India has slipped one point down to fourth place on the global RTI (Right to Information) Rating index that provides a comparative assessment of the national legal frameworks of 112 member countries with respect to the right to information. The rating was developed and applied by the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) and Access Info Europe five years ago and the latest data has been released today on the occasion of the International Right to Know Day.
CLD’s assessment has revealed that some South Asian countries have been faring well when it comes to RTI implementation. While India has dropped down by one spot from last year’s rating, Sri Lanka has moved up several notches to reach the ninth rank.
Reacting to the developments, Venkatesh Nayak, programme coordinator at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, said: This is good news for South Asia. Sri Lanka’s RTI Act was placed on the statute book in August. Civil society organisations are working closely there with the government to implement this law.”
He said Mexico, another developing country, has been ranked first for having the best national level RTI law on the planet. “Recent amendments to the 2002 law have placed it at the top of the list.” This, he said, has exploded the popular myth that ‘RTI is meant for developed countries’ as developing countries have other urgent issues such as poverty, hunger and poor levels of basic services like education and health to look after.
Speaking about the latest findings, the executive director of CLD Toby Mendel said “as part of our celebration of the day, we have made a big push to update the RTI Rating to include all of the new laws, several of which have just been adopted in the last couple of months.”
The updated RTI rating includes assessments of the seven RTI laws that countries have passed so far this year. The list comprises laws from Argentina (replacing a decree), Kenya, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Togo, Tunisia (also replacing a decree) and Vietnam, as well as the law from Burkina Faso, which was passed in late 2015. With this, the rating has covered every nation’s RTI law apart from Sudan, which it was not able to obtain.
“The strongest law among the new countries on the RTI rating is that of Sri Lanka, which scores 121 points, putting the country in ninth place globally. The passage of this law means that every country in South Asia apart from Bhutan now has an RTI law. The region is generally a strong performer, with every country scoring over 100 points except Pakistan (rank 89), which continues to languish near the bottom of the rating,” the report said, giving a perspective about South Asia.
The report also stated that the year 2016 offers ample evidence that countries continue to make strong progress on the right to information. “With 112 RTI laws now in place, and a 113th expected to come into force soon in Tanzania, there is a strong global trend towards greater recognition of this important right. The incorporation of RTI into Sustainable Development Goals Target 16.10 can be expected to provide even greater impetus to this trend,” it said.
Meanwhile, CHRI has called upon all Commonwealth member states that do not have laws for national level information access yet, to commit themselves to a reasonable time frame for completing the legislative exercise. “Ensuring people access to information is key to deepening democracy, making public decision-making more participatory, ensuring inclusive, equitable and sustainable development and protecting basic human rights,” it added.
The organisation has also released a comparative table on the “access to information laws in the Commonwealth”. This table evaluates India, which was ranked the third best performing nation last year, on various parameters to judge the implementation of its RTI law.
As for India, the comparative table states that all Indian citizens have the right to access information. “The Act extends to the whole of India except to the State of Jammu and Kashmir.”
As far as “applicability of the law” goes, it noted that it covers any authority or body established or institution of self-government established or constituted: (i) by or under the Constitution; (ii) by any other law made by Parliament or a State Legislature, (iii) by notification made by an appropriate government and includes (a) any other body owned, controlled or substantially financed and (b) non-government organisation substantially financed; by funds provided directly or indirectly by the appropriate Government.
Further, when it comes to “suo motu” or “proactive disclosure”, the report said, India is engaged in a “constant endeavor to provide as much information as possible suo motu.” Also, it lays down that “information shall be disseminated as widely as possible and in such form and manner which is easily accessible to the public, including through notice boards, newspapers, public announcements, media, internet, inspection.”
The report explained, the “request” in India goes through “in writing or through electronic means to the Public Information Officer (PIO) with reasonable assistance to be provided in the case of oral requests.”
As for the exemptions, the report noted that these include “certain specified intelligence and security agencies, except where the Information Commissioner holds that the requested information pertains to allegations of corruption or human rights violations.”
Coming to “public interest disclosure”, the table said, in India “notwithstanding anything in the Official Secrets Act or exemptions, information may still be disclosed if the public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to protected interests.”
As for “time to compliance”, it noted that the Indian law provides for “30 working days for granting or refusing information”.
Moreover, in India, the table said there is also a provision for an “urgent request”, where the information requested concerns the life and liberty of a person, it should be provided within 48 hours of receipt of the request.”
The comparative table also laid out how, apart from the provision of “review and appeals”, India also has a system of “penalties”, where if a Public Information Officer, without any reasonable cause, refuses to receive an application, does not furnish information within the prescribed time limit, denies the request with mala fide intent or knowingly gives incorrect, incomplete or misleading information or destroys information or obstructs the process, the officer becomes liable for a penalty of Rs 250 per day, subject to a ceiling of Rs 25,000. Moreover, the law provides that in such cases the Information Commission can also recommend disciplinary action against the PIO under the applicable service rules.”
As for other key aspects of the Indian RTI law the table noted that when it comes to “protection for whistleblowers”, there is a “protection to officials against suits, prosecution or any other legal proceeding for anything done in good faith under the Act.” But it added that a detailed scheme for whistleblower protection was not provided under this Act.