Updated: Jan 29, 2021
What is right to information? We have frequently heard about the term “RTI”. What does it mean? How does it imply to us? Who are these RTI Activists? Who are whistle-blowers? How to apply for RTI? Who heads RTI Team?…… and many more questions often have been taunting us. I have tried to jort-down certain points that might answer all of these questions that are related to Right to Information.
At the stroke of the midnight, 15th August 1947 India gained Independence. The constituent assembly was formed before independence which started to frame our constitution. After 2 and a half years of vigorous discussions and debates, on 26th November 1949 we adapted our constitution and on 26th January 1950 our constitution came into force in remembrance of “POORNA SWARAJ of 1930”. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru became our first Prime Minister and Dr. Babu Rajendra Prasad became the first President of Republic of India.
60 years have passed by, we have seen developments in some of the divisions of our country but the fact is we have seen more of malpractices, corruption and misuse of resources. This has become a major hindrance for development in our nation. Moreover, people did not have the right to even obtain information related to legislative, executive or the judicial bodies.
People formed various groups and started to fight against the system. Most of the pressure groups, NGO’s wanted the government to improve transparency in the administration. For this, many of the state governments stood as a support and this led to the introduction of the concept of “FREEDOM OF INFORMATION”. This was the very first step that many of the state governments took to eliminate malpractices. This concept failed because it did not have many features that the present RTI Act has. Moreover, we can say that Freedom of Information gradually took to form Right to Information.
In the early 2000’s the pressure to introduce this concept was put up on the government by various peer groups. So, the then government UPA-1 took a step forward and set up a committee to formulate a law for the same. For the first time the team consisted of public representation. Various activists like Aruna Roy, Arvind Kejriwal played a key role in incorporating the provisions of RTI.
The Right to Information bill was introduced and was passed in both the houses and this became an act in the year 2005. This is one of the most powerful act which is not even present in many of the developed countries in the world.
This Act provides for public information asked and it is mandatory that the information sought is to be given within 30 days. If it concerns to life and liberty of a person, then it is to be given in 48 hours.
Those who have nothing to do with public activity or public interest are exempted and exemption to especially those who have very few information which is to be blocked relating to National Security and personal interest. Also, this act includes the provision of disclosing the wealth of a public Authority.
The RTI act provides for an independent commission called the Central Information Commission (C.I.C) which is headed by a Chief Information Commissioner, along with a maximum of 10 information commissioners. These commissioners are appointed for a term of 5 years or 65 years of age whichever is lesser.
Under this act there are provisions for setting up of State Information Commission to look into the grievances of taluk, panchayat and at district levels so that it doesn’t affect the concept of Federal system. State Commission has the same provisions as that of C.I.C. The State Commission sends an annual report to C.I.C and the same is tabled in the parliament for discussion. RTI has been very effective since its inception. In the past 10 years, many of the RTI Activists were killed in the processes; this shows how effective the act has been.
The C.I.C in 2013 asked and ordered the political parties to come under RTI Act as the provision under Sec 2(h) of the act, but these political parties refused to come under it, as they fear that if information is sought on financial aspects, then information will be sought on denial and distribution of tickets. The RTI Act will impede a lot of complications on the political parties. Also, the C.I.C ordered that the judges are also public authorities as they serve the public and they must disclose their wealth with regard to the act. But in turn Supreme Court filed a case against C.I.C at the Delhi High Court. Justice A.P.Shah’s verdict in this case was again challenged in Supreme Court. Irony is that Supreme Court filed a case against C.I.C in Supreme Court itself. (The verdict is yet to be given)Though RTI act has been the most powerful act, it certainly has a number of loop holes.
The very term “Public Authority” is not defined under sec 2(h) of the act.
The NGO’s which receive substantial amount of money from government has no clarity but the government aided schools, college and institutions are deemed to it. Is this valid?
Under Sec 11 of the act, a third party has right to block content about himself and his consent is required to get his information. If the third party denies to give, then such information can never be disclosed under the act.
So if there has to be a flawless act, then this act needs to be reframed and a lot of definitions and provisions must be added. The RTI act should be considered as Right to survival and many of these information are crucial for enforcing the Fundamental Rights of the poor. According to many experts, RTI has been able to create an impact, moreover it has acquired a resilience that even the authors could not imagine.
RTI Act has been able to register its presence. Supreme Court has declared that RTI should be seen as a part of Fundamental Rights under Article 19. The act should now atleast be given a constitutional status as a fundamental right. The fact is when it comes to working, the attitude of most institutions are “GOOD FOR OTHERS, NOT FOR ME!”
Yours, Ganesh Datta Lakkur
Original Article Dated: 8th January 2015.