RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT, 2005 : A TOOL FOR TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY

INTRODUCTION

RTI or Right to Information Act is a fundamental right and is an aspect of Article 19 (1)(a) of the Indian Constitution.  The Right to Information Act, 2005 has been enacted by the Parliament and has come into force from 15 June, 2005. This Act provides for the right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority. Right to Information replaced the Freedom of Information Act, 2002. RTI helps Indians receive information about the government in a systemic, time-constrained and hassle-free manner by enabling them to question certain delays in projects and accounts of spending from the taxpayers money in various projects. The evolution of the National Right to Information Law (2005) is a story of the success of Indian democracy and a celebration of its people, who understood and struggled to make constitutional principles come alive in practice. The suggestion for RTI law was drafted by Justice Sawant as the Chair of the Press Council, it was sent to the parliament and the state chief ministers. The first states to pass the law were Tamil Nadu (1997) and Goa (1997). Some other states passed it later: Rajasthan (2000), Maharashtra (2000), Karnataka (2000), Delhi (2001), Assam (2002), and Jammu and Kashmir (2003). The draft was modified by the government before it was sent to the parliament. The campaign continued to be vigilant to monitor changes. The Parliamentary Standing Committee made 158 changes in the draft sent to it after listening to the testimonies of the people. The law, eventually passed in May 2005, was surprisingly much better than any indication of its content in the year preceding it. We thought that the parliament and Indian democracy had come of age. According to Thomas Jefferson “Information is the currency of democracy,” and critical to the emergence and development of a vibrant civil society. However, with a view to set out a practical regime for the citizens to secure information as a matter of right, the Indian Parliament enacted the Right to Information Act, 2005. Before the advent of the RTI act, the disclosure of information in India was restricted by the Official Secrets Act and some other special laws. The RTI Act relaxed many such laws in the country. The RTI act has also made it mandatory for computerizing the records for the purpose of wide spread relay so that any information sought by the public can be processed quickly aided by the information categorization. RTI promotes transparency and accountability. Citizens feel honored when they get to exercise their right to have access to the source of information. Similarly, the RTI also is important in promoting and upholding human rights. RTI ACT is even applicable to various Non – Government Organizations funded by government and it also includes private entities under its jurisdiction. Thus, it is a tool for transparency and accountability.

IMPORTANT PROVISIONS OF RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT

The right to information gained power when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948 providing everyone the right to seek, receive, information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. The International Covenant on Civil and Political rights 1966 states that everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression, the freedom to seek and impart information and ideas of all kinds. 

Section 4 of the RTI Act requires suo motu disclosure of information by each public authority. However, such disclosures have remained less than satisfactory.

In normal course, information to an applicant is to be supplied within 30 days from the receipt of application by the public authority.

If information sought concerns the life or liberty of a person, it shall be supplied within 48 hours. The Act also provides for appointment of Information Commissioners at Central and State level. Public authorities have designated some of its officers as Public Information Officers. They are responsible to give information to a person who seeks information under the RTI Act.

Section 6(3) of the RTI Act is intended to save the applicant’s effort and time if the information sought from a public authority is with another department. However, it is being exploited by several officials who refuse to furnish information and forward the application to another department or authority,

Section 8 of the RTI Act, exempts disclosure of personal information that would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless it is in the larger public interest.

Other provisions of the Right to information act, are as important as these provisions of the act. It is a well structured act which balances the rudimentary principles of right to information and our inalienable right to privacy.

In July 2019, the Parliament had passed the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill 2019, to change the fixed tenure of the information commissioners, and make their pay and service conditions subject to the executive rules to be made by the government. 

RIGHT TO INFORMATION  DAY 

From 12 October , 2005 onwards, India used to celebrate her Right to information day. On 17th November, 2015 , UNESCO declared 28th September as International Day for Universal Access To Information. The theme of the 2021 International Day for Universal Access to Information will highlight the role of access to information laws and their implementation to build back strong institutions for the public good and sustainable development, as well as to strengthen the right to information and international cooperation in the field of implementing this human right.   

JUDICIAL TRENDS WITH REGARD TO RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT

The formal recognition of a legal Right to Information in India occurred more than two decades before legislation was finally enacted, when the Supreme Court of India ruled in the State of U.P. v Raj Narain that the Right to Information is implicit in the right to freedom of speech and expression explicitly guaranteed in Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. Subsequently, the Court has affirmed this decision in numerous cases and has even linked the Right to Information with the right to life enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution.

Genesis of RTI law started in 1986, through judgment of Supreme Court in Mr. Kulwal v/s Jaipur Municipal Corporation case, in which it directed that freedom of speech and expression provided under Article 19 of the Constitution clearly implies Right to Information, as without information the freedom of speech and expression cannot be fully used by the citizens. 

In the case of Bennet Coleman v/s Union of India , the Supreme Court upholds Right to information as our fundamental right falls within the purview of article 19(1)(a) of Indian constitution. 

The Supreme Court has ruled that the office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) is a public authority under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005. A five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi gave the ruling. The Supreme Court is a “public authority” and the office of the CJI is part and parcel of the institution. Hence, if the Supreme Court is a public authority, so is the office of the CJI. It was also added that RTI cannot be used as a tool of surveillance and that judicial independence has to be kept in mind while dealing with transparency.

The Delhi High Court  clarified that whenever ‘Personal Information’ is sought under the ‘Right To Information Act, 2005’, the disclosure of applicant’s interest in the information being sought would be necessary to establish his/her bonafides. 

MISUSE OF RTI LAW

The Supreme Court stated that there is a need to evolve guidelines to stop misuse of RTI law. The Right to Information cannot be an unrivaled right and said there was a need to stop its “misuse” and “criminal intimidation” by those who are not connected with the issues raised. The apex court made the remarks while hearing a plea on filling up of vacancies of information commissioners (ICs) in the Central Information Commission (CIC) and the State Information Commissions (SICs). 

Due to non-applicability of locus-standi rule to RTI cases and non-requirement of giving reasons for seeking information, it has been observed that the RTI act is misused by the many petitioners.

India has slipped to the 6th position in the recent global RTI ratings. This is due to the misuse of Right to information act .According to the rating agencies, India scored 128 out of a possible total of 150 points. India ranked lower than smaller nations like Afghanistan, which adopted the RTI later than India, and Serbia.

CONCLUSION

It can be said that the Right to Information Act 2005 is a tool that checks corruption, and holds the various bodies, agencies and departments of the government accountable to the public. This prevents arbitrary state action, which is the hallmark of a responsible democracy. The main object of this Act is to empower the rights of citizens to make certain queries on the functioning of the Government machinery, to promote transparency and efficiency in the operations of such Government organizations, to regulate corruption and also to make democracy work in favor of our citizens. The Act prevents the Government from being manipulated in the sense that it makes a notion that the Government and its concerned wings are working for the public at large. It also makes a sense that no people must be unaware of their basic rights as the citizens of this country and the Act also makes it mandatory that the information which is given to the applicants must be true to the best of the knowledge of the concerned officials and any type of manipulations done against the provisions of the Act will lead to certain penal liabilities upon the person who violates it. 

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

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