Starting from being a part of a fundamental right into having an Act on Right to Information, it has proved to be one of the key foundations to maintain the democratic working of the government. Being able to access records of the government makes democracy work for the people, by the people and makes it in the literal sense of the people. This article seeks to provide a brief analysis of RTI act and the impact of its recent amendment.

Introduction

“The right to know is like the right to live. It is fundamental and unconditional in its assumption that knowledge, like life, is a desirable thing.”

George Bernard Show.

The Constitution of India is a Democratic Republic. In order to protect democratic working of the system the fundamental right to information is used by the citizens to secure information which is under the control of public authorities, the constitution of a central Information Commission and state information Commissions to provide for transparency of information.

Allowing citizen to access such information helps them to prevent corruption by obtaining information about the working of the government authorities and to scrutinize it. This right grants to every citizen the right to question the government bodies as to how the taxes paid by them are used. It is also called a “Right to Know” or “Right of transparency”.

Background

The Official Secrets act came in to force in 1923 during the British Colonial times. The law is applicable to both government servants and citizen. The law states that spying, sharing secret information, using uniform for unauthorized work, communicating official secret to enemy nation, circulating official codes or passwords to enemy nation an offence punishable with imprisonment for 3 years that can extend up to 14 years or fine or both.

The information shall mean information in reference to a place occupied or belonging to or by the government, documents, passwords, photographs, maps, sketches, plans or models. When a newspaper exploits the provision of this act, everyone including the proprietor, editor and publisher shall be held liable under the act.

It was in 1977, that the Janta Government headed by Morarji Desai formed a group which would verify if the OSA can be modified so as to provide information to the public for transparency of the working of the government. The committee recommended that no change was required in the act ending the scope of transparency. In the case of Mr Kulwal v/s Jaipur Municipal Corporation, 1986 the petitioner filed a writ petition asking the court to issue directions to the state to perform its duties for the purpose of sanitation.

Right to Information

The Rajasthan HC declared that the right of freedom of speech guaranteed under Article 19(a) of the constitution of India is based on the freedom of “Right to know”. However, the state can impose reasonable restriction in matters were providing information that will affect the national security and integrity.

Later in 1987, Aruna Roy along with Nikhil Dey, Shankar Singh and others founded the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS). Initially MKSS were fighting for fair and equal wages for workers which eventually evolved into a Campaign for the enactment of Right to Information Act in India. Finally in the year 2005 because of the successful campaign of MKSS and NCPRI (National Campaign for People’s Right to Information) the Right to Information Act was passed on 15th June, 2005. The act came into force on 12th October, 2005.

The right to information is a part of fundamental right under Article 19(1) of the constitution of India which says that every citizen has freedom of speech and expression. The slogan “Hamara paisa, hamara hisab” by Sushila which means “our money, our accounts” was used during the Right to Information movement to define RTI as a right of transparency and accountability.

Need

Before 2005, it was not possible for the citizens to participate in any social, political or economic matters of the country. It was only because they had no access to information concerning public interest because such information dealt by the government or any public authority was not provided to the people. It is important for the citizens to know what the government is doing in order to promote democracy and good governance.

When the citizens know about the manner in which the finance is used by the government it builds a sense of responsibility on the government to work in a fair and not indulge into any corrupt activities.

The Supreme Court Justice K K Mathew, in State of U.P. vs. Raj Narain observed that the people of the country has right to know every public act, everything that is done by the public functionaries in a public way, the citizens are entitled to know the particulars of every public transactions. One should wary when secrecy is claimed for transaction which at any rate have no repercussion on public security.

Important Provisions Of RTI Act

Even though the right to information is termed as a fundamental right under Article 19(1) of the constitution of India, it was needed to have an act in place for the same to have its well-built governance. The important provisions of the Act are:

Jurisdiction (Section-1)

The act initially applied to the whole of India except for the state of Jammu and Kashmir. After the revocation of Article 370 of the Constitution the act now applies to the whole of India including the state of Jammu and Kashmir and also the union territory of Ladakh.

Definitions (Section-2)

Section 2 of the Act provides definitions of many terms. The section defines “record” as:

  1. document, manuscript and file;
  2. microfilm, microfiche and facsimile copy of a document;
  3. reproduction of image or images embodied in such microfilm (whether enlarged or not); and
  4. other material produced by a computer or any other device.

Who has the RTI (Section-3)

The act grants right to obtain information only to the citizens of India. The restriction is laid with subject to security of the nation.

Responsibilities on Public authorities (Section-4)

The section 4 of the act provides that every public authority as defined under the act shall have to maintain all its records and ensure that all such records shall within reasonable time and availability of resources should be computerized and connected through a network all over the country on accessible systems.

The section further provides that public authority in order to comply with its duty under the section should take steps to provide information suo moto to the public at regular intervals through various means of communication so that the public will not have to take the remedy to obtain such information under the act. It provides that every information should be communicated to the public through notice boards, newspaper, public announcements, media broadcast and internet or through inspections of office of any public authority.

The communication of information should be cost effective, in local language for easy understanding through a most effective method of communication in the respective areas. The information can be available at a minimum cost or for free depending on the medium of information whether printed or electronic.

