THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT, 2005

By- Shreya Bhukhmaria, BA.LLB(H)

NALSAR, Hyderabad

ABSTRACT

“Information is the currency of democracy”

                                                                                     ~Thomas Jefferson
My research in this study is based upon the conceptual and theoretical understanding on the subject matter of Right to Information and how the same aids in ensuring good governance of the organizations of vital importance in any democracy like government, semi-government or non-governmental organizations in holding the person in authority accountable for his/her any act of deceit and callousness while taking decisions. Right to Information being a basic human right available with every human being also discusses on how the right encourages public participation and awareness amongst the citizens of the nation. Thus, making them more responsible and participative in the transparent governance of various sectors. Furthermore, the study discusses the purpose, intent and objective behind legislating the Right to Information Act 2005 and .reflects upon the times (prior to its implementation) when information gathering was given a wide understanding under the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression i.e., Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. In the part of conclusion, I have tried to provide certain recommendations and suggestions in exercising this right which is both the obligation of the government to protect and the duty of citizens to claim. My views and propositions are hence forth based upon certain given set of rules, laws, widely accepted theories, radical judgement and the logical rational behind doing so.

INTRODUCTION TO NUANCES OF RTI REGIME IN INDIA

“Information is basic human right and the fundamental foundation for the formation of democratic institution.”

~Nelson Mandela

Political maneuvering of power, corrupt practices, use of muscle influence, violence and criminalization of politics threw the ideas of representative democracy to the wind and people’s participation remained utopian to the society in the absence of an unprejudiced, transpicuous and undisguised government process. Right to Information serves as a weapon in the hands of common people to resist unethical practices and growing corruption in the country. The power to have the knowledge and change is with the citizens, and
they must recognize their own rights and demand them. If the citizens are not aware with the rights, they cannot know if whether they are respected, enforced and put into practice in real. RTI facilitates the fundamental point of participatory democracy like India of providing much vital data about government activity which further ensures manner empowering opportunity and transparency.

Right to Information Act 2005 commands convenient reaction to subject solicitations for government data. Ideal to Information engages each subject to look for any data from the Government, review any Government archives and look for guaranteed photocopies thereof. Ideal to Information likewise, enables subjects to official examine any Government work or to take the example of material utilized in any work. However, Information that can preferentially affect inside security, relations with outside nations, scholarly property rights, break of parliamentary benefit and obstructs examinations cannot be imparted to general society. Bureau papers are absolved until the point when a choice has been actualized. In any case, talks inside the Cabinet can never be uncovered.

The right to information is implicit in the Constitution of India; even so the dominant culture of the executive has been one of secrecy and resolute denial of access of information to the citizen. Information is the currency that every citizen requires to participate in the life and governance of society. The greater the access of the citizen to information, the greater the responsiveness of government to community needs. However, law under constitution is not absolute; Supreme Court in District Registrar v. Canara Bank underscored that there may be circumstances when information sought by the applicant may be refused in the larger interest of society.

Certain significant provisions of the act are summarized below:
I. Section- 2 (f): ‘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.

II. Section- 2(j): ‘Right to Information’ means the right to information accessible under this particular Act which is held by or comes under the control of any public authority and includes the right to:
a. Inspection of work, documents, records;
b. Taking notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records;
c. Taking certified samples of material;
d. 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.

III. Section 23: Lower courts are barred from entertaining suits or applications. However, the writ jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and High Courts under Articles 32 and 226 of the Constitution remains unaffected.

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 Officer. They are responsible to give information to a person who seeks information under the RTI Act.
Time period: 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. In case the application is sent through the Assistant Public Information Officer or it is sent to a wrong public authority, five days shall be added to the period of thirty days or 48 hours, as the case may be.

INTENT AND PURPOSE OF THE ACT

The act is expected to improve the quality of decision making by public authorities, in both policy and administrative matters, by removing unnecessary secrecy surrounding the decision-making process. The more noteworthy the entrance of the subject to data, the more prominent the responsiveness of government to community needs would be. Whereas the more protuberant the
limitations that are set on ‘get to’, the more noteworthy the sentiments of ‘feebleness’ and estrangement. Information from the government can be termed as national resource, which is created neither for the benefit of government nor for the benefit of the public officials but for thaw general welfare of society. Right to information is indispensable human rights throughout the world and
possess a wide range of application with the underlying principle MAXIMUM DISCLOSURE AND MINIMUM SECRECY.

The colonial legacy of secrecy, distance and mystification of the bureaucracy tied with a long history of one-party dominance proved to be a daunting challenge to transparency and effective government, let alone the belief of establishing effective right to information secretive to government. Right to Information enables each resident to look for any data from the government, investigate any government reports and look for confirmed photocopies thereof. An informed citizenry will be better prepared to keep important vigil on the instruments of government and make the administration more responsible to theadministered. The main objectives of which are-
I. To operationalise the fundamental right to information;
II. To set up systems and mechanisms that facilitate people’s easy access to information; to promote transparency, and

III. Accountability in governance; to minimize corruption and inefficiency in public offices and to ensure people’s participation in governance and decision making.

