UPDATE: In their reply to our request for information on the disallowance of new users to register on the RTI online portal, the Department of Personnel and Training has now responded to us as follows:
(Fig. 1: The RTI response from DoPT)
The response cites the disallowance of new users to register as a ‘remedial action’ to ‘increase the response time’ [sic] and reduce the server load. However, no assessment has been provided to demonstrate whether such changes were necessary or how they have improved the efficiency of the RTI online portal. Further, the reply seems to equate the login option with the ‘view history’ feature.
The response of the department is unsatisfactory because:
- The newly added ‘VIEW HISTORY’ option has a mandatory field for the mobile number of the RTI applicant, while such is not the case when requesting information through the same portal. (see images)
It must be noted that the S.6(2) of RTI Act, 2005 does not mandate compulsory sharing of “any other personal details except those that may be necessary for contacting him”, and there is a provision to share an email address and the physical address of the applicant for the purpose of receiving either a digital copy of a physical copy of the information sought. Therefore, this decision to structurally mandate sharing of phone numbers cannot be justified on grounds of a necessary detail for contact. Unnecessarily mandating sharing of additional contact details such as phone numbers can have a chilling effect on citizens and, in case of any leak or proactive disclosure, result in physical threats to them.
(Fig. 2: View History on the Online RTI Status)
(Fig. 3: Online RTI Request Form)
- Despite our specific requests, the concerned PIO did not share any file notings, representations sought or received pursuant to which such changes were made.
This indicates a lack of transparency in the process followed in modifying the RTI online portal. In absence of any documentation, the changes made to the RTI online portal seem to have been done without any consultation with other stakeholders despite the huge ramifications they will have on citizens’ rights. This might also discourage citizens from exercising their right to information.
We believe that the Right to Information is one of the most important tools at the disposal of the public to engage with, and demand transparency and accountability from, the Government. The Right to Information Act, 2005 was enacted to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority by ensuring that citizens are able to secure access to information under the control of public authorities. Therefore, it is ironic that when changes are made to the portal through which a citizen can exercise this right, there is a lack of transparency and accountability. Where transparency is not upheld as a value of public decision-making, citizens are at a disadvantage when it comes to keeping a check on abuse of power by the public authorities.
Citizens and civil society organizations, including IFF have used RTI as a powerful tool to hold governments and public officials accountable, and advance citizen rights. Requests made under the RTI Act, 2005 further digital rights by enabling greater transparency on issues such as internet shutdowns. We have previously filed requests for information on internet shutdowns ordered in Rajasthan, Meghalaya, Maharashtra, Haryana and several other states. We have filed an RTI request seeking assessment reports of portal functionality and tangible data on the efficiency brought by the changes made. We have again iterated our request for documentation of the changes through a first appeal challenge to the response received.