Appointment and Responsibilities of Public information Officer (Section-5)

The Central Assistant Public Information Officer or a State Assistant Public Information Officer appointed at sub-divisional level or other sub-district level on receiving the applications for information or appeals under the act shall forward it to the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or senior officer or the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission specified as the case may be in accordance with section 19(1) of the act.

In case where the information or appeal is given to a Central Assistant Public Information Officer or a State Assistant Public Information Officer the additional period of 5 days will be added in computing the response under section 7 (1)of the act. The central or State Public Information Officer can take the assistance of other officers to deal with the requests for providing information to the concerned person.

The procedure for obtaining Information under the act (Section-6)

The desired person in order to obtain the information under act can request in writing/ electronic means (hindi or English or in the official language of the area) accompanying the prescribed fee to the respective public information officer as the case may be. The applicant can request the information providing only details necessary for contacting him without giving reason for such request.

Time limit and charges to provide information (Section-7)

Right to Information

The Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer should provide the information as requested within 30 days of the receipt of such request to the concerned person. The public officer can however if the prescribed fee is not paid by the person within 30 days provide such information after the payment of such fee. The information exceptionally should be provided within 48 hours on receipt of the request when the information concerns the life and liberty of a person. The request will deemed to be refused if it is not provided within the time period.

If the person is required to pay any further fee in respect of the cost than the public officer shall send him an intimation providing reasons for the same and time limit for such deposition. The person can review such decision. If the public authority fails to provide the information within the prescribed time than it has to be provided for free of cost.

Exemption from disclosure of information (Section-8)

There is no obligation on the Public information officer to provide following information to the citizens that concerns information:

  1. harming sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State,
  2. whose disclosure will be contempt of court,
  3. whose disclosure will amount to breach of privilege of Parliament or the State Legislature,
  4. of commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party,
  5. received in confidence from foreign Government, and few more such information.

Public officers could deny any information terming it a “secret” when asked under the Act. He can however provide information if public interest in disclosure of such information outweighs the harm to the protected interests. Subject to the above mentioned provisions the public officer can provide information of an event which has occurred 20 years back from the date to receipt of the request.

Grounds of rejection to access information (Section-9)

The public officer can reject the request if disclosure of such information will amount to an infringement of copyright of an existing person other than the State.

 Severability to provide information (Section-10)

In case where the information cannot be wholly provided subject to the security or any other reasons as defined under the act, the Public Officer can provide part of the information which does not contain any information which is exempt from disclosure and should provide reason for the same.

Third Party information (Section-11)

When a Public information officer receives an request to disclose such information that has been supplied by a third party and is treated confidential and he intends to disclose such information fully or partially than he has to within 5 days of receipt of such request give a written notice to the third party about his intention.

The third party should submit his view on the disclosure which should be kept in mind while making a decision for such disclosure. The public officer has to within 40 days make decision on whether to or not to disclose such information considering the third parties representation and provide the decision in writing to the third party. The third party has the right to appeal against the decision.

 Appeal (Section-19)

An aggrieved person who has not received the information within the prescribed period shall within 30 days from the receipt of such decision can file an appeal to the officer who is senior in rank to the officer to whom the request was applied. Such officer can however accept such appeal even after the expiry of 30 days if he is satisfied that appellant was prevented by sufficient cause from filing.

An appeal by third party against an order made by the officer under section 11 to disclose third party information shall be filed within 30 days of such order. A second appeal can be filed within 90 days from the date of receipt of order of first appeal with the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission as the case may be. Such appeals shall be disposed of within thirty days or maximum 45 days of its receipt. The reasons shall be recorded in writing.

 Penalties (Section-20)

When the concerned information officer:

  1. has refused to receive an application for information or
  2. has not furnished information within the time specified under sub-section or
  3. knowingly gave incorrect, incomplete or misleading information or
  4. destroyed information which was requested;

he will be impose with a penalty of two hundred and fifty rupees each day till application is received or information is furnished either by the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission. The total penalty amount should not exceed twenty-five thousand rupees. The public information officer will however be given an opportunity of being heard before imposing such penalty.

Bar of jurisdiction of courts (Section-23)

No court has the jurisdiction to entertain any suit, application or other proceeding in respect of any order made under this Act.

 Non-applicability of act on Intelligence and Security agencies (Section-24)

Nothing contained in the act applies to the intelligence and security organizations however, information pertaining to the allegations of corruption and human rights violations is not excluded under the section.

Amendment

The RTI amendment bill, 2019 has waived away fixed tenure of five years for the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and the Information Commissioners (IC), There has also been alteration of the salaries that will be received by them. Their tenure as well as the salary will now be separately determined by the government Central Government.

Conclusion

The main aim of introducing RTI act in 2005 was to design a system that will help gain better transparency and more accountability of government by excavating information about the working of the government, a system that will help to lessen corruption and arbitrary use of power.

The independence of the working of the Information officer was the most important part in determining that no officer is lured by the idea of gaining extra profit by way of corruption. Over the year the act has proved to a success. The recent amendment undermines the main aim by taking away the independence of the information commission. There are now chances that the information officer will try to serve at the pleasure of the government in order for increasing the possibility of gaining huge income and long tenure.

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