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To quote Thomas Jefferson, “Information is the currency of democracy.”

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The State of Tamil Nadu was the first Indian State to pass a law on RTI. Goa, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Delhi, and others followed after.
  • RTI was first introduced as Freedom of Information Act 2002, which was later replaced by the Right to Information Act, 2005.
  • The main focus of the Right to Information is to provide transparency and openness in the functioning of the government and to curb corruption.
  • RTI enables the Indian citizens to obtain information from both public as well as private sectors subject to the fact that information sought will not disturb the integrity and sovereignty of the nation and is not personal.
  • Certain users, however, tend to misuse the act and for this purpose, provisions have to be placed to prevent the same.

INTRODUCTION

Right to Information Act 2005 replaced the Freedom to Information Act of 2002. Right to Information can be considered as one of the most important rights conferred upon the Indian citizens which enables them to inspect and receive information regarding the functioning of the government and helps maintain transparency. RTI may have come into effect since 2005 but has a history that dates back to 1977, interesting, isn’t it?

This article has tried to throw light on the history of RTI in India, its scope, objectives, misuse, process of filing an RTI application and draft application. Keep reading to dive deep!

HISTORY OF RTI

The first political commitment to the right to information came up during the Lok Sabha elections in 1977 as an outcome of public outrage against the suppression of information, press censorship, and abuse of authority during the internal emergency of 1975 to 1977.

The Janata Party Government of 1977 promised in its manifesto an ‘open government’. Pursuant to this, Morarji Desai, constituted a working group to ascertain if the Official Secrets Act of 1923 could be modified to facilitate the flow of information to the public. However, the working group brought ‘no change’ recommendation and thus shut the doors to transparency and openness.

In the famous case of Mr. Kulwal vs Jaipur Municipal Corporation, the Apex Court directed that freedom of speech and expression provided under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution implied Right to Information on the basis that without the right to information, freedom of speech and expression could not be used to the full extent by the citizens.

Further, in 1989, the National Front Government renewed its commitment to the Right to Information as a result of citizens’ frustration over the former government’s reluctance to part with the information concerning Bofors and other deals. The then PM V. P. Singh in his first broadcast to the nation in 1989 guaranteed that the government will increase access to information. He also said that the Official Secrets Act will be amended to make the functioning transparent and the Right to Information will be enshrined in the Constitution. Unfortunately, despite the commitment, there was no reform concerning the openness of the Government due to the early fall of the National Front Government.

National Campaign for People’s Right to Information was founded in the year 1996 with the objective of getting the legislation on the Right to Information passed.

The year 1997 saw the first real progress relating to RTI when the State of Tamil Nadu became the first state in India to pass a law on the Right to Information.

Instead of waiting for central legislation, many states enacted their own laws on RTI. These states include Tamil Nadu (1997), Goa (1997), Rajasthan (2000), Maharashtra (2000), Karnataka (2000), and Delhi (2001)

After that, in light of the commitment of the National Democratic Alliance, the new coalition to implement its National Agenda on Governance introduced in the parliament, the Freedom of Information Bill in the year 2000. It was pending for about two years and the bill was finally passed in December 2002. It received the President’s assent on 6th January 2003.

Later in 2004, the UPA government constituted a National Advisory Council to monitor the implementation of government schemes and advise on policy and law. The NAC recommended changes to the Freedom of Information Act 2002. The RTI bill was tabled in the parliament as applicable only to the Union Government. The civilians protested against the bill as most of the information needed to the common man was from State Governments.

Finally, after heavy lobbying by the NCPRI and other organizations, the Right to Information Act was passed in the year 2005 with as many as 150 amendments.

OBJECTIVES OF THE ACT

The main objective of the Right to Information Act is to:

  1. Empower the citizens
  2. Promote transparency and accountability
  3. Contain corruption and
  4. Encourage and enhance people’s participation in the democratic process.

The Right to Information Act was adopted to curb corruption and scandals. Another factor that led to the adoption of this act was international pressure and activism. Modernization and informed society was another reason behind the act.

SCOPE OF RTI

The Right to Information Act covers all the constitutional authorities: executive, judiciary, and legislature. It also includes any institution or body established or constituted by a State Legislature or Parliament.

Any and all public authority offices come under the scope of the Right to Information. Citizens can inspect any government documents or inspect any of the government works under the provisions of this Act.

The main purpose of this act is to provide transparency and clarity in the government’s functioning.

