FLAT 20% OFF and 3-Months ADDED Validity on All Courses Absolutely FREE! Enroll Now Use Code: INDIA20
LCI Learning

Share on Facebook

Share on Twitter

Share on LinkedIn

Share on Email

Share More


The importance of Right to Information (RTI) in today’s scenario in India

Background

For gaining insights into this topic, it may be worthwhile to dwell just a little bit on the utility and purpose of information per se. Information can be of various forms and kinds. It could vary from someone wanting to know directions to somebody’s house or the money required to be paid for a certain service or the documents required to be produced in a place, or the status of a certain train or plane, or whether a specific document/ money has been received by a certain authority…the list could go on and on. Receiving authentic information on any of the above mentioned aspects as quickly as possible would in itself be not only reassuring to the seeker of the information but would save him enormous the effort and trouble in going around seeking answers or clarifications. In other words information delivered quickly and accurately can make life so much simpler!

International view:

The sanctity and significance of information as an empowering tool has been understood since long. Sweden’s Freedom of Press Act, 1766 is perhaps the oldest recognized piece of legislation on the importance of information. Around 90 countries have some form of legislation relating to information. The steadily growing importance and realization of information as a tool is beginning to be understood worldwide. The fact that as late as 1990 only 13 countries had such a legislation and now that number has increased seven fold, is in itself a proof of more and more countries realizing the power and significance of this tool. United Nations General Assembly had, as far back as 1946 termed the freedom of Information as ‘a fundamental human right’. There has generally been an attempt also to make information gathering or seeking less problematic. For instance, one of the basic principles underlying most freedom of information legislation is that the burden of proof falls on the body asked for information, not the person asking for it.

The arduous journey from disabling to the enabling: The journey from the withholding rather than enabling or empowering provisions of the Official Secrets Act of 1899 (enacted during the British Raj), through the amendments of the same Act in 1923 and then through the Freedom of Information Act of 2002 in post-independent India culminating finally in the RTI Act of 2005 has been a gradual, sometimes painful but nonetheless relentless struggle spanning more than 100 years. The Right To Information is not a new concept in India. The foundation for the Right To Information was laid in India in the year 1975 by a landmark judgment of the Supreme Court in which it ruled that "The people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything, that is done in a public way, by their public functionaries. They are entitled to know the particulars of every public transaction in all its bearing. The right to know...is derived from the concept of freedom of speech." [1] . This ruling was significant because it interpreted the Right to free speech enshrined in Article 19(a) of the constitution as inclusive of the Right to Information.

However, this Right To Information, though declared by the Supreme Court as just and necessary, was still inaccessible to the common man. To give the common man access to this Right to Information, there were numerous campaigns organized in the country over a span of nearly 20 years. These campaigns, mainly led by Anna Hazare and Aruna Roy, gave a voice to people's demand for a framework for accessing their constitutional Right to Information.

One cannot but mention the recent crusading work of social activists like Arvind Kejriwal, Aruna Roy, Subash Chandra Aggarwal, Sailesh Gandhi and many more men and women whose unbounded energy and perseverance has made the RTI Act of 2005 possible, workable and enforceable.

What is RTI Act all about?:

The RTI Act 2005 took effect from October 13th of the same year and grants all citizens of India access to records of all Central and State Governments except the state of J&K. This Right is applicable even on all bodies owned, controlled or substantially financed by the Government and this includes the Non Governmental Organizations (similarly funded or financed by the Government). Many years ago, Gurudev Tagore had wished that his countrymen wake up into ‘that heaven of freedom’ ‘Where the mind is free and the head is held high’. If there is any one legislation in India today which is extensive in its empowerment, widespread in its reach and domain, simple and yet powerful in its application and procedure, quick and authentic in its response and above all legally binding and enforceable, then it is the RTI Act of 2005 which is all this and more! One cannot think of any other provision wherein a poor man in a remote village of India can seek information about his ration card or land record or a farming loan from the local Panchayat or Block Development office and get it without being made to go around in circles by a callous or unfeeling bureaucracy. A passport applicant or a person who has applied for a driving license and is not getting any satisfactory reply from the authorities has been vested with the Right to demand and receive more information about his application from the concerned authorities. What is even more attractive about the RTI Act 2005 is the requirement of speed. An application filed under the RTI Act has to be responded (usually) within the stipulated time of 30 days. The Central Information Commission (CIC) is the authority charged with interpreting the RTI Act, 2005. In one recent case, the CIC for instance has clearly ruled that ‘giving information is the rule and denial an exception’ [2]

