people. The attack on India’s intellectual property rights became intense after 2012, when the Indian patent controller allowed local production of an expensive cancer drug which reduced its price by 97 percent. What perhaps enraged them more is that just before Obama’s visit, the controller refused to grant patent to American pharmaceutical company, Gilead, for an extremely expensive drug for hepatitis C. The drug costs $ 1000 a pill in the US, while it can be produced locally at $ 1 a pill.

Continue reading Is India’s tough stance on intellectual property under threat?

Curbing illicit financial flows from Africa: Are existing initiatives achieving enough?

By Casey Sahadath (special to CDHR)

LogoIn the 2013-2014 Union Budget of India, the Government of India allocated 80,194 crore ($13.6bn USD) for rural development[1]. In the US, the President’s budget request for 2014 calls for $647 billion in national security spending[2]. The UK’s budget anticipates that the government will receive £167 billion ($280bn USD) in income tax revenue for the 2014-15 fiscal year[3]. Consider if that money were to disappear; India’s funds allocated for rural development, the entire defense budget of the United States, and all the tax revenue collected in the UK. These figures make an approximate total of $940 billion, a substantial amount of funds. In 2010, Global Financial Integrity (GFI) estimated that developing countries lost between $859 billion to $1.06 trillion annually to illicit financial flows (IFFs) between 2002 and 2006[4]. To put things into perspective consider what would happen if India, the US, and UK lost $940 billion annually for four consecutive years. What would be the effects on infrastructure, development, national security, and social services? Would these countries be able to meet debt obligations to their creditors, would they be able to reduce their deficits? What would be the effects of this asset loss on their citizens?

IFFs imageFor many in Africa, this has been a reality for decades. Despots, corrupt government officials and corrupt heads of state move billions of dollars from government coffers into lucrative, opaque bank accounts in jurisdictions which provide ironclad secrecy from nosy citizens and special rapporteurs tasked with monitoring corruption. Wealthy elites and corporations uninterested in paying tax on their incomes or revenue often incorporate themselves or their businesses in jurisdictions which provide a more favourable tax structure, stealing potential tax revenue away from countries that need it the most. As Mick Moore writes in the book Draining Development, IFFs diminish economic growth, reduce and stagnate state capacity, and ultimately exacerbate income inequality[5]. Instances of this theft in Africa, particularly among heads of state, have been well documented over the years; General Sani Abacha of Nigeria stole approximately $1.8 billion in cash from Nigeria’s central bank during his reign[6], 35 year incumbent President of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, took personal control over the national treasury in 2003 to fight corruption from corrupt bureaucrats[7] and subsequently deposited $700 million into American banks[8], and deceased ruler of Libya Muammar Gaddafi has assets hidden globally at a conservative estimate of $200 billion[9][10].

Continue reading Curbing illicit financial flows from Africa: Are existing initiatives achieving enough?

A PEEP at Another India: An evaluation of entitlement programs

By Jean Drèze and Reetika Khera with the PEEP Team*

(From our Bulletin Archives: originally published in June 2014)

LogoPerhaps you have heard of the Sahariyas, who used to be known in official jargon as a “Primitive Tribal Group”. Most of them are scattered on both sides of the border between Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, where they eke out a living from the shrinking forests, tiny plots of arid land, and menial labour. Their living conditions are among the most miserable in India, or in the world for that matter.

We first visited Baran district, on the Rajasthan side of this area, in 2002. At that time, Baran was in the news for a wave of starvation deaths among the Sahariyas. Nearly 50 children were said to have died of hunger, and many Sahariya families were surviving on sawaan, a wild grass.

Vivid memories of that visit include being puzzled at where the Sahariyas lived. There were no roads or even paths to reach their settlements and we often had to cross dry rocky riverbeds to reach them. Public facilities were virtually absent. Forced to fend for themselves, the Sahariyas survived from the sale of minor forest produce, earning barely ten or twelve rupees every other day. Exploitation was rampant – they were paid one-fifth or less of the market value of the products they gathered. Sandy hair, distended stomachs and other signs of child undernutrition were everywhere.

Continue reading A PEEP at Another India: An evaluation of entitlement programs

Building Women-Inclusive City Spaces: Why local urban governance matters

By Neha Mahal (CDHR)

LogoUrbanization and the question of women’s safety go hand in hand. Constant concern for safety from harassment is the major reason for women’s exclusion and thus inaccessibility to public spaces. This link between the dominant model of urbanization and exclusion of women from public spaces has been recognized as an area of intervention in post 2015 sustainable development goals under the urban SDG1. Mainstreaming of gender in urban development emphasizes women’s right to city by creating safer public spaces that allows them freedom of mobility.