Private organizations, the Cooperative sector, Non-Governmental Organizations, Government-funded NGOs, are also included under the ambit of the RTI.

Recently, in a 2019 judgment of the Supreme Court, the Office of the Chief Justice of India was also brought under the ambit of the RTI.

Right to Information Act provides that every Indian citizen is free to seek information from any public or government authority. But, the information sought must not be related to national security defense or anything concerned with personal details.

One can seek answers relating to applying for a delayed IT refund, driving license or passport, information related to funds allotted under different kinds of relief funds in the country, or inspect any government document or work. A student can also ask for copies of answer sheets from universities under this Act.

However, there are reasonable restrictions on the information that can be sought under the Right to Information Act as per section 8 of the Act.

Any information that might affect the sovereignty and integrity of India will be exempted from disclosure.

Information that has been expressly forbidden to be published by the Court of law or tribunal will be exempted from disclosure.

Further, any information that may breach the privileges of the Parliament, information received from the foreign governments, cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the council of ministers and other personnel, and information relating to commercial confidence or trade secrets or any information that could harm the competitive position of a third party shall also be exempted from disclosure.

Most importantly, any information that is personal and has no relation to public interest or activity whatsoever shall be exempted from the act.

Other than that, information that can endanger someone’s life or physical safety should be excluded from disclosure.

This covers the scope of the Right to information.

IMPORTANT PROVISIONS

  • Section 2 (j) of the Right to Information Act:

“Right to Information" means the right to information accessible under this Act which is held by or under the control of any public authority and includes the right to -

i) inspection of work, documents, records;
ii) taking notes, extracts, or certified copies of documents or records;
iii) taking certified samples of material;
iv) obtaining information in the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes, or any other electronic mode or through printouts where such information is stored in a computer or any other device;

  • Section 4 of the Right to Information Act:

Section 4 of the Act deals with the obligations of the Public authorities.

  • Section 8 of the Right to Information Act:

This is one of the most important sections of the Act. This particular section deals with the information, which is not obligated to be shared with any citizen.

  • Time Period:

In normal circumstances, the information has to be provided to the citizen within 30 days. However, in cases where the information sought concerns the life or liberty of the person, it should be provided within 48 hours. In case the application has been sent through Assistant Public Officer or is it is sent to the wrong authority, 5 days shall be added to the period of 48 hours.

MISUSE OF RTI

In the judicial system, the requirement of locus standi is first fulfilled and then the parties are heard but in RTI there is a lack of such requirement which is the reason behind the misuse of RTI.

RTI law is being misused by casual or habitual information-seekers for two obvious reasons. Firstly due to the non-applicability of the locus standi rule to RTI cases and secondly, non-requirement of giving reasons for seeking information. These two reasons give ample scope for non-serious information seekers to misuse it for their personal interest

The 11th annual report of the State Information Commissionerate (SIC) drew attention to possible “misuse” of the RTI Act by users. While the Public Information Officers (PIOs) and Appellate Authorities (AAs) have been speaking about the issue, this perhaps would be the first annual report regarding ‘misuse’ of the Laws. SIC has come across cases of a single person filing multiple appeals. Similarly, there have been cases of misuse of the financial flexibility given to below poverty line applicants.

Former CJI H. S. Kapadia noted that Right to Information is good law, however, it is being misused. He gave samples of the irrelevant questions that asked the Judges consuming their precious time which could have been utilized in studying petitions and case materials. “Why did you attend Nani Palkhivala Lecture? What time did you leave? Did you eat lunch or had tea? Which lawyer invited you for the function?” were some of the trivial questions put before the judge.

The misuse of RTI is boosted because of the complaint cases, irrelevant cases, and false cases and provisions have to be made to eradicate these impediments to smoothen the process of Right to Information.

A plea was filed in March 2021 before the Apex Court through Advocate Harsha SR and drawn by Advocate Reepak Kansal. It sought directions to introduce the contempt of locus standi of the applicant seeking information under the Right to Information Act based on strict scrutiny of the Applicant’s intentions. According to the plea, a heavy load of frivolous and repeated applications by habitual RTI activists, under RTI defeat the purpose and object of the Act. This affects the functioning of the government. The plea emphasizes the need to reduce the misuse of the RTI Act and implement guidelines to check the locus standi of RTI Applicants. The plea states that in the judicial system first the locus standi requirement is fulfilled and then the parties are heard but in RTI there is a lack of such requirement which is the reason behind the misuse of RTI. The plea stated that if a person can show the cause that relates him to the public office, the entire system would be solemn and would work to make it more limpid and efficacious.

