15 Years of RTI: Success, Challenges and Way Forward

By Sudheer Kumar K|Updated : November 29th, 2020

Recently, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has rejected an RTI application seeking details of the PM CARES Fund (which is used for Covid-19 relief), stating that the fund is not a public authority under the Act. Also, RTI has completed 15 years of implementation this year.  In these contexts, we will be discussing the challenges in the implementations of RTI to account public authorities effectively and ensure good governance. 

Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005

The government functioning before the RTI Act was characterised by:

  • Secrecy: Citizens didn’t know how public authorities make decisions and spend money on programmes. Nobody knew what was happening in government offices.
  • Unaccountability: Officers and political executives were not answerable to citizens for their actions or omissions and commissions.
  • This secrecy and unaccountability led to the denial of services, red-tapism, corruption and ultimately bad governance.

The Idea of RTI Act in India was floated by the former Prime Minister of India, Shri. V.P. Singh in 1990. However, a civil society organisation ‘Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan’ had organised a campaign and demanded the enactment of Right to Information Act. Later, the Government of India enacted the Right to Information, RTI Act in 2005.

Key Features of the RTI Act, 2005

  • The Act guaranteed citizens the Right to Information.
  • Information can be obtained within 30 days from the date of request in the general case. If the information is a matter of life or liberty of a person, it can be obtained within 48 hours from the time of the request.
  • Every public authority is under obligation to provide information in written or by electronic means (email).
  • Certain pieces of information enlisted under Section 8 (prejudicially affect the security, sovereignty and integrity of India, etc.) and 9 (infringement of copyright, etc.)are prohibited.
  • Restrictions are made for third party information.
  • Second Appeal: If the aggrieved person is not satisfied with the decision of the Central Information Commission or State Information Commission, he can appeal to such officer who is senior in rank.

RTI is an instrument to empower citizens and ensure accountability in public offices. The basic objectives of RTI are to:

  • Empower the citizens
  • Promote transparency and accountability in the working of the Government
  • Eliminate corruption
  • Ensure democracy

The Act is a big step towards making the citizens informed about the activities of the Government.

Success of RTI

  • For the past fifteen years, the RTI Act has been instrumental in revealing a list of major scams including- Adarsh Society Scam, 2G Spectrum Scam, Commonwealth Games Scams etc.
  • Exposed governments unilateral decisions, for example, announcing Demonetisation by the Prime Minister without RBI nod,
  • Exposed banks to report 23,000 loan fraud cases in 5 years.
  • Exposed bureaucratic corruption, for example, found Madhya Pradesh cadre IAS officer couple guilty of squandering money in Indian Red Cross Society Scam, etc.
  • In many cases, RTI helped the common man as a weapon to get his services delivered. For example, in Rajasthan, a few villagers used the Act to get all records of their ration shop in Himmatsar village and by exposing how grains meant for the poor were being black-marketed at a ration shop in Bikaner district and got the dealer removed.

Constraints in Effective Implementation of the RTI Act

PricewaterhouseCoopers conducted a performance survey of RTI in 2009. It observed the following constraints:

Issues faced on the “Demand Side”

  • Non-availability of User Guides for RTI implementation for information seekers.
  • Lack of assistance in filing the application: Under Section 5(3) of the RTI Act, it is expected of the PIO to assist citizens in drafting RTI applications.
  • Non-friendly attitude of the PIOs: Unruly behaviour discourages the citizens from filing RTI applications.
  • Poor quality of information provided: More than 75% of the citizens are dissatisfied with the quality of information being provided.
  • Inadequate awareness of this provision of the RTI Act: This inadequacy can be linked to inadequate awareness of the citizens and inadequate training of the PIOs to utilise this provision effectively.

Issues faced on the “Supply Side”

  • Failure to provide information within 30 days
  • Inadequate trained PIOs and First Appellate Authorities: Frequent transfers changes in the PIOs add to the challenge.
  • Lack of Behavioural training: Training provided to the PIOs is restricted only to the RTI Act.
  • Need an external agency for training:
  • Ineffective record management system and collection of information from field offices leading to delay in the processing of RTI applications: As per Section 4(1a) of the Act, a Public Authority needs “to maintain all its records duly catalogued and indexed in a manner and form which facilitates the Right to Information under this Act and ensure that all records that are appropriate to be computerised.
  • There is lack of any electronic document management system in any of the Departments. The PIOs surveyed do not even maintain the list of RTI applications electronically.
  • In addition to lack of resources, PIOs lack the motivation to implement the RTI Act.
  • Ineffective implementation of Section 4(1) (b): The PIOs are also not aware that they can disseminate information on suo-moto. None of the Proactive Disclosures on the websites had a time stamp.

Issues faced at Information Commissions

  • High level of pendency
  • Perception of being “lenient” towards PIOs: Perception of less number of penalties being imposed.
  • Lack of Monitoring and Review mechanism: Chapter V of the RTI Act lays down the role of State Information Commission as a second Appellate Authority and activities like promotion of RTI usage and establishment of a monitoring framework have been entrusted with the appropriate Governments. But there is no clear division of responsibilities between the State Information Commission and the Nodal Department in terms of monitoring the implementation of the RTI Act.

Some other challenges include:

  • As many as 40 RTI activists were killed thereby discouraging even urban educated person to use the RTI.
  • Exclusion of law enforcement agencies from the Act hides larger issues from public view.
  • The conflict between RTI act and official secrets act: Official Secrets Act prohibits disclosure of information, while the RTI Act mandates disclosure of information.
  • Non-appointment of Chief Information Commissioner (CIC): It means, without a head, it is not possible to administer or manage affairs of the Central Information Commission.
  • About 2 Lack appeals and complaints were pending as on July 2020. This is due to non-appointment of commissioners in the Information Commissions in a timely manner.
  • The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019 would further dilute the Act.

Way Forward

  • PIOs must be trained to provide assistance to the applicants as per Section 5(3) of the Act.
  • The government shall partner with NGOs and Civil Society organisations in training PIOs.
  • Manage official records as per the record management guidelines- cataloguing and indexing in easily retrievable electronic form.
  • Public Authorities have to enhance the level of ownership to ensure RTI delivery as per the spirit of the Act.
  • Union government must revoke the amendments made to the RTI Act forthwith and take necessary steps so as to make it more effective. 


Already the RTI Act in its current position has been a toothless monster. And killing it by removing key provisions that ensure independent functioning of CIC and ICs will make it redundant. The plank of the government of the day, which has been minimum government and maximum governance for achieving Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikas, Sab ka Vishwas, will remain just a slogan, but not materialise.

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