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You are a Public Information Officer (PIO) in a government department. You are aware that the RTI Act, 2005 envisages transparency and accountability in administration. The act has functioned as a check on the supposedly arbitrarily administrative behaviour  and actions. However, as a PIO you have observed that there are citizens who filed RTI applications not for themselves but on behalf of such stakeholders who purportedly want to have access to information to further their own interests. At the same time there are those RTI activists who routinely file RTI applications and attempt to extort money from the decision makers. This type of RTI activism has affected the functioning of the administration adversely and also possibly jeopardizes the genuineness of the applications which are essentially aimed at getting justice. What measures would you suggest to separate genuine and non-genuine applications? Give merits and demerits of your suggestions. (250 words)

The Right to Information (RTI) Act of 2005 aims to enhance transparency and accountability in government operations. However, the misuse of RTI applications for vested interests or extortion has emerged as a significant concern. These abuses not only affect administration but also dilute the act’s effectiveness for genuine queries.

Measures to Separate Genuine and Non-Genuine Applications

Pre-Application Screening:

  • Merit: A preliminary screening process can identify frivolous or malicious applications.
  • Demerit: It may deter citizens who genuinely seek information.

Multiple-Submission Tracking:

  • Merit: Flagging applicants who submit multiple applications can help identify routine exploiters.
  • Demerit: It may incorrectly label genuine activists as problematic.

Background Checks:

  • Merit: Verifying an applicant’s credentials could prevent impersonation.
  • Demerit: This might invade privacy and dissuade applicants.

Purpose Statement Requirement:

  • Merit: Requiring a statement of purpose could discourage misuse.
  • Demerit: This might restrict the scope of the RTI Act, limiting its original intent.

Transparency of Process:

  • Merit: Publicizing all RTI queries and resolutions can ensure accountability.
  • Demerit: This could discourage sensitive or private inquiries.

Whistleblower Safeguards:

  • Merit: Protecting the anonymity of genuine applicants can encourage transparency.
  • Demerit: It may also protect the identity of those misusing the Act.

Administrative Review Panel:

  • Merit: An independent panel can fairly evaluate each application’s legitimacy.
  • Demerit: The establishment of a panel could slow down the process and create additional bureaucratic layers.

Fee Increment for Bulk Filers:

  • Merit: Increasing application fees for multiple submissions can deter routine exploiters.
  • Demerit: This might make the process less accessible to genuinely interested parties.

To tackle the problem of RTI misuse while preserving its original purpose, a balanced approach that includes multiple layers of scrutiny and public involvement is crucial. Implementing a blend of these suggestions can serve as a comprehensive solution, although each measure has its trade-offs that must be carefully considered.

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