Wednesday, 19 May, 2021

Stop Abusing RTI

P. Khatri

Right to Information (RTI) is all about making citizens informed. When citizens are well informed, democracy, human rights and its values remain lively and functional. It strengthens citizen's sovereignty. Sweden is the first country in the world to enact the RTI law in 1766. As of 2020, more than 119 countries have adopted RTI. European countries are the first ones to champion the RTI while Asian ones are also practising it. Latin American countries are ahead in its implementation.
Generally speaking, RTI empowers journalists as well as public to seek information from the government and public offices. They can even ask for copies of important documents, which the State provides to them only after it is assured that sovereignty, integrity and confidentiality are not breached. Although RTI promotes transparency and accountability, of late it has been abused by none other than a section of media people.
Recently, Minister for Communication and Information Technology Parbat Gurung claimed that media had abused RTI and called for exercising it properly. He insisted that there were trends of filling an application at the National Information Commission (NIC) seeking RTI on particular issue from particular offices but those RTI seekers had been preoccupied with the mindset to damage, tarnish and pollute particular personalities and institutions.
In many cases, right to information has not been properly utilised in right place and with its real purpose. Some are hell-bent on making RTI a weapon and have indulged in blackmailing people to fulfill their vested interest. On the other hand, some government officials and groups of activists portray themselves as RTI campaigners. They tried to control it, keeping people and media at bay. Such acts only trigger social disorder and disharmony with rise in fake news.
Government officials are obliged to provide information unless they are subject to keep confidential and secret as defined by the constitution, but it is the responsibility of the applicants not to abuse the acquired information.
At present, there are two opposite trends in the realm of information dissemination. One group of people is in search of flow of genuine and impartial information but another group is exploiting it to meet their petty interest. This impedes citizen's right to get the right and verifiable information to clear their viewpoint on a particular issue.
Currently, there has been poor implementation of RTI at the local level. Secretary at the National Information Commission (NIC) Dr. Mukunda Prasad Poudyal concedes that of the total 1,013 complaints lodged at the Commission during the last fiscal year (2019/20), 53 per cent were not be implemented.
According to him, 20 per cent of such unimplemented cases are related to non-governmental organisations while 10 per cent are related to education, health and sports, seven per cent economic sector. The remaining cases are associated with the information and communication and land, forest and agriculture sectors. As a governing body of RTI, the NIC should keep tabs on information being abused and take steps to minimise it.