The Act thus envisions the harmonization of public interests with the right to information. However, leaving aside certain aspects where the public interest demands some element of secrecy, that where it has been felt that certain area of governance has to be kept outside the purview of the RTI Act, the same have been exempted under the specific provisions envisaged under the Act. Thus,
there has been an attempt to achieve harmonious balance between the two.

ASSURANCE OF GOOD GOVERNANCE

“Where a society has chosen to accept democracy as its creedal faith, it is elementary that the citizens ought to know what their government is doing.”
                                                                                                                                                                          ~Justice P N Bhagwati

The RTI Act, 2005 did not create a new bureaucracy for implementing the law. Instead, it tasked and mandated officials in every office to change their attitude and duty from one of secrecy to one of sharing and openness. It carefully and deliberately authorizes the Information Commission to be the highest authority in the country with the mandate to order any office in the country to provide
information as per the provisions of the Act. It empowers the Commission to fine any official who did not follow the mandate. Right to information has been seen as the key to strengthening participatory democracy and ushering in people centered governance. Access to information can empower the poor and the weaker sections of society to demand and get information about public policies
and actions, thereby leading to their welfare. It showed an early promise by exposing transgressions at high places, such as in the organisation of the Commonwealth Games, and the allocation of 2G spectrum and coal blocks.
Right to information opens up government’s records to public scrutiny, thereby arming citizens with a vital device to inform them about what the government does and how effectively, thus making the government more answerable. Improves decision making by public authority by removing unnecessary or unwanted secrecy.

JUDICIAL INTERVENTION: A PROGRESSIVE STEP

RTI has also received judicial recognition though some landmark judgements of the Supreme Court. Brick by brick the judiciary has built an impregnable edifice of the Fundamental rights providing thereby a semantic development and
wholesome judicial association to RTI.
Justice Mathew in State of Uttar Pradesh v. Raj Narain stated that “In a government of responsibility like ours, where all the agents of the public must be responsible for their conduct, there can but few secrets. 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 repercussion on public security”.

In Union of India v Association of Democratic reforms the Court stated that, “…the little man of this country would have basic elementary right to know full particulars of a candidate who is to represent him in Parliament where laws to bind his liberty and property may be enacted.”
Even in D.K. Basu v State of West Bengal 1 the court laid down guidelines to protect the fundamental rights of arrested persons.

PUBLIC PARTICIPATION

The very essence of RTI lies in public participation in the democratic process. Information Commissioner at the Central Information Commission Madabhushi Sridhar Acharyulu stated that sensitising people on Right to Information (RTI) and creating awareness on the subject will go a long way in promoting public participation in promoting integrity and exterminating corruption. “Secrecy in
the system breeds corruption. Those who cast their vote have every right toknow about the candidate whom they prefer to represent them in the election.

Political corruption has a serious impact on democratic governance. Therefore, care should be taken to strengthen public participation by questioning the system,” he emphasised. Also, the public participation in RTI can be gained in the following way, as it did in case of Bennett Coleman v Union of India wherein the Hon’ble Chief Justice quoted that, “It is indisputable that the freedom of press embodies the right of the people to read.” Illustrating upon an analysis on this account it can be so inferred that, the right of people to read is referred as to ‘right of the readers to gain information’. This makes it as a way of participation of the public to get the information which is anticipated to be known to them without even asking for it.

CHALLENGES

Different types of information is sought which has no public interest and sometimes can be used to misuse the law and harass the public authorities. For instance-
a. Asking for frantic and voluminous information.
b. To attain promotional value / publicity by filing RTI petition
c. RTI filed as malicious tool to harass or pressurize the public authority

Because of the illiteracy and unawareness among the majority of population in the country, the RTI cannot be exercised. Though RTI’s aim is not to create a grievance redressal mechanism, the notices from Information Commissions often spur the public authorities to redress grievances.

CONCLUSION

“In Government of responsibility like ours, where all the agents of the public must be responsible for their conduct, there can be 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 functionaries.”
                                                                                                                                                             ~Justice K. K. Mathew, Supreme Court of India

The Right to Information Act was made to achieve social justice, transparency and to make accountable government but this act has not achieved its full objectives due to some impediments created due to systematic failures. As observed by Delhi High Court that misuse of the RTI Act has to be appropriately dealt with; other-wise the public would lose faith and confidence in this ‘sunshine act’. A lot more needs to be done to usher in accountability in governance, including protection of whistle-blowers, decentralization of power
and fusion of authority with accountability at all levels. This law provides us a priceless opportunity to redesign the processes of governance, particularly at the grass roots level where the citizens’ interface is supreme. Thus, the right to information, though not absolute in nature, is a factor which should make one wary, when secrecy is claimed for transactions which can, at any rate, have no
consequences on public security.

 

 

 

REFERENCES

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