The gains from the use and application of RTI:

Transparency has come to be recognized as one of the critical if not the most critical element in winning trust of the people at large. RTI promotes transparency by getting things out into the public domain and by virtue of this, mitigates corruption. It keeps administrative and civic bodies on their toes. In other words, it promotes efficiency. It saves the seeker of the information a lot of trouble and avoidable wastage of time and effort. Perhaps the most important aspect of RTI is its empowerment. A poor, hapless villager, from a remote village of India can now demand and get information from his/ her Panchayat as a matter of his/ her right.

What are the possible disadvantages of RTI:

RTI per se has no real disadvantages. It can perhaps have none! Its use could however be improved upon. The awareness  campaign about RTI as an empowering tool needs to be further popularized in the vast interiors of the country so that information relating to RTI becomes available to everyone. Just as every right brings with it its own share of responsibility, the RTI also places a tacit responsibility upon the seeker of information to use this Act judiciously, wisely and for the overall benefit of the society. It should not be used to settle personal scores, or to ferret information on trivial or inconsequential matters and thereby waste the time and effort (which can be better utilised elsewhere) of authorities.

Move to make RTI more popular and better understood: There are many NGOs working towards this objective. Youth Forum for RTI; Nyaya Bhoomi – Step by step RTI procedures; Aid India; Sakshi Trust; Kabir; Parivartan; Satyameva Jayate etc. are some of the NGOs/ organisations. The CIC has on its web site  details regarding cases filed for appeal under the RTI. It also, among other things, spells out details relating to the filing of an RTI application (through reproduction of the RTI Act, 2005), the time period under which a reply can be expected etc.

The Right To Information And Article 19 Of The Constitution:

This Right to Information (RTI) is basically a derivative of the Article 19 of the Constitution which deals with protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech etc. it says, "All the citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression." The idea is that if we do not have information on how our Government and public institutions function, we cannot express any informed opinion on it. To know this right in a more better way, we should try to understand the freedom of press. The freedom of the press is an essential element for a democracy to function. The justification is that the democracy revolves round the basic idea of citizens being at the centre of governance - rule of the people. We need to define the importance of the concept of freedom of the press from this fundamental premise. It is obvious that the main reason for a free press is to ensure that citizens are informed. If this is one of the main reasons for the primacy given to the freedom of the press, it clearly flows from this that the citizens' right to know is paramount.

Also, since the government is run on behalf of the people, they are the owners who have a right to be informed directly.

Justice Mathews ruled in another  case [3] and said, "In a government of responsibility like ours, where all the agents of the public must be responsible for their conduct, there can be but 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 public functionaries. They are entitled to know the particulars of every public transaction in all its bearing. Their 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".

Thus, the Right to Information Act is a codification of this important fundamental right (Article 19) of citizens. The right has existed since the time India became a republic, but was difficult to enforce without going to court. The Act and its rules define a format for requisitioning information, a time period within which information must be provided within 30 days , method of giving the information and some exemptions . All this information can be derived by accompanying such fee as may be prescribed, to (a) the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, of the concerned public authority; (b) the Central Assistant Public Information Officer or State Assistant Public Information Officer, as the case may be, specifying the particulars of the information sought by the person interested. The principle is that charges should be minimum more as a token. They are not at all representative of the costs that may be incurred. Citizens can ask for information by getting Xerox copies of documents, permissions, policies, and decisions. Inspection of files can also be done and samples can be asked for.

