Consentia on Multidisciplinary Research

RTI: BLESSING IN THE FORM OF LAW

INTRODUCTION: –

  Right to information is a law passed by the government of India before 8 years for the benefits of Indian democrats. The Right to Information Bill, 2005 was passed by the Lok Sabha on May 11, 2005 and by the Rajya Sabha on May 12, 2005 and received the assent of the President of India on June 15, 2005 and finally came to force on October 12, 2005.

The act provides effective access to information for citizens of India, which is under the control of the public authorities. It promotes transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority.

Its preamble says, Democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information which are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and to hold governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed.

The Act enables establishment of an unprecedented regime of right to information for the citizens of the country. It overrides the ‘Official Secrets Act’ and similar laws and rules. The Act seeks to establish that ‘transparency is the norm and secrecy is an exception’ in the working of every public authority. It aims to ensure maximum openness and transparency in the machinery and functioning of government at all level, Central State and Local.

The Right to information Act 2005 enables every citizen access to public information from government records. Earlier this access was available to citizens of only nine states in the country but with the enforcing of the Central Act on 12th October 2005, this right is now available to every citizen.

Right to information should be treated a basic human right. From an educated man living in the city to an illiterate villager, everybody has the right to know how the government he or she voted to power is performing. Where is the money that he or she gives as tax going? What happened to the Panchayat promise of building that primary school or the road? Was the lowest tender accepted for building that six lane bridge? We all have these questions and now Right to Information Act has made it possible for us to know the answers to these questions.

The lack of access to information on Government policies, programmes, schemes, benefits and deliveries makes corrupt practices thrive. When corruption siphons off amounts from employment guarantee, unemployment or disability benefit, misdirects public funds for service delivery or delays pension and social security payments, it is usually the poor who suffer the most. Freedom of information can be a potent tool to prevent and fight corruption. It should be remembered that Public bodies hold information not for them, but as custodians of the public good and everyone has a right to access this information, subject only to clearly well defined rules established by law. In a government of responsibility like ours, where all the agents of the public must be responsible for their conduct, there can be but few secrets. The people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in a public way, by their public functionaries. They are entitled to know the particulars of every public transaction in all its bearing.

The Indian democracy is going through a new phase. It is difficult to hypothesize about a real democracy without good governance, transparency and responsibility[1]. Right to information has made all these possible. It has brought the common citizen into a new democratic role where he can directly question the administration. Sustained human development requires that the people especially the poor have the right to know and are provided with access to relevant information, including that relating to the conservation of the environment so that they can take their own informed decisions and realize their rights to development.

The Right to Information Act 2005 has provided us the right to get information from the government. Through this we can now expose corruption and also bring to light those duties that are not being performed by the officials. Through all this we can also seek solutions to our problems. We can ask information about projects and plans. We can inspect files and check for any misappropriations. The government spends a huge amount of money for development work. We can ask for information about the work being done in our area. We can find out the amount of money that is being spent and where. Information relating to tenders, agreements, payments and estimates of engineering work etc can be obtained with the help of the Right to information Act[2].

By following its own preamble and objectives right to information act made no of contributions which worked for our countries benefit and betterment.

Once the Apex Court held,

“The people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in a public way, by their public functionaries. They are entitled to know the particulars of every public transaction in all its bearing. The right to know, which is derived from the concept of freedom of speech, though not absolute, is a factor, which should make one wary, when secrecy is claimed for transactions, which can, at any rate have no repercussions on public security. To cover with a veil, the common routine business is not in the interest of the public. Such secrecy can seldom be legitimately desired. It is generally desired for the purpose of parties and politics or personal self interests of bureaucratic routine. The responsibility of officials to explain and to justify their acts is the chief safeguard against oppression and corruption”

And from these kind of judgements the separate special act RTI evolved.

 SALIENT FEATURES OF THE RTI ACT 2005:

The Right to Information is a well-formulated Act. The Act is based on the premise that democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information.

The Right to Information Act contains six chapters and two schedules. Chapter 1 is entitled ‘preliminary’ and explains the various terms like appropriate government, public authority, information, record, third party etc. Chapter 2 contains obligations of public authorities. Chapter 3 deals with the Central Information Commission while Chapter 4 describes State Information Commissions. Chapter 5 is about the powers and functions of the Information Commissions, appeals and penalties and Chapter 6 has all the miscellaneous things. Schedule 1 contains the oath to be taken by various levels of Information Commissioners. Schedule 2 contains a list of intelligence and security organizations established by the Central Government. RTI is for the right of any citizen of India to request access to information and the corresponding duty of Government to meet the request except the exempted information (Sec.8/9). Some of the important terms explained in the Act are as follows:

“Information” means any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails,  opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force

“Public Authority” means any authority or body or institution of self government established or constituted –

(a) By or under the constitution;

(b) By any other law made by parliament;

(c) By any other law made by the state legislature;

(d) By notification issued or order made by the appropriate government and includes any –

(1) Body owned, controlled or substantially financed;

(2) Non Government organization substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government;

“Right to Information” means the right to information accessible under this Act which is held by right under the control of any public authority and includes the right to –

  • Inspection of work, documents, records;
  • Taking notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records
  • Taking certified samples of material

 Obtaining information in the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts where such information is stored in a computer or in any other device.

