“Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”
To err is human. Nevertheless, to let errors debase the society is unviable. Checks on power not only ensure its proper use but also implants a fear in the mind of a person vested with power, which in turn prevents the misuse of power due to the fear of revelation. In a democracy, Government is ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’. It is imperative for the general public to know about the significant decisions taken, rationale and consequences of such decisions. Information and knowledge are essential for realizing all the human aspirations.
Information empowers the people and permits them to appropriately exercise their social, legal, economic and political rights. Almost every society has tried to make endeavors by placing the mechanisms for the free flow of information and ideas for people to access them whenever it is required. There are a number of reasons which emphasize the necessity of such a right in a country like India, which unfortunately carries the dubious tag of being one of the most corrupt nations. Right to information is thus a potent instrument for countering corruption and punish the guilty. The Right to information is therefore central to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
WHAT IS RTI?
The claim for a right to free access of information originated in a village of Rajasthan in 1987, where several laborers called for the government to check the ‘performance records’ of the laborers as they were denied wages, on grounds of inadequate performance. Massive protests were performed by labor unions, particularly by the ‘Mazdur Kisan Shakti Sangathan’, which resulted in the release of files regarding the working of laborers. The files showed extensive corruption on Government’s part and proved the innocence of laborers. If anything, this movement became a strong weapon to keep an eye on the government.
After that period, the demand for an essential tool in the hands of the citizens to ensure a check on the working of Government authority took pace. After the great campaigning by leaders and activists like Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal, Aruna Roy and Shekhar Singh, this law was shown the rays of the glooming sun, and in 2005, Right to Information Act was passed by the government, replacing the timeworn Freedom of Information Act, 2002.
Right to Information is one act that intends to set up an arrangement for the masses where they can secure access to information under the control of public authorities. Under the provisions of the Act, any citizen may appeal information from a government authority which is mandatory to be replied expeditiously or within thirty days. One can obtain information merely by logging into RTI portal or filing an application to the related department.
The Right to Information Act, 2005 has enabled citizens everywhere, to interrogate and probe explanations from the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. It has indeed become a ‘weapon of the weak’. 12 years have passed since the formal version of the current act was released and India has already made its prominent place in the top-5 list of countries having the most effectual access to the information held by the Government.
OBJECTIVES & VITAL PROVISIONS OF THE ACT
The objectives of the act can be enumerated as follows:
- Establishing a Practical Regime All other efforts in the past weren’t enough to avail the information properly and systematically as there were uncertainty and complexity in acquiring information from the various government and non-government agencies. Therefore, in order to provide a concrete mechanism, Parliament of India enacted this act which facilitates the citizens to gain all kinds of information with reasonable restriction as mentioned under Section 8, 9, and 24 of the same Act.
- To promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority This Act objects to eradicate any type of corruption in Public Authority by providing an obligation to the Public Authority to disseminate the information sought by the Indian citizen within a certain time period with a nominal fee. Section 4 imposes the authority to maintain and provide access all the information specified in Section 4(b) by applying suo moto (self-initiative) action. So, due to the mandatory information in the accessible format, transparency and accountability can be established because that information not only helps aware the people as well as could admit as evidence in any legal proceeding.
- Establishment of a Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions
In order to provide the proper solution with neutrality, state and central commissions have been established by the provisions of this Act. In such Commissions, Second Appeal and Complaint can be filed by a citizen without any fee. The status of Chief Commissioners and other Commissioners are same as the Chief and other Election Commissioners respectively
- Specific Benefit to the Citizens According to Section 3 of RTI Act only citizen of India is eligible to file the application for any information subject to this Act but the guideline issued by Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions Department of Personnel & raining, directs that, if any RTI Application filed on the behalf of organization, should be accepted as a personal application on the behalf of that name of the person mentioned in the RTI Application rather than being rejected.
WHO ARE ALL COVERED UNDER RTI?
The RTI Act covers various departments, as the sole spirit of the act is to promote transparency and accountability within the government. Although almost all the departments and bodies controlled or funded by the Central Government (even at the state level) are covered under the Act, however, departments funded by the State Governments are accessible only in those States which have State RTIs.
There are certain departments which do not fall under the purview of the given act. These include departments dealing with defense and national security. Some other bodies like National Security Guard, the Intelligence Bureau, and Border Security Force, etc. The state of Jammu and Kashmir is also exempt from the RTI Act.
RTI: FUNDAMENTAL AS A RIGHT: SOME IMPORTANT CASES TO LOOK INTO
The right to information is a fundamental right flowing from Art. 19(1)(a) of the Constitution is now a well-settled proposition. Over the years, the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled in favor of the citizen’s right to know. The character of this right and the pertinent restrictions thereto has been discussed by the Supreme Court in multiple cases.
In Bennett Coleman, the right to information was held to be included within the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Art. 19(1)(a).
In Raj Narain, the Court explicitly stated that it is not in the interest of the public to ‘cover with a veil of secrecy the common routine business – the responsibility of officials to explain and to justify their acts is the chief safeguard against oppression and corruption.’
In A.K. Gopalan vs State of Madras case, in words of Das. J. “Social interest in individual liberty may well have to be subordinated to other greater social interest. Indeed, there has to be a balance between individual rights guaranteed under article 19(1) and the exigencies of the state which is the custodian of the interests of the general public, public order, decency or morality and of other public interests which may compendiously be described as social welfare.
The right to know, receive and impart information has been recognized within the right to freedom of speech and expression in S.P. Gupta v. Union of India. It was admitted that whenever disclosure of a document is clearly contrary to the public interest it is immune from disclosure. But the decision on such immunity will rest with the court and not with the head of government or department.
HOW TO FILE AN RTI
An RTI application can be filed in one of three ways:
1. Online: Visit rtionline.gov.in and login to file an RTI.
2. Via post: send your application to the concerned department via speed post or registered post.
3. In person: Visit the Public Information Officer of the concerned department and he/she will guide you further.
The procedure to file an RTI application has been kept fairly simple keeping in mind the fact that people who may need to file it are general citizens of the nation. It can be summarized in the following steps:
1. Determine which department your query concerns and who the Public Information Officer there is.
2. Write a simple, to-the-point application form detailing your questions clearly.
3. Pay the fee of Rs. 10. The payment can be made via Demand Draft or Indian Postal Order or can even be submitted to the treasury. Proof of payment (such as challans and receipts) must be enclosed with the application. Online options for the payment are also available.
4. Submit the application either via post, online or in person.
By law, RTIs must be replied to within 30 days. In fact, in life and death cases, RTIs must be responded to within 48 hours.
RTI has constantly been hailed as a legislation that has the power to alter the approach of government functioning. It is a symbol of hope for a more transparent and more accountable government. The Act can place the power of knowledge in the hands of citizens if it is applied in an apposite method.
The Right to Information Act is considered to be one of the sturdiest pieces of legislation at the disposal of the layman. It gives citizens the power to question public authorities and their activities, thereby not only promoting transparency but demanding accountability as well. The Act is considered landmark legislation in the fight against corruption.
– Apoorva Shukla
Content Writer @ Legal Bites
1. Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Shri Raj Narain, 1975 AIR 2299
2. AK Gopala v. State of Madras, 1950 AIR 27
3, S .P. Gupta v. Union of India, 1982 AIR SC 149