RTI Day: Citizens must keep transparency law alive despite weakened machinery

Bhubaneswar: Even though public establishments continue to destabilising the Right to Information (RTI) Act in India, citizens must keep the transparency law alive. Despite the opaqueness shown by all public authorities, despite pending second appeals in information commissions across the country and despite the government having further diluted its strength, the enthusiasm of the citizenry to use this sunshine law is encouraging, said speakers at a function to mark RTI Day here on Thursday.

Inaugurating the function organised by Department of Public Administration and Journalism & Mass Communication, Utkal University at PG Council Hall, senior journalist and former State Information Commissioner (SIC) Dilip Bisoi said the RTI Act would have been many times more effective and powerful if proactive disclosures under section 4 of the law had been put up and updated from time to time on all websites of public authorities. This is mandatory but is deliberately kept on the back-burner, he said.

Speaking on the occasion, Chairperson of PG Council, Utkal University Prof. Navaneeta Rath highlighted the needs of information revolution in the world. After political and industrial revolutions, now it’s time for information revolution where evolution of communication barriers is being bridged by empowering citizens. There should be a comprehensive study to assess the positive impacts of RTI Act which has not been done so far. “Despite criticisms, we shouldn’t ignore the positive benefits that really arise out of the use of RTI. Let the nation not get an impression that RTI is a failure because it really isn’t true. RTI is not a failure. It’s a resounding and enormous success,” she said.

Advocate & former Additional Secretary to Govt, Home Department, Govt. of Odisha Shribhushan Sukla said while the Congress government, in the earlier days of RTI, attempted to remove file notings from the RTI Act but did not succeed, two regressive amendments to the RTI Act in the last five years—in  2019 and 2023—severely diluted the law.

The 2019 amendments dealt a blow to the autonomy of information commissions by empowering the Central government to determine the tenure, salaries and terms of service of all information commissioners in the country. In August 2023, the Digital Personal Data Protection Act (DPDP Act) was passed which included an explicit provision to amend section 8(1)(j) of the RTI law to exempt all personal information from disclosure. Further, the DPDP Act deleted the proviso to section 8(1) which stated that information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person, he added.

While Head of the Department (HOD) Dr. Pratima Sarangi presented the welcome address, Asst. Professor of Public Administration Dr. Hemanta Kumar Dash offered vote of thanks. A demonstration on filing of RTI applications and appeals was made by ICSSR Doctoral Fellow of J&MC, Utkal University Manoranjan Panda.

Students from the department, BJB Autonomous College, Institute of Media Studies, AMIT, Ravenshaw University, KIIT School of Mass Communication and other colleges attended the RTI Day celebration-cum-workshop.