There are some obligations for the public authority given in S4 (1). According to it every public authority shall maintain all its records duly catalogued and indexed in a manner and the form which facilitates the right to information under this Act and ensure that all records that are appropriate to be computerized are, within a reasonable time and subject to availability of resources, computerized and connected through a network all over the country on different systems so that access to such record is facilitated.

 

Process

Application has to be submitted in writing with prescribed fee to Public Information Officer

(PIO). PIOs will be there in each department/agency to receive requests and provide information. Assistant PIOs will be at sub- district levels to receive applications/appeals/complaints.

Information has to be provided within 30 days, 48 hours where life or liberty is involved, 35

days where request is given to Asst. PIOs, 40 days where third party is involved and 45 days for human rights violation information from listed security/ intelligence agencies. No action on application for 30 days is a deemed refusal. (There is no fee for delayed response.)

Every PIO will be liable for fine of Rs. 250 per day, up to a maximum of Rs. 25,000/-, for –

i. Not accepting an application;

ii. Delaying information release without reasonable cause;

iii. Malafidely denying information;

iv. Knowingly giving incomplete, incorrect, misleading information;

v. Destroying information that has been requested and

vi. Obstructing furnishing of information in any manner.

The Information Commission (IC) at the Centre and the State levels will have the power to impose this penalty. The Information Commission can also recommend disciplinary action for violation of the law against an earring PIO. (S.20). The Information Commissions have the power of Courts.

The Act establishes a two-tier mechanism for appeal. The first appeal lies to an officer within the organization who is senior in rank to PIO. The second appeal lies in the Information commission. The jurisdiction of the local court is barred under sec 20 of the Act

The Central/State Information Commission has a major role in enforcing the implementation of the provisions of the Act as well as for educating the parties mainly information seekers and providers. The powers vested with the Information Commissioners who are appointed by the President of India/Governor of a State, ensure effective implementation of the Act.

INFORMATION RELATED PROVISIONS UNDER RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT.

After the implementation of the Right to Information Act, it is mandatory to appoint a Public Information Officer and an Assistant PIO in every public department. The names of these officials are to made public through newspapers; they also have to be displayed on the notice boards of the public departments. Even if you do not get the names of the Public Information Officers, you can file your application in the name of the Public Information Officer to the concerned department and seek the information required. For seeking information an application has to be submitted. There is no specific format or form for the application. You can submit a hand written application written on a plain sheet of paper. There are some departments, which have released forms, which are available free of cost. You can fill up the application form and seek the required information. If you want to deposit a handwritten or typed or printed application no officer can refuse to accept your application.

All information sought has to be provided within a month. If the applicant does not  receive any information within a month or is not satisfied with the information provided, he can first appeal to the department’s First Appellate Authority and then to the State Information Commission. If the appeal is accepted then information will be provided. It is sufficient to provide only questions for seeking information. It is not necessary to mention in the application as to, why you want the information. Even the officials are not supposed to ask why you are seeking the information or putting up these questions.

Similarly, you do not require any identity for seeking information. It makes no difference if you are a leader of a political party or an ordinary citizen. If you file your application as per the provisions then the officials are bound to provide the information sought by you. The complete address of the applicant is compulsory though.

If some official is reluctant to provide information then he may also be penalized for not providing information within the stipulated period. The concerned official may be fined at the rate of Rs 250/- per day to a maximum limit of Rs25000/- per application per day. However the total amount of such penalty shall not exceed twenty five thousand rupees.

 

INFORMATION THAT CAN BE DENIED TO MADE SECRECY IN SOME CONFIDENDIAL MATTERS[3].

  • Information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the state, relations with a foreign state or lead to incitement of an offence.

  • Information which has been expressly forbidden to be published by any court of law or tribunal or the disclosure of which may constitute contempt of court.

  • Information, the disclosure of which would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or the State Legislature.

  • Information, including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property , the disclosure of which would harem the competitive position of a third party, unless the competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information.

  • Information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship, unless the competent authority is satisfied that the larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information.

  • Information received in confidence from foreign governments.

  • Information, the disclosure of which would endanger the life or physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purposes.

  • Information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders.

  • Cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers,

           Secretaries and other officers.

  • Information, which relates to personal information, the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual.