All administrative offices of public authorities have to appoint `Public Information Officers (PIO). Citizens can apply for information to the PIO of the office concerned. If it is not provided or is refused, the citizen can go to an Appellate Authority who would be an official in the same department, senior to the PIO. If this too does not produce a satisfactory result, one can appeal to the State or Central Information Commissioner, an independent Constitutional Authority being established under the Act.

Penal Provisions Under The Act

One of the major reasons for the success of the Maharashtra and Delhi Right to Information Acts is that there is a provision for penalising the PIO in case he does not give the information within the mandated period. The National Act, which has drawn a lot of inspiration from the Maharashtra Act, also provides for a penalty for delay on the PIO at a rate of Rs.250 a day . There is also provision for disciplinary action against recalcitrant PIOs in some cases .

Thus the Right to Information provides for a time bound and defined process for citizens to access information about all actions taken by public authorities. The penal provisions are the strength of the Act, which ensure that the PIO does not treat citizens' demands for information in a cavalier manner. The primary power of RTI is the fact it empowers individual citizens to requisition information. Hence without necessarily forming pressure
groups or associations, it puts power directly into the hands of the foundation of democracy - the citizens. There will certainly be an attempt to subvert this revolutionary right by the ruling coterie, since it strikes at the basics of their power. This can easily be countered if enough citizens use the Act. Citizens can use the right from their own houses and usually it does not take more than about two hours to make an RTI application.

There is a great need to spread the usage of this countrywide, so that transparency and good governance triumph. We now have the power; we only need to use it. It is simple to use, and the benefits are immense.

The Right to Information (RTI) Act of 2005 promises to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority . This Act is supposed to enable people to responsibly scrutinise government officials and legal processes.

In 1975 itself the Supreme Court observed that in a responsible government as ours, where all the agencies of public service must be responsible for their conduct, there can be only few confidential matters. The people of the country have a right to know the details about the functionaries function. In this context, Supreme Court judgements have made it mandatory for candidates to disclose certain information while contesting elections.
 

The RTI Act states that public authorities shall make known the particulars of facilities available to citizens for Public Information Officers. According to Section 7 of the Act within 30 days of the receipt of the request, either the information be provided on payment of fee if any or the request rejected and the reason(s) mentioned. If information sought for concerns the life or liberty of a person, the same shall be provided within 48 hours. There is a provision for appeal within 30 days. The Information Commission can impose a penalty on the Public Information Officer amounting to Rs 250 each day delayed till the information is furnished. This Act exempts certain intelligence and security organisations from its purview (Chapter VI). However, information on corruption and human rights violations are not excluded under this Section. Information on human rights violation is to be provided within 45 days.
 

Thus this Act puts in place implementation mechanisms and processes. However, there are certain issues of bureaucratic and political cultures and secrecy which are used to centralised control of information . In the year 2006, the Central Government proposed certain amendments to the Act. It was interpreted by the Central Information Commission that the Act includes right to see file notings which show advices and opinions of bureaucrats on the concerned issue. However , the government argued that this right was not included in the Act in the first place. The Central Government is now ready to confer a limited right with regard to social sector expenditure and development projects only. Further, no information would be provided on ongoing matters. Only final decisions would be conveyed. Such changes would have gone against the very tenets on which the Right to Information is based.
 

