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Right to Information Act

Paper: General Studies 2

Topic:  Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability

Why in the news?

  • The ‘Report Card on the Performance of Information Commissions in India’ a survey analysing the performance of the information commissions was prepared by the Satark Nagrik Sangathan and the Centre for Equity Studies on the 14th anniversary of the RTI Act. 
  • It showed that government officials face hardly any punishment for violating the law by denying applicants the legitimate information sought by them. It analysed information from 22 commissions, which disposed of almost 1.17 lakh cases in that time period. Using previous analyses showing that 59% of cases record one or more of the violations listed in Section 20 of the RTI Act, it can be estimated that penalties should have been imposed in 68,900 cases. 
  • Penalties were only imposed in 2,091 cases, that is 3% of the cases where violations took place, and less than 2% of the total number of cases disposed.
  • The failure of the commissions to impose penalties in clearly deserving cases, sends a signal to the PIOs [Public Information Officers] that violating the law will not invite any serious consequences – observed the report card, which assessed cases between January 2018 and March 2019. “This destroys the basic framework of incentives and disincentives built into the RTI law, promotes a culture of impunity and exasperates applicants who seek information at a high cost and often against great odds.”
  • The commissions have an increasing workload, which is leading to a huge pendency of cases. The report showed that there were 2.18 lakh cases pending with the commissions in March 2019, in comparison with 1.85 lakh pending cases a year earlier. As of October 11, 2019, the Central Information Commission alone had more than 33,000 pending cases. Any new appeal to the CIC would have to wait more than one-and-a-half years for resolution. The rising backlog is exacerbated by the fact that four out of 11 posts in the CIC are yet to be filled.

About the RTI Act

  • Under the RTI Act, 2005, Public Authorities are required to make disclosures on various aspects of their structure and functioning.  This includes: (i) disclosure on their organisation, functions, and structure, (ii) powers and duties of its officers and employees, and (iii) financial information.  
  • The intent of such suo moto disclosures is that the public should need minimum recourse through the Act to obtain such information.  If such information is not made available, citizens have the right to request for it from the Authorities. This may include information in the form of documents, files, or electronic records under the control of the Public Authority.  
  • The intent behind the enactment of the Act is to promote transparency and accountability in the working of Public Authorities.  
  • The Act has established a three tier structure for enforcing the right to information guaranteed under the Act.
  • Public Authorities designate some of their officers as Public Information Officers.  The first request for information goes to Central/State Assistant Public Information Officer and Central/State Public Information Officer, designated by the Public Authorities. These Officers are required to provide information to an RTI applicant within 30 days of the request.  Appeals from their decisions go to an Appellate Authority.  
  • Appeals against the order of the Appellate Authority go to the State Information Commission or the Central Information Commission.  These Information Commissions consists of a Chief Information Commissioner, and up to 10 Information Commissioners.  

 

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)

Paper: General Studies 2

Topic:  Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests

Why in the news?

  • Indian negotiators on Thursday declined to agree to the e-commerce chapter of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement.
  • The e-commerce chapter contains clauses that, if India had agreed to them, would have prevented it from implementing data localisation rules on companies doing business in India. The negotiations on the chapter, taking place in Bangkok, will now have to continue during the Intersessional Ministerial meeting to be held on October 11 and 12. 
  • While the e-commerce chapter has some clauses that affect data localisation, India has been trying to water these down. Clouding the issue further is that the annexe on financial services, already agreed upon by all the RCEP countries, says that the domestic laws of a country regarding keeping financial data within a country supersede the RCEP agreement.

 

What is the RCEP?

  • RCEP is a proposed mega-regional trade agreement between the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) (Brunei, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam) and the six states with which ASEAN has existing FTAs (Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand).
  • RCEP aims to boost goods trade by eliminating most tariff and non-tariff barriers — a move that is expected to provide the region’s consumers greater choice of quality products at affordable rates. It also seeks to liberalise investment norms and do away with services trade restrictions.
  • When inked, it would become the world’s biggest free trade pact. This is because the 16 nations account for a total GDP of about $50 trillion and house close to 3.5 billion people. India (GDP-PPP worth $9.5 trillion and a population of 1.3 billion) and China (GDP-PPP of $23.2 trillion and population of 1.4 billion) together comprise the RCEP’s biggest component in terms of market size.

 

What are the Indian concerns at the RCEP?

  • Greater access to Chinese goods may have an impact on the Indian manufacturing sector. India has got massive trade deficit with China. Under these circumstances, India proposed differential market access strategy for China.
  • There are demands by other RCEP countries for lowering customs duties on a number of products and greater access to the market than India has been willing to provide.
  • India’s other concerns include restrictions on short term movement of skilled workers and new issues such as e-commerce and data localisation.

 

UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism

Paper: General Studies 3

Topic: linkages of organized crime with terrorism

Why in the news?

The Vice President, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu said that terrorism was increasingly threatening and impeding global progress and urged the world community to come together to ensure that the UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism is concluded at the earliest.

What is the UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism?

  • The Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism is a proposed treaty which intends to criminalize all forms of international terrorism and deny terrorists, their financiers and supporters access to funds, arms, and safe havens. 
  • The negotiations for this treaty are currently under way and it has been under negotiation at the United Nations General Assembly since 17 December 1996 . The negotiations are currently deadlocked even after two decades of proposal i.e. through 1996 till 2016.

What are the challenges in concluding the Convention?

  • The negotiations of the Comprehensive Terrorism Convention are deadlocked because of differences over the definition of terrorism.
  • There are also concerns that convention will be used to target Pakistan and restrict the rights of self-determination groups in Palestine, Kashmir etc.
  • The issue of acts by armed forces of nations being covered under the convention are a cause of concern especially for the US and its NATO allies.

 

Prelims Specific

 

  • mHariyali app was launched to promote plantation of trees. Through this app, people can upload photos of plantation done by them, which will be directly displayed at epgc.gov.in. The nodal officers can monitor the plantation through this app. 

 

  • The Nobel Peace Prize 2019 was awarded to Abiy Ahmed Ali “for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea.”