  • Notwithstanding any of the exemptions listed above, a public authority may allow access to information, if public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to protected interests.

 


CONTRIBUTION OF RTI: –

 India’s RTI Act is generally claimed as one of the world’s best law with an excellent implementation track record. It is one of the most empowering and most progressive legislations passed in the post Independent India. From the day the Act came into force, enlightened citizenry had stated using the law by making information requests in order get the police to act or get their entitlements of food grain under public distribution system or expose the corrupt officials. Most radical provision of the Act is that the information seekers need not to give any reason for it or prove his locus standi.

 

RTI Act is one of the most people friendly legislation ever. Thousands have benefited from it. It is true that more than eight years after Parliament passed the Act in June 2005, the road to accessing the information is very clear and simple. RTI has made both tangible and intangible impact on the system and its people. People have used the RTI tool to get their ration cards, passports, pension funds, birth certificates, income tax refunds etc. There have been cases when people as old as ninety years and as young as nine years have taken recourse to RTI to get their work done. People below the poverty line, disabled and blind people also have used it to their advantage.

 Big scams have been averted by the use of RTI. e.g., when information revealed by RTI exposed that 87% of wheat and 94% of rice meant for the poor were siphoned off by the shopkeepers and food grain officers, steps were taken to streamline the system.

In 2007, data obtained under RTI inspired citizens to question elected representatives to stop a scam worth over Rs. 6,000 crores in the Crawford Market redevelopment issues in Mumbai.

RTI Act has been incorporated in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA).

RTI has been judiciously used to expedite NREGA. Keeping aloft the spirit of RTI, section 17 of NREGA clearly dictates that the Gram Panchayat must make available all relevant documents of the works done to the Gram Sabha for social audit. NREGA has brought thousands of people above the family poverty line of Rs.28, 000. Thus the impact of RTI is palpable. People do feel more empowered. Their bargaining power vis a vis public officials has increased manifold. Right to information has definitely resulted in greater transparency in governance[4]. All the levels of the Government – The Centre, states and local bodies, including village level Panchayat have put their records in public domain, through publications as well as internet in the regional languages. RTI applications have annually increased by 8 to 10 times.

The implementation of RTI has been better in states that adopted RTI Act before 2005.This means that with time its implementation and use would definitely pick up. The impact includes its use by the general public and by the marginalized groups, change in the mindset and attitude of people as well as the authorities.

In India, the Act has produced a better impact on the quality of the life of the poor and the marginalised. During the past five years, the Act has brought positive changes in the levels of corruption and accountability[5]. There are quite a number of cases, where the Commission has ordered for providing the details of the decision making processes including file noting, cabinet papers, records of recruitment, selection and promotion of staff, documents pertaining to tender processes and procurement procedure, lists of beneficiaries of government subsidised schemes, such as food grains supplied through ration shops, water and electricity, domestic gas, educational and health facilities, shelter for poor, muster rolls under employment guarantee schemes, etc.

A look on the RTI applications filed so far makes it evident that over 75% applications have been filed by men. After these eight years of implementation of RTI Act has set the road to success and brought forth many issues, challenges and opportunities. Citizens, poor or rich, have applied for and obtained information under this law. Every governmental department and state-owned firm, including banks are obliged to have PIOs to handle RTI requests. With this openness of the government processes before the public, awareness among the masses has increased which, in turn, has brought accountability on part of the government, thus reducing corruption[6].

Also it cannot be denied that the RTI has given a boost to the freedom of speech and expression. RTI’s role in reduction of corruption and poverty is impacting.

CONCLUSION: –

 

 Right to Information act has its great contribution as it made paths for Indian democrats to receive all the information’s of their use with only some limitation and restriction and resulted in more transparent and accountable government.

The areas of corruption and inefficiencies in the Government were known to citizens earlier too, but citizens could not take recourse. However with the advent of the RTI Act, citizens got the new way to bring in transparency and accountability at all levels of Governance. In particular, the RTI Act has very higher impact on the quality of life of the poor and marginalised section of the society.

However, the power of the Act is still to be fully realized. The citizens, Government, media and Civil Society Organizations need to do a lot to attain the intended objective of the Act and to address various issues and constraints in accessing the information under the Act

[1] Kumar, The Black Economy of India; D Mehta, Tackling Corruption: An Indian Perspective, United Nations Asia and Far East Institute Seminar (Japan2010).

[2] Vittal, Corruption in India: The Roadblock to National Prosperity.

[3] Right to Information act, Suvidha law publication, 2013.

[4] M.M. Ansari, “Impact of Right to Information on Development: A Perspective on India’s Recent Experiences”

[5] Vittal, Corruption in India: The Roadblock to National Prosperity.

[6] Sondhi, “Combating Corruption in India: The Role of Civil Society”.

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