Finally, a fierce protest by activists of certain States and people at large put a lid on attempts to limit the scope of this Act. Gandhian and social campaigner, Anne Hazare, who recently passed away, went on an indefinite fast in Maharashtra. In Delhi, protest rallies were held at Jantar Mantar. The Left also clarified that it would not support the Amendments Bill in Parliament. The government realised its image were on downslide and decided not to go ahead with the Amendments

There is an imperative that the government develops and organises educational programmes to create awareness among the public, especially the disadvantaged people, on how to exercise their right as envisaged by this Act. The Bihar Government has started a system where a person can file an RTI application by simply calling the helpline number. This is an important step wherein illiterate people can take recourse to RTI without going through cumbersome paperwork and procedures. Further, to make it more people-friendly, electronic mail facility can also be introduced. A recent decision by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Grievances and Personnel to recommend scrapping of fees at the time of filing applications seeking information from the government departments under the RTI is a welcome step.
 

Of course like any other Act RTI also calls for judicious implementation. It should not be misused either. The Central Information Commission (CIC) has ruled out disclosure of information pertaining to bank account details under RTI on the ground that agreements entered into by banking enterprises with its customers were matters of commercial confidence. Further, while dismissing an application which sought information as to why certain tariff policy was framed by the Centre, the CIC has held that citizens cannot question governmental policies and plans through the RTI . In any case Sections 8 to 10 of the RTI Act exempt certain information from disclosure if it affects the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific and economic interests of the state, relations with foreign states or that may be subjudice, lead to breach of privilege of Parliament, State Legislature, or impede the process of investigation or endangers the life of a person.
 

However, in many cases the implementation of the Act has spelled success. Issues like public distribution system, privatisation initiatives, pensions and reforms, road repairs, electricity connections, telecom complaints have been dealt by people through the RTI . Many honest officers also feel strengthened as all decisions are now open to civil society and media scrutiny which will act as a deterrent to uncalled for political pressure.
 

Recently documents obtained under the RTI by a Ludhiana based NGO reveal that money collected for Kargil war relief and rehabilitation of tsunami and cyclone victims was misused by senior public officials. Bureaucrats heading local branches of the Indian Red Cross Society diverted this money to pay hotel bills. This case further highlights the importance of strict implementation of the RTI Act to cleanse the system of possible corruption.
 

Common men and women have both benefited from this Act. For example [4] , a case of a petitioner who waited for 18 years to get compensation for a plot acquired before independence was resolved through the RTI plea. However, if we specially talk about women empowerment, then yes this Act has contributed in its own way in creating conditions for the woman to take recourse to a better well-informed decision-making process, even in her day-to-day life.
 

An issue that concerns women most is that of food security. In Delhi [5] ,women spearheaded the campaign to reform the public distribution, that is, the ration distribution system. Ration shopkeepers either used to keep their shops closed or enough supply was not available with them as prescribed.As soon as these women took recourse to the RTI , the ration shops opened, some shopkeepers even apologised to the people, the ration supply improved and licences of some corrupt shopkeepers stood cancelled.Thus RTI has added another dimension against corrupt practices. Moreover, with this Act in place,women can also access information on issues like domestic violence,harassment at workplaces,whether police is refusing to register an FIR in serious dowry related cases and deaths.
 

Thus RTI has helped people in making an informed choice. People have access to the decision-making process, reasons for government delays, for example, why a ration card is being unduly delayed. Common citizens can now escape harassment from public officials. 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 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 the whims and fancies arbitrarily and getting away with it—after all the affected are the country 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.

IMPORTANCE OF THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION

India’s ‘Right to Information Act’ is helping people wrest back power from bureaucrats and find out how public money is being spent. Across India, the RTI is help in g people wrest back power from the authorities and f in d out how public money is being spent, or – in to o many cases – siphoned of f. The Act became effective nationwide in October 2005, but has snowballed in the last few months. Similar to the British Freedom of Information Act it allows citizens to inspect government records, take copies and question the government for a basic fee of 10 rupees (about 1p). This is revolutionary in a country where public information has always been out of bounds. For years, greedy bureaucrats – known in India as babus – have demanded bribes for the most routine of tasks. Corruption has become something to be tolerated with a shrug.

