The RTI regime failed India during Covid-19 -Yashovardhan Azad

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published Published on Jun 5, 2020   modified Modified on Jun 6, 2020

-Hindustan Times

Responses have been elusive on critical issues, including health care infra, PM Cares fund, schemes, and migrants

In the lethal jaws of a pandemic, when lives and livelihoods are at stake, the information law of a democracy is expected to live up to its responsibilities — to empower the citizens and to ensure transparency and accountability. Free flow of information is an essential component of crisis management. And this is a crisis like no other.

However, during these trying times, instead of proving its rigour and tenacity, the Right to Information (RTI) regime failed to deliver. People merely turned into passive consumers of media reports, TV debates, advertisements, and press releases churned out by various departments which cannot replace the regime of transparency upheld by the RTI Act. The need of the hour in such adversity is to share data nationwide and reply to RTI queries to clarify doubts, dissipate insecurity, and bolster people’s faith in the information system.

After the lockdown was imposed on March 25, the Central Information Commission (CIC) was perhaps the only one out of the total 29 commissions in the country to start work on April 20. As per a telephonic survey conducted by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), during the first and second phase of the lockdown, the State Information Commissions (SICs) just remained dormant.

Information on critical issues eluded the public. A query, under the RTI, seeking details of PM Cares fund was denied by the Prime Minister’s Office, stating it is not a public authority and the State Bank of India refused to give these details on the ground that it was third party information held under fiduciary capacity. This violates the basic axiom that the public must have access to the details of a public fund. The CIC, in two separate decisions, had directed that information to queries on PM and CM Relief Funds must be given. The matter is pending in the high court since 2018 but no stay was given on CIC’s decision.

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Hindustan Times, 5 June, 2020,

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