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Introducing the Right to Information Act is one of the most vitals enactments by the country for cementing the foundation of democracy to really work for the people. The implementation of RTI aims to ensure good governance and will also reduce corruption. Thereby improving the rank of the country to move above in the index of honesty of the government in terms of its operations and functions.
Woodrow Wilson aptly puts, ‘I for one have the conviction that government ought to be all outside and not inside. I, for my part, believe that there ought to be no place where everything can be done that everyone does not know about. Everyone knows corruption thrives in secret places and avoid public places.”
On the global perspective, the idea of Right to Information was first started by Finland, so they enacted the Freedom of Information legislation in 1951. Then in 1970, Denmark and Norway enacted the same legislation. Likewise, in 1970, France, Netherlands, and Austria also enacted the same legislation. This shows how the act is accepted by most countries around the world.
India being a democratic country, in its introduction of the Right to Information Act, 2005 has raised many expectations of the common man in relation to the activities of the government. The RTI Act empowers the citizen of India to call to account the custodians of record and machinery which are involved in the decision-making process.
In the 1990s in Rajasthan, Aruna Roy, one of the social activist and founder of the MKSS NGO initiated the movement of Right to Information. The Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan NGO succeeded through a lot of struggles to stop the local corruption and exploitation which were done by the government. In 2005, the Parliament enacted a new law - Right to Information Act (2005). This new act replaced the old Freedom of Information Act, 2002. The RTI covers the widest range of public authorities like Central Government, State Government, Local agencies and bodies of the government, Panchayati Raj.
Earlier, the Official Secrets Act, 1923 gave permission to the government to deny the public from giving the information on the ground of ‘secrecy’. So, for 60 years even after the independence of India, colonial legacy dominated the official approach. But then on 15th June 2005, when the Right to Information Act was introduced, many provisions of the Official Secrets Act were struck down and this leads to the more transparent relationship between the common people and government. Section n 8 of the RTI Act states that if there is any information which cannot be denied to the Parliament and to the State Legislature then it will not be denied to the public also. All the authorities of the Central and State government (except for the government of Jammu and Kashmir as RTI is not applicable there) are bound by this law. No public servant is exempted from this act. Only the information which is of a confidential nature for the country or state is not shared with the public for security reasons of the country and state.
The main objective of the RTI Act is to empower the citizens and promote transparency among the people about the workings of the government. Since the act gives power to the common people to seek information from the government, it makes the government accountable for their work done. This way, the act will protect the government from doing any wrong work like corruption etc.
What kind of information is covered under the Right to Information Act?
The information can be in any form like audio, e-mails, press documents, files, records, contracts, papers, samples etc or any other material which is in electronic form. The scope of information also covers the private body where the information of the private body is accessible to the public authority under any provided law.
Every citizen has the right to seek information from the public body. In other words, any citizen can ask for the certified copies, documents, records, samples or any other material data which the public authority have. The public authority doesn’t have permission to mislead the information or do any changes in the information. The only work of the public authority is to provide relevant information to the applicants. The public authorities are also not allowed to answer any random hypothetical questions.
The information which the public authority has, only for that information are they answerable. The citizen can also obtain information in tape, floppies, video cassettes form. The information shall be given to the applicant in the form in which he or she asked, but if the public authority feels that the form the applicant has asked in can be damaged or could be harmed, then the public authority can deny transferring the information in that form.
Only the citizen of India can seek information. No NGOs, organisations, companies, corporation etc can seek the information by saying that they are the legal entities. But the people who are working there and are a citizen of India can seek information.
The information is subject to some exemptions also. The citizen cannot ask just any information from the Government. The information which is listed under section 7 and 8 of the Right to Information Act cannot be asked by the citizens.
Right to Information is necessary due to the reasons given below:
It makes the public administration more accountable to the citizens or common people who are living in the country
It somehow reduces the gap between the government and the public.
It spreads awareness among the people about the decision-making of public administration.
Better delivery of goods and services are done by the public servants to the common people.
If any work of administration is wrong, then open criticism can be done by the common people.
It enhances the participation of the general public in the work of the public administration.
It reduces the possibility of corruption in the administration.
It promotes democracy by maintaining transparency between the public administration and the general public.
The public administration becomes more responsive to the requirements of the common people.
It reduces the chance of abuse done by the public authority to the general public.
Following are the important provisions of the Right to Information Act:
Each department of the public authority has to appoint an information officer who will provide information to the public on request.
The time limit for providing the information is 30 days; and in case the information is related to the life or liberty of a person then the time limit is 48 hours.
Fees for people who are below the poverty line are free of cost. And for others, reasonable fees are charged.
The RTI Act imposes obligations to the public authority to disclose the information suo-moto.
The public authorities have to publish the salaries and budgets of the staff.
The information which is related to the Central Government is asked to the Central Information Commission and the information which is related to the State Government is asked to the State Information Commission.
The President will appoint the Chief Information Commissioner at Central level and State Governor will appoint the State Information Commissioner.
The Chief Information Commissioner is selected by the particular panel which consists of the Prime Minister, the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha and a Minister nominated by the Prime Minister.
The Chief Information Commissioner and State Information Commissioner have to publish annually a report which will be tabled before the Parliament and State Legislature.
The Act struck down many provisions of the Official Secrets Act, 1923. The commissions can deny providing information if it outrages the interest of the public.
If the public authority fails to provide information, then a strict penalty will be imposed. And also, if the authority delays in providing the information, strict action will be taken.
The commission shall fine Rs 250 per day (maximum can be Rs 25,000) till the time the information is delayed.
If the public authority denies from giving the information, then the first appeal will be done to superior of public information officer and second appeal will be done to the information commission and the third appeal to the High Court.
Its purview does not extend to the Intelligence or Security Bureau like BSF, CISF, RAW etc. But if the information from these organisations is in relation to the Human Rights or corruption then it cannot be excluded from providing.
How can the Right to Information Act be followed:
Identify the issue
Identifying the department from where relevant information has to be taken. The law has provided the appointment of a Public Information Officer who transfers the application of the applicant to the concerned department. If an applicant refers the application to the wrong department, the application is returned to the applicant.
The question is written down on a plain sheet of paper referring to the relevant department. The application is written in a simple format. There is no prescribed manner of writing the application.
There are various ways for the payment of fees. The application fees can be paid in different ways.
The application fee for RTI is Rs 10 and can be paid in the following ways:
Cash: The applicant can go to the relevant department and pay the cash in hand. Government Treasury: The applicant can go to the government treasury and pay the amount to the RTI account head. Demand Draft: The applicant can send a DD addressed to the ‘Public Information Officer’. State Bank of India: All-State Banks are allowed to accept the RTI fees. The other method of paying the application fees can be Court Fee Stamp, Postal Orders or through RTI centers at the nearest Post Office.
Receipt of payment should be attached to the application for all types of transactions.
The Public Information Officer has to respond within 30 days. And if no response is made by the department, then the applicant can make their 1st appeal to the Appellate Authority of the same department. Then, the appellate authority has another 30 days to respond to the applicant; and if the department fails to respond again, then the second appeal can be made by the applicant to the Central Information Commission (for Central level) and State Information Commission (for State level).