Now even the poorest of Indians are us in g the RTI to secure everything from repair in g roads and sewers to getting passports, subsidised food,school places and old age pensions. The Information Act has also exposed corruption in various public schemes, including disaster relief, public distribution systems, and privatised water supplies.“The RTI is a magic wand. For the first time, the common man has an effective tool to fight bribery and apathy,”says Arv in d Kejriwal, a former bureaucratturned- RTI activist and founder of Parivartan (‘transformation’),an organisation which works for social change. Kejriwal was awarded the 2006 Ram on Magsaysay award for his efforts in popularising the RTI.

The RTI applies to all public authorities, which must appoint public information officials. These officials must deliver information with in 30 days, with certain exceptions for national security. Those who don’t are fined 250 rupees for every day of delay, up to a maximum of 25,000 rupees.

The government tried to amend the RTI to exclude the disclosure of file notings[6]:crucial jottings in the file that record the op in ions and act ions of officials. After a public outcry, the amendment was withdrawn.

Most Indians rema in unaware of their right to information,particularly in rural areas.In deed, the highest number of applications come not from ordinary citizens, but from bureaucrats seek in g information about the ir transfers or promotions. The re have also been reports of applicants being threatened, beaten or harassed by the police.

The Right to Information Act still has a long way to go to become truly effective but the good news is that in novative ways are be in g devised to help people use it. Bihar, India’s poorest state, has just become the first state to launch an RTI phone helpline. Volunteers will help illiterate people to file applications on the phone. Says journalist and activist Manish Sisodia, who helps villagers in remote locations to use the Act , “It’s much easier to convince poor villagers to fight for their right s than urban Indians, because the y are so badly of f that they have nothing to lose.” Sisodia is part of a pilot project that aims to help villagers in five remote villages file 1,500 applications by the end of the year.Nationwide, newspapers, social activists and TV channels are conduct in g awareness drives. Right to Information cells are be in g opened in railway stations, colleges and community centres.The slogan Hamara paise hamara hisaab(‘Our money, our accounts’) is gaining popularity.

RIGHT TO INFORMATION IS NOT ABSOLUTE

As no right can be absolute, the Right to Information has to have its limitations. There will always be areas of information that should remain protected in public and national interest. Moreover, this unrestricted right can have an adverse effect of an overload of demand on administration. So the information has to be properly, clearly classified by an appropriate authority.

The usual exemption permitting Government to withhold access to information is generally in respect of the these matters: (1) International relations and national security; (2) Law enforcement and prevention of crime; (3) Internal deliberations of the government; (4) Information obtained in confidence from some source outside the Government; (5) Information which, if disclosed, would violate the privacy of an individual; (6) Information, particularly of an economic nature, when disclosed, would confer an unfair advantage on some person or subject or government; (7) Information which is covered by legal/professional privilege, like communication between a legal advisor and his client and (8) Information about scientific discoveries and inventions and improvements, essentially in the field of weapons.

These categories are broad and information of every kind in relation to these matters cannot always be treated as secret. There may be occasions when information may have to be disclosed in public interest, without compromising the national interest or public safety. For example, information about deployment and movement of armed forces and information about military operations, qualify for exemption. Information about the extent of defence expenditure and transactions for the purchase of guns and submarines and aircraft cannot be totally withheld at all stages.

RIGHT TO INFORMATION IN OTHER COUNTRIES

In recent years, many Commonwealth countries like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have passed laws providing for the right of access to administrative information. USA, France and Scandinavian countries have also passed similar laws. US Freedom of Information Act ensures openness in administration by enabling the public to demand information about issues as varied as deteriorating civic amenities, assets of senators and utilisation of public funds.

It is not only the developed countries that have enacted freedom of information legislation, similar trends are seen in the developing countries as well. The new South Africa Constitution specifically provides the Right to Information in its Bill of Rights--thus giving it an explicit constitutional status. Malaysia operates an on-line data base system known as Civil Services Link, through which a person can access information regarding functioning of public administration. There is thus a global sweep of change towards openness and transparency.

