Widening scope of RTI to check more companies

By Sant Kumar Sharma

Jammu, August 24: 

Transparency law, the Right to Information (RTI) law, has opened up new avenues to check corruption in public life. Corporate companies, political parties all would be too happy to escape the ambit of RTI. On the face of it, companies profess to be very open in their dealings, with other companies as also public. Facts are to the contrary to these claims and the companies and politicians hate to be transparent in their dealings.

It is happening often that Central Information Commission (CIC) declares some entities to be public authorities. If implemented, these entities will then fall within the purview of RTI law and become answerable to public. More often than not, these bodies/institutions declared public-authorities by CIC often challenge the verdicts.

When challenged, courts usually grant stays against CIC-verdicts and these stay orders continue indefinitely. There are bodies like IFFCO, which despite involved in heavy dose of subsidies, could not somehow be declared public-authority by CIC.

It is time that either the Central government makes positive moves in this direction. It can declare categories like public-private-partnerships (PPP) companies, co-operative societies etc as public authorities. All sports-bodies, including BCCI and its affiliated units, and all those getting any direct or indirect government-funding in any form may be automatically covered under RTI Act.

Incidentally, an organisation associated with cricket administration, the BCCI gets prime land on dirt cheap prices from various governments. State as also Central. Then, why should it be not under the purview of the RTI Act?

The Central government has been favouring political parties for not complying with CIC-verdict holding them to be covered by the RTI Act. It can easily withdraw all direct/indirect funding, including tax exemptions, government land, accommodation, time on All India Radio and TV, besides free supply of voters-lists etc.

Private companies dominating sectors like telecommunication, banking etc indulge in lots of malpractices against interests of the consumers. These are indirectly covered under section 2(f) of RTI Act through regulatory bodies. It is much better if they are directly covered under RTI Act as is in South Africa. The companies/firms having turnover above some stipulated limit are covered directly.

To prevent misuse of RTI Act, RTI fees should be raised to Rs 50, inclusive of copying charges for first 20 copied pages. Apart from making it compulsory to enclose an Identity-Proof bearing signature with each RTI petition perhaps. This can stop fake applications being filed.

At the same time, the Postal Department should extend facility of accepting RTI petitions addressed to Central public-authorities without requiring postal-charges at all post-offices. Rather than at just about 2,500 post-offices out of about 1,60,000 post-offices in the country.