India's Position Dips to 9th in Global RTI Rating
From ranking second in the world in 2011 in the Global RTI Rating conducted regularly by the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), a Canada-based non-governmental organisation, along with Access Info Europe, India has slipped to the ninth position, as per the recent update.
 
India, which was positioned at an enviable second rank when the rating was first evaluated in 2011, has steadily dipped in the years between 2014 and 2022 from the third to the eighth point and then to the ninth position lately. The reason, as per the study, is the "blanket exceptions in the schedule (section) 2 for various security, intelligence, research and economic bodies."
 
The study further observes and recommends that "Instead of sweeping exclusions, these bodies should be covered and the relevant interests - security and law enforcement - should be protected by specific, harm-tested exceptions."
 
The other reason diagnosed is that private organisations do not come under the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. The report observes that "The Indian legal framework also does not allow access to information held by private entities which perform a public function and several of the law's exceptions, including for information received in confidence from a foreign government, cabinet papers and parliamentary privilege," are mostly not accessible.
 
These reasons apart, RTI researcher and scholar Venkatesh Nayak states that "Ratings fall because other countries pass better laws or amend them to make them stronger." That explains it. For example, Afghanistan stunningly tops the ranking with 139/150 points, as it enacted the law in 2014 and amended to further fortify it in 2019-20. Hence, its notch went higher. From 68th position in 2016 and 71st position in 2017, it has climbed to first position from 2018 to 2023. 
 
Toby Mendel, executive director of the Centre for Law and Democracy, in an earlier press statement had noted that in Afghanistan, "although implementation is always a challenge, this law will at least give the country the tools it needs to ensure its citizens can access information from public authorities."
 
The other countries who are positioned higher than India are Mexico (136 points) and Sri Lanka (131 points). The US continues to be in a poor position at 82 with Russia in the 92nd position.
 
Nevertheless, India is in one of the top positions of the ranking, "as it is a country with a good legislative framework in relation to transparency and access to information," states the report. The score is between 0-150 depending on the strength of its legal framework which guarantees the right to information.
 
 
The RTI Rating is the leading global tool for assessing the strength of national legal frameworks for accessing information held by public authorities (i.e., RTI). The rating's methodology is derived from international standards, as well as best practices at the national level. Indicators for scoring are divided into seven main categories, i.e., right of access; scope; requesting procedure; exceptions & refusals; appeals; sanctions & protections and; promotional measures.
 
While India still continues to be in the top-10, the report points out that "not one of the more established democracies makes it into the top 25. While this is partly a reflection of their (generally) older laws, it also points to the fact that they are not updating their laws to take into account evolving international standards."
 
The report says, "Although there are no Western European countries in the top 25, seven Eastern European countries make it into that group, tied with Africa (including North Africa), which also has seven. Asia comes next, with six countries in the top 25, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean, with five."
 
Breaking the scores down into the seven main categories of the RTI Rating – right of access, scope, requesting procedures, exceptions & refusals, appeals, sanctions & protections, and promotional measures – by far the strongest average score is for scope, which comes in at nearly 80%. In contrast, the average overall score is just under 60%, and five of the remaining six categories have averages of between 50 and 60% (with the outlier being sanctions & protections which comes in at just over 35%).
 
Shailesh Gandhi, former central information commissioner (CIC) and RTI activist, states that "This global ranking is unfortunately restricted to the contents of the sunshine law in different countries. Therefore, countries which enact it later, than the earlier ones, often have more superior clauses for access of information. However, since the points are not given on the implementation of the Act, the study does not convey how good the law is on ground. For example, Afghanistan may be having the strongest law on paper, but in reality, is it so transparent on ground?"
 
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also the convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain Award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book "To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte" with Vinita Kamte and is the author of "The Mighty Fall".)
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