New Delhi: Twelve years after it was set up under the Right To Information (RTI) Act, the Central Information Commission has a new address -- a five-storey environment friendly building in south Delhi, fitted with information technology and video conference facilities. Earlier, the highest appellate authority for RTI complaints used to function from two rented accommodations.
"The greatest asset of a democracy is an empowered citizen. Over the last 3.5 years we have created the right environment that nurtures informed and empowered individuals," said Prime Minister Narendra Modi who inaugurated the new premises.
At a time when activists have accused the government of holding back information, PM Modi said like the RTI Act, serious attention should be paid to "Act Rightly".
"Many times it has been seen that some people misuse the rights given to the public for personal gains. The burden of such wrong attempts is borne by the system".
Activists say the government is yet to walk the talk on transparency, and anti-corruption laws await proper implementation.
A Lokpal is yet to be appointed, four years after the law was put in place. The chief information commissioner was appointed by the present government after activists went to court. Of the 11 posts of information commissioner, four are vacant and four more retire this year.
"No one knows why there is such a massive delay in appointments. If for routine appointments, citizens have to go to court, what state of transparency are they talking about," said activist Anjali Bhardwaj.
Activists argue that though the prime minister has a page dedicated to transparency on his website, 24 per cent of the RTI queries in 2015-16 went unanswered despite being in the permissible category, says Venkatesh Nayak of Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.
"In RTI, there is so much of unhappiness because one is unable to extract information. In fact, the government has closed shutters... transparency on the whole is a terrible track record and four years down the line inaugurating a building will not solve the problem," said rights activist Nikhil Dey.
In the annual budget for 2018-19, funds for the head "CIC and RTI" have been cut by 63 per cent. And 65 RTI activists have died since the law came into being.