In USA, the first amendment to the Constitution provided for the freedom of speech and expression. The country had already passed the Freedom of Information Reform Act 1986, which seeks to amend and extend the provisions of previous legislation on the same subject. But this right is not absolute. Recently, the US Supreme Court struck down two provisions of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), 1996, seeking to protect minors from harmful material on the Internet precisely because they abridge the freedom of speech protected by the first amendment. Moreover, the vagueness in the CDA’s language, the ambiguities regarding its scope and difficulties in adult-age verification, make CDA unfeasible in its application to a multifaceted and unlimited form of communications such as Internet.

Sweden has been enjoying the right to know since 1810. It was replaced in 1949 by a new Act which enjoyed the sanctity of being a part of the country’s Constitution itself. The principle is that every Swedish citizen should have access to virtually all documents kept by the State or municipal agencies.

In Australia, the Freedom of Information Act was enacted in December 1982. It gave citizens more access to the Federal Government’s documents. With this, manuals used for making decisions were also made available. But in Australia, the right is curtailed where an agency can establish that non-disclosure is necessary for protection of essential public interest and private and business affairs of a person about whom information is sought.

Even the Soviets, under Mikhail Gorbachev, have realised that "the State does not claim monopoly of truth any longer". Glasnost has cast away the cloud of secrecy and stresses the priority of human values.

Even as steps are taken to ensure openness in matters affecting the public, there has to be a greater sense of responsibility on the part of users of information in the media and elsewhere. Journalists must ensure that they seek information in public interest and not as agents of interested parties.

LANDMARK JUDGEMENTS

The need for Right to Information has been widely felt in all sectors of the country and this has also received judicial recognition through some landmark judgements of Indian courts.

A Supreme Court judgement delivered by Mr. Justice Mathew is considered a landmark. In his judgement in the state of UP vs. Raj Narain [7] (1975) case, Justice Mathew rules-In a government of responsibility like ours, where all the agents of the public must be responsible for their conduct, there can be but 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 public functionaries. They are entitled to know the particulars of every public transaction in all its bearing. Their 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. But the legislative wing of the State did not respond to it by enacting suitable legislation for protecting the right of the people.

According to Attorney General Soli Sorabjee - It was in 1982 that the right to know matured to the status of a constitutional right in the celebrated case of S P Gupta vs. Union of India [8] , popularly known as Judges case. Here again the claim for privilege was laid before the court by the Government of India in respect of the disclosure of certain documents. The Supreme Court by a generous interpretation of the guarantee of freedom of speech and expression elevated the right to know and the right to information to the status of a fundamental right, on the principle that certain unarticulated rights are immanent and implicit in the enumerated guarantees.

The court declared - The concept of an open government is the direct emanation from the right to know which seems to be implicit in the right of free speech and expression guaranteed under article 19 (1) (a).

The Supreme court of India has emphasised in the SP Gupta case (1982) that open Government is the new democratic culture of an open society towards which every liberal democracy is moving and our country should be no exception. In a country like India which is committed to socialistic pattern of society, right to know becomes a necessity for the poor, ignorant and illiterate masses.

In 1986, the Bombay High Court followed the SP Gupta judgement in the well-known case Bombay [9] The Bombay High Court distinguished between the ordinary citizen looking for information and groups of social activists. This was considered a landmark judgement concerning access to information.

