By, Amrita Dasgupta, South Calcutta Law College.

An 82 year long movement came to an end in May, 2005 when the Right to Information Act was passed unanimously by both the Houses of Parliament. It is marked as the dawn of a new era. It is a powerful tool for the citizens to know the system better and also how tax on their hard-earned money is being used by the authorities. It became effective on and from October 13, 2005 and extends to the whole of India except the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The Central Information Commission (CIC) consisting of a Chief Information Commissioner and the Information Commissioners not exceeding 10, is given the authority to interpret the RTI Act, 2005.

Right to Information Act is a basic human right protected by the Constitution of India. Just like it has empowered the citizens to beseech the public authorities for any information on governmental functions, it also has categorically exempted information relating to certain public authorities from release. Other statutes like the Official Secrets Act, 1923 and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 contain certain provisions according to which some types of information are immune from disclosure. Moreover, it is only the public sector where the Right to Information Act is applicable. Therefore, the Act has limited area of operation. Also in People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India AIR 2004 SC 1442: (2004) 2 SCC 476, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court of India, constituted by Justice S.B.Sinha and Justice B.M.Khare, held that “45. Right to Information is a facet of the freedom of ‘speech and expression’ as contained in Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India. Right to Information, thus, indisputably is a Fundamental Right.”1

Objectives of the RTI Act are:

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  • To empower the citizens to seek information as a matter of right

  • To maintain transparency

  • To check the large-scale corruption caused in the system

  • To demand greater accountability on the part of the public authorities, Central Information Commission and also State Information Commission

  • To escalate the awareness of the citizens regarding the governmental functions

The rights of the citizens as enfolded under the RTI Act, 2005 comprehends taking copies of any governmental documents, ask questions on any activity of government or any other public authority or seek for any information on any matter pertaining to the government and inspect any document or inspect their works. The information may also include the records, emails, opinions, advices, papers, reports or any data in electronic form.

The term “public authority” includes the Central government, State government, any institution or company subordinate to the Central or State governments, any NGO subordinate to the government, any organisation financed by Central or State government or any non-government organisation.

Advantages:

  • Transparency: It ensures the right of the citizens to acquire as much information they want regarding the governmental activities, rules and regulations, etc. This creates a room for better communication between the public authorities and the citizens.

  • Citizen-centric approach: Due to the enforcement of this Act, the authorities are sure to let out information as asked for by the citizens and this made the authorities to think more before taking any random step.

  • Availability of Information: RTI created an easy form of letting out information to the person concerned thus resulting in accessibility of information relating to governmental activity to the person who seeks for such information. Moreover, the application for information is to be responded by the public servants within 30 days of application.

  • Reduction in Corruption: As all the information is accessible, the graph to that of corruption has taken a down-curve.

  • Government-public relation: The Act also ensures the strengthening of government-public relation due to the increase in communication.

  • Greater Accountability: Various government policies like National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Sarwa Shiksha Abhiyan, Mid-day Meal Scheme, National Rural Health Mission and many others are being launched by the Government.

  • A person can obtain information in any manner, even in disks, floppies, tapes, cassettes, or by any other means.

Like RTI Act has advantages, it also has certain drawbacks.

Disadvantages:

  • Many departments of Government have appointed more than necessary public information officers (PIOs), which results in difficulty to gain information.

  • Difficulty to people’s access to the PIOs. Without security pass people are not allowed to meet the PIOs and at times they are made to wait for hours for security passes.

  • It also has been reported that various ministries and departments of the government are insisting that they will only accept the specific forms that they have designed. The law, however, does not provide for a form or does not authorize the public authorities to prescribe forms. Therefore, whereas they can have recommendatory formats, they must accept all requests even if they are on plain paper. Perhaps the DoPT (Department of Personnel and Training) should be asked to send a circular accordingly.2

  • Due to overburdened applications for information, sometimes, wrong information is given out. Sometimes, the authorities fail to respond to the applications even at the expiry of 30 days within which information was supposed to be communicated.

Also, the Public Information Officers are penalized, in case they do not or fail to respond to the RTI applicants or knowingly give incorrect information or refrain from accepting the applications, with a sum of Rs. 250 each day till is let out on a condition that the total sum for penalty shall not exceed Rs. 25,000. The PIO shall be given a reasonable opportunity to be heard before penalty is imposed on him.

Thus, RTI has helped the people with transparency of the functions of public authorities. It has reached the people of remote villages too enabling them to seek information on different matters and also to redress their grievances.

However, the efficacy of law does not depend on its content but on its proper implementation. Governance has to be an open book and officials should be conscious of the fact that they are liable for omissions and commissions during their tenure for just and systematic work rather than doing things at their whims and fancies arbitrarily and getting away with it—after all, the affected people are the country’s common masses who bear the brunt of mismanagement. The RTI has to play a critical role in systematic corrections rather than limiting its success to individual cases. Then only the RTI Act can be considered a step towards ensuring a stronger and vibrant democratic process in India.3