By Sant Kumar Sharma
Jammu: It was interesting to note that the issue of misuse of the Right to Information (RTI) Act came up in the Rajya Sabha some days ago. On April 28, Parliamentarians cutting across party lines criticized RTI Act for its misuse by some people. Without a doubt, cases of misuse of the RTI Act have been very large. But a conservative estimate puts the quantum at about one per cent of all RTI applications received in all offices.
In our state of Jammu and Kashmir too, the information that is not available otherwise is taken out by filing RTI applications. Some lawyers use the provisions of the J&K RTI Act, 2009, to help their clients. But these days, the State Information Commission (SIC) is barely alive. As Information Commissioner S K Sharma and Chief Information Commissioner G R Sufi have retired. In their places, no new appointments have been made so far.
The Act itself, however, provides effective remedies to deal with such petitions without wasting much time. It has in-built mechanism to prevent the misuse of the RTI Act. The problem arises because most public authorities are not aware of such provisions due to lack of proper training. More than 50 per cent petitions can be reduced if the governments take stringent measures to ensure implementation of very important section (4) of RTI Act on suo motu disclosures. Further petitions, and applications under the RTI Act can be reduced if, and when, Griviances Redressal Bill is passed.
In fact, even public authorities misuse provisions of the RTI Act on queries relating to malpractices of persons on high posts. Like Directorate of Estates in UPA regime usually used to unnecessarily transfer queries relating to encroachment and trespass. For example, of government bungalow number 6, Krishna Menon Marg, New Delhi, to a large number of CPWD offices even though information existed at the Directorate.
This was a part of unnecessary delaying tactics, meant mainly to frustrate the applicant/s. Misuse by public can be largely curtailed by increasing RTI fees to Rs 50 with provision to provide first 20 copied pages free-of-cost.
It is not unusual for big contractors to file RTI petitions in name of casual labourers of BPL category. This helps them get copied documents free-of-cost, and thus provision of free providing of copied documents for people in BPL category can be abolished.
In a move aimed at streamlining things, DoPT had, issued a special Gazette Notification dated 31.07.2012. To stop such misuse of RTI Act, it imposed a word-limit of 500 words for filing RTI petitions, because some people had started filing RTI petitions of 50 pages or even more!
Any other dilution of the Act is perhaps not proper because the Act is not only proved to be curative, but also preventive in exposing and stopping scams and scandals. Misuse of every Act including even dowry Act and post-Nirbhaya Act is reported. Does that mean that India should be made a lawless country by abolishing each and every misused Act?