There was subsequently an important case dealing with the right to know [10] and an important case dealing with the direction on voters right to be informed [11]

Case Studies: A few cases filed and decided upon under the terms of the RTI Act, 2005 are listed below:

1) The Central Information Commission (CIC) recently directed (May 2009) the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to disclose all details pertaining to the inquiry into alleged misuse of government funds between 2005-06 by the then Ambassador to Turkey, Ms. Chitra Narayan. The details of the case, closed by the Central Vigilance Officer of the MEA saying it may have been a procedural error but without any financial loss to the government, were sought by the applicant, Mr. Balendra Kumar, under RTI Act. The information sought by him was denied by the Ministry citing the clause of the Act which exempts personal information which has no relationship to any public activity or interest or which could cause unwarranted invasion of privacy of the individual from disclosure. ‘There is no merit in denial of information as ‘personal information’ while invoking Section 8 (1)(j) of the RTI Act, ‘since public interest far outweighs any harm done to protected interests’, held Information Commissioner Annapurna Dixit. The case relates to a complaint made to Central Vigilance Commission under Public Interest Disclosure and Protection of Informers (PIDPI), disclosing incidents of alleged misuse of government funds and corruption at the Embassy during the period that Chitra Narayan was the Ambassador of India to Turkey.

Shri Tapas Kumar Das v  IISCO Steel Plant, SAIL

 It was stated that the appellant has grievances relating to service matters, mainly his promotion. In this context, he has sought for various information through as many as 14 applications, all of which have been duly replied and the information have also been furnished. He also stated that even though there is no denial of information, the appellant is mis-using the provisions of the Act for putting unnecessary pressure on the respondent for providing promotion to the appellant.

The appellant has neither responded to the notice for hearing nor indicated as to which information has been refused to him. As there are no provisions under the Act for redressal of grievances of the employees of the respondent, the appellant is advised to seek legal remedy in the matter.

 This appeal was therefore, considered unnecessary and is thus disposed of.

MOVEMENT FOR THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION

Simultaneously very significant development has taken place. The demand for Right to Information has taken the form of mass movement at the grassroot level. A mass based organisation called the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) took an initiative to lead the people in a very backward region of Rajasthan - Bhim Tehsil- to assert their right to information by asking for copies of bills and vouchers and names of persons who have been paid wages mentioned in muster rolls on the construction of schools, dispensaries, small dams and community centres. On paper such development projects were all completed, but it was common knowledge of the villagers that there was gross misappropriation of funds with roofless school buildings, dispensaries without walls, dams left incomplete and community centres having no doors and windows.

After years of knocking at officials’ doors and despite the usual apathy of the State government, MKSS succeeded in getting photocopies of certain relevant documents. Misappropriation of funds was clearly obvious. In some cases, the muster rolls contained names of persons who either did not exist at all or died years before. This incident is more than sufficient to show the importance of the ability of information for eradicating mal-practices. With so many scandals emerging from time to time, it becomes vital for the management of public fund and survival of democracy.

In early 1989, the then the Prime Minister Mr. VP Singh declared the attitude of the new Government on the Right to Information and transparent government. He said, "An open system of governance is an essential prerequisite for the fullest flowering of democracy. Free flow of information from the Government to the people will not only create an enlightened and informed public opinion but also render those in authority accountable. In the recent past, we have witnessed many distortions in our information system The veil of secrecy was lowered many a time not in the interest of national security, but to shield the guilty, vested interests or gross errors of judgements.

ENACTMENT OF LEGISLATION IN STATES

Inspired and encouraged by the exercises taken up by the Press Council of India, Working Group and the Central Government, the State Governments also yielded under popular pressure and started preparing draft legislation on Right to Information. A number of States have already introduced the Bill on Right to Information, before the Freedom of Information Bill, 2000 introduced in the Lok Sabha on July 25 this year.

As per clause (18), the Bill, 2000 empowers the State Government to make rules to carry out the provisions of the Act. The matters in respect of which such rules may be made are specified therein. These matters relate to, inter alia, the fee payable to obtain information from any organisation, the authority to be prescribed before which appeal may be preferred against the decision of the Public Information Officer and any other matter which is required to be prescribed.

In this context, Tamil Nadu was the first State to set an example by introducing the Right to Information Act on 17 April 1996. Chief Minister, M. Karaunanidhi lost no time in introducing the legislation to ensure access to information about government administration. The Bill was modelled on a draft legislation recommended by the Press Council of India.