In India, the 12th five year plan states the importance of including gender sensitivity in urban development2. Although the broader urban policy highlights the need for gender inclusive cities, its realization on the ground depends on institutionalizing this concern in everyday or local urban governance, a linkage which is missing in Indian cities.

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Needed: harassment-free public spaces for women

By Neha Mahal (CDHR)

(From our Bulletin Archives: originally published in June, 2014)

Street Harassment: The Story So Far

In every sphere, whether private or work, gender inequality is being intensely questioned. In the realm of the public space, however, it remains deeply ingrained and reproduced everyday through street harassment. Groping, lewd comments, stalking and staring at women on streets, market places, overcrowded public transport etc constitutes everyday harassment in public spaces which is often not openly discussed.

Delhi Metro

Research conducted by the NGO Jagori found that almost two out of every three women reported facing incidents of sexual harassment between 2-5 times in the past year.

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India’s Right to Information Act: Legitimate Exemptions or Conscious Secrecy?

Known Unknowns[1] of RTI Act in India: Legitimate Exemptions or Conscious Secrecy?

By Pankaj K P Shreyaskar[2]

[This article was previously published in the Economic and Political Weekly: Vol – XLIX No. 24, June 14, 2014]

LogoAfter almost more than eight years of RTI (Right to Information) Act’s coming to force in India, the process of accessing information is still up against impediments. The flow of information is restricted either on account of various public institutions not coming in the ambit of RTI Act or is argued that the information is exempt under various clauses of the Act. The paper, on the basis of select judgments/orders of the Central Information Commission (CIC) and the superior courts exhibits as to how the exemption clauses have been utilized to camouflage the disclosure norms including that of negating the applicability of RTI by several organizations. The paper also presents the contingency model for the Indian Right to Information Act, 2005.

  1. MILLIEU

“What’s wrong with open government? Why shouldn’t the public know more about what’s going on?”

“My dear boy, it’s a contradiction in terms. You can be open, or you can have government.”

“But surely the citizens of a democracy have a right to know?”

“No. They have a right to be ignorant. Knowledge only means complicity and guilt, ignorance has a certain dignity.” [3]

Sir Humphrey’s preachment about knowledge and ignorance provides me enough motivation to investigate into its veracity in the light of RTI Act. The RTI Act has been enacted “to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority, the constitution of a Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”[4].

Further the RTI Act, 2005 envisages “And whereas revelation of information in actual practice is likely to conflict with other public interests including efficient operations of the Governments, optimum use of limited fiscal resources and the preservation of confidentiality of sensitive information; And whereas it is necessary to harmonize these conflicting interests while preserving the paramountcy of the democratic ideal”.[5]

It is in this name of preservation of the confidentiality of information and the paramountcy of the democratic ideals that the organizations have advocated for exemption clauses vociferously and strategically, in some cases.

Continue reading India’s Right to Information Act: Legitimate Exemptions or Conscious Secrecy?

Citizens’ Charter in India: Delivering governance to people

By Neha Mahal (CDHR)

(From our Bulletin archives: originally published in June 2013)

LogoPetty corruption experienced by people in accessing basic and day-to-day public services from the government largely forms the basis of anti-corruption sentiments among people in India. A survey conducted jointly by Transparency International India and Centre for Media Studies in 2008 pointed out that below the poverty line households had paid a total of $ 177 million as bribe in 2007 alone to avail of basic public services such as public distribution system, education, water supply, electricity, health.

Despite making several public policies for bringing progress to people what fails them is inefficiency and corruption at the level of delivery. Lack of accountability and reliability in delivery of public goods and services poses problem for citizens who as a result fail to avail themselves of basic amenities and standard of life and hence lose out on development. Therefore, in response to tackle such widespread corruption and lethargy in public service delivery across India, the government had tabled ‘The Rights of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and redressal of their grievance bill 2011’ in parliament in 2012.

The bill is a step forward in the direction of removing the sluggishness which infests the public delivery system in India by introducing accountability and responsibility in governance. It will establish a mechanism in every department, organization or scheme having public interface under centre, state or Union Territory for timely delivery of public goods and services. In case of non-delivery and other malpractices, the bill allows the citizen to seek grievance redressal through making complaint at several levels thus creating the onus on public officers to assure provision of services and goods.

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