CASE LAWS – MISUSE OF RTI

Central Board of Secondary Education vs. Aditya Bandopadhyay:

In this case, the Supreme Court of India held that Indiscriminate and impractical demands or directions under the RTI Act for disclosure of all and sundry information (unrelated to transparency and accountability within the functioning of public authorities and eradication of corruption) would be counter-productive. The Apex Court held that it’ll adversely affect the efficiency of the administration and end in the executive getting loaded with the non-productive work.

Uma Kanti & Ramesh Chandra v. Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti:

This is the worst case to have come before the court regarding the misuse of RTI along with some others. Complainant Smt. Uma Kanti and Shri Ramesh Chandra filed two RTI-applications with the Public Information Officer, New Delhi, seeking information/documents on more than 200 items regarding various issues pertaining to the Department. In another RTI-application the Appellant sought information on 149 counts relating to various issues. After failing to get any information from the PIO, the Complainant approached the Central Information Commission in 2007. This case shows the necessity of some provision under the RTI Act for taking action against the applicants who blatantly misuse the RTI Act.

Shri Ramesh Chand Jain v. DTC

In Shri Ramesh Chand Jain vs. DTC, it was held that “even a single repetition of RTI application would demand the valuable time of the public authority, first appellate authority and if it also reaches the second appeal, that of the Commission, which time could have been spent to hear another appeal or answer another application or perform other public duty. Every repetition of RTI application which was earlier responded are going to be an obstruction to flow of information and defeats the aim of the RTI Act.”

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty more cases regarding the misuse of the Right to Information Act

PROCESS OF FILING RTI APPLICATION

Online Process

  1. Go to https://rtionline.gov.in
  2. Click on submit request
  3. Click on ‘I have read and understood the above guidelines’ checkbox
  4. Fill the required details on the page that will be displayed
  5. Write the text of the application in the prescribed column. If the text contains more than 3000 characters, you can upload the rest of the text as an attachment by using ‘supporting document’
  6. If you are a BPL citizen, select ‘yes’ for the same and provide a supporting document so that you will be exempted from paying the RTI fee.
  7. If you not a BPL citizen, select ‘no’ and proceed with payment of prescribed fee.
  8. After paying the fee you will be redirected to the RTI portal.
  9. The registration number of original application will be generated which has to be used for reference in the future.

Offline Process

  1. Identify the department in which you wish to file the RTI application and find out whether it comes under the scope of the local authority, state or central government.
  2. Write or type out the application either in Hindi or English or in the local language of the area. Public Information Officer can also be asked to write the application.
  3. Address the application to the concerned state or central Public Information Officer and write ‘Seeking information under the RTI Act - 2005’ in the subject line.
  4. Put the request in the form of a detailed and specific question mentioning the year or period the application falls in.
  5. To file the application, pay Rs. 10 in cash, or through bank draft, or money order, or court fee stamp. Citizens living under the poverty line are exempted from paying the fee if legitimate proof is produced.
  6. Mention your full name, address, contact details and email address and the name of the town and date.
  7. You can send the application by mail or hand it over at the office of the authority personally. You need to keep a photocopy of the request.
  8. Receive an acknowledgement from the office.

DRAFT APPLICATION

The Right to Information Act, 2005 does not lay down any prescribed format for the Application. It is up to you to figure what you must include in your application. However, here’s a sample application –

To,
The Public Information Officer,
(Concerned Department)
(Address)
Subject: Seeking information under the RTI Act – 2005

Respected Sir/ Madam,

  1. (Your name)
  2. (Father’s/Husband’s Name)
  3. (Address)
  4. (Whether you belong below or above BPL)

I humbly request you to please provide true and certified copies of the following:

  1. (information you seek)
  2. (information you seek)

I state that the information sought does not fall within the restriction contained in Section 8 & 9 of the RTI Act and to the best of my knowledge it pertains to your office.
Place:
Date:
Signature

CONCLUSION

Right to Information is one of the best rights given to Indian citizens. It encourages and enhances public participation in the working of the government and helps to keep the government in check. Indian Citizens can file an RTI Application anytime by going to the RTI Portal i.e. https://rtionline.gov.in and submit the application or they can do it the old fashioned by applying offline with the concerned authorities.

However, the misuse of the Right to Information Act has to be brought under control, and for doing the same, certain parameters need to be established. This can be done by implementing guidelines to check the locus standi of the applicants and their relation concerning the information they are seeking, etc.


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