Goa was the second State to enact the Right to Information legislation. Information Minister Dominic Fernandes invited the opinion of the Union of journalists as well as several NGOs. Before the bill was introduced in the House for consideration, he also took the other necessary measure to withdraw the unpopular circular. It was issued in Oct 1994 by the State government, preventing bureaucrats from divulging information to the press.

Despite tall claims made by the State government regarding transparency and openness to strengthen democracy, Goa Act also ironically contains several peculiar provisions, which allow the State to withhold information without sustaining reasons for it.

Before the bill was introduced in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly, however, in certain places like Bilaspur and Korba, the local authorities acquired the access to information. The Divisional Commissioner, Bilaspur initiated in the matter of the Public Distribution System that the citizens were allowed the access to details of food-grains and commodities allotted to their areas and their distribution. The scheme was not only restricted to Public Distribution System, it was also extended to development programmes and pollution awareness. It was observed that the Right to Information has considerably reduced black-marketing and corruption in public distribution system. Moreover, in polluted areas like Korba, the sharing of information on pollution level has raised public consciousness. As a result, officials have become careful about monitoring and controlling pollution level.

In Karnataka, access to information was existing through the Karnataka Freedom of Press Bill 1983. The essential features of the legislation were (i) immunity to a journalist from disclosure of the source of information (ii) right to access to public documents and (iii) penalty for causing hurt to a journalist on duty.

The Maharashtra government also passed the Right to Information Bill. The legislation will empower the citizens with the Right to Information about various government schemes, their stages of implementation and other details.

Meanwhile the other States Delhi, Gujarat and Kerala have also decided to introduce the Right to Information Bill in their respective assemblies.

NEED FOR RIGHT TO INFORMATION IN INDIA

The Right to Information has already received judicial recognition as a part of the fundamental right to free speech and expression. An Act is needed to provide a statutory frame work for this right. This law will lay down the procedure for translating this right into reality.

Information is indispensable for the functioning of a true democracy. People have to be kept informed about current affairs and broad issues – political, social and economic. Free exchange of ideas and free debate are essentially desirable for the Government of a free country.

In this Age of Information, its value as a critical factor in socio-cultural, economic and political development is being increasingly felt. In a fast developing country like India, availability of information needs to be assured in the fastest and simplest form possible. This is important because every developmental process depends on the availability of information.

Right to know is also closely linked with other basic rights such as freedom of speech and expression and right to education. Its independent existence as an attribute of liberty cannot be disputed. Viewed from this angle, information or knowledge becomes an important resource. An equitable access to this resource must be guaranteed.

To say that the RTI Act of 2005 is revolutionary in its import, extent and application would not be incorrect. With the passage of time and use of this Act, the results can only be expected to get better and more productive! 

[1] State of U.P. v. Raj Narain, AIR 1975 SC 865.

[2] Dr.Mervin A.Herbert Vs National Institute of Technology Karnataka.

[3] State of UP v. Raj Narain, AIR1975 SC 865.

[4] Dinesh Trivedi, M.P. And Others V. Union Of India And Others, (1997) 4 SCC 306.

[5] Smt. Prabha Dutt, V. Union Of India And Others, (1982 )1 SCC1.

[6] Bennett &coleman company v union of india.

[7] The State Of U. P., V. Raj Narain And Others, (1975 )4 SCC 428.

[8] S P Gupta vs. Union of India [8] (AIR) 1982 SC (149),

[9] Environmental Group and others vs. Pune Cantonment Board.

[10] Peoples union for civil liberties v union of India.

[11] Union of india v association for democratic reforms.


"Loved reading this piece by pavitra?
Join LAWyersClubIndia's network for daily News Updates, Judgment Summaries, Articles, Forum Threads, Online Law Courses, and MUCH MORE!!"






Tags :


Category Constitutional Law, Other Articles by - pavitra 



Comments





update
Post a Suggestion for LCI Team
Post a Legal Query