Right to Information – A Gateway to Fight Corruption

INTRODUCTION: September 28 is celebrated internationally as right to know Day. In spite of the fact that India has won its battle of independence in 1947 making democracy its weapon, unfortunately, the truth was something else. The power was handed over to the politicians and democrats, not to the common man then. In India, following a nationwide campaign led by grassroots and civil society organizations, the Government passed a landmark Right To Information Act in 2005. It is an Act ” to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens “. RTI mandates timely response to citizens’ requests for Government information. It is a initiative taken by Department of Personnel and Training, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions to provide a RTI portal Gateway to citizens for quick search of information.

The idea that Government withhold information for the public has become outdated. During the last decade, many countries have enacted legislations on freedom of information. In India, the Official Secrets Act 1923 was enacted to protect the official secrets. The new law intend to disclose information replacing the ‘ culture of secrecy ‘. It will promote public accountability which will trim the malpractices, mismanagement, abuse of discretion and bribery etc.

OBJECTIVES: The object of RTI is to empower the citizens, promote transparency and accountability in the working of the Government. The Act is a big step towards making the citizens informed about the activities of the Government. Social Activist Aruna Roy has described India’s RTI as ” the most fundamental law this country has seen.”

EFFECT OF RIGHT TO INFORMATION: While the debate on corruption in the country rages on, the RTI Act is fast growing as an effective anti- corruption tool.

Jan Lok Pal Bill gained tremendous public support with citizens coming out on the streets of Delhi, Bangalore and other cities to voice their anger over corruption. Where RTI has been used by journalists and the media, the law has a broad base of users. Earlier right to freedom of speech and expression is granted under Article 19(1) of Constitution, but it requires fair and efficient procedure to make the freedom of information work. In the first three years, 2 million RTI requests were filed. The first and well known movement was by Mazdoor Kissan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) in Rajasthan for the access to village accounts. Case studies and media reports shows that RTI is being used to redress individual grievances, access entitlements such as Ration Cards and pension. The RTI has paved way for informed citizenry which would strengthen the democratic Government of India. With this Act, we can use our right to speech and expressions and control the Government activities effectively. The idea of open Government is becoming a reality with the implementation of RTI Act. The RTI can be called a success only if the bureaucracy accepts that they have constitutional to serve into.

PROVISIONS OF RTI: Section 3 says all citizens shall have right to information. The Act enforces a duty upon the public authorities to disclosed all information. In V.S.Lee V. State of Kerala.. the remedy provided by Parliament is that wherever there is substantial financial support, the People, have the right to know or information. Section 4(2) states that every public authority shall take constant steps to provide information suo moto to the public. Thus, the authorities have to give information voluntarily so that the public have minimum resort to use this Act. The public authorities also have to disseminate (making known or communicated the information to the public through notice boards, newspapers, public announcements, media broad casts, internet and inspection of offices of public authority) information widely in any form which is easily accessible to the public. Information can be obtained by request in writing or through electronic means in English or Hindi or in official language of the area U/S 6. Here, the person has to give fees, and if request can’t be made in writing, the Central PIO and State PIO shall render all assistance to make request in writing form. If the information has been provided correctly or within time, it may be made available by appeal or complaint to the Information Commission U/S (8(a) 1). In The Registrar General V. K.U. Rajasekar, it was held that Section 8 of RTI specially deals with the cases of exemption from disclosure or information when such information affects prejudicially the sovereignty and security of India etc. Section 5 says every public authority shall within 100 days of enactment of the Act, designate as many as officers as the Central Public Information Officers or State Public Information Officers.

Section 6 permits person to obtain information in English or Hindi or in the official language of the area from the designated officers. The person need not to give any reason for the request. Section 7 requires the request to be disposed of within 30 days provided where information sought for concerns the life or liberty of a person, the same shall be provided within 48 hours. Section 7(7) before taking any decision for furnishing the information, the designated officer shall take into consideration the representation made by the third party U/S 11. Section 7(9) exempts granting information where it would divert the

Resources of the public authority or would be detrimental to the safety and preservation of the record in record. U/S 8,it is important to note that the Act specifies that intelligence and security organisations are exempted from the application of the Act. However, it is provided that in case the demand for information pertains to allegation of corruption and human rights violations, the Act shall apply even to such institutions.

RIGHT TO INFORMATION AS A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT: The RTI is a fundamental right as in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution is now a well settled proposition. It has been discussed by Supreme Court in Number of cases, it has been read into Article 14.(Right to equality), 19(1)(a) freedom of speech and expression and Article 21 (Right to life) through cases such as Bennet Coleman V. Union Of India, Tata Press Ltd. V. Maharashtra Telephone Nigam Ltd. Etc. The same Articles were also interpreted in Kharak Singh V. State of U.P., Govind V. State of M.P. ETC. to include within their scope a right to privacy.

A plain reading of Section 11 suggests that for the section to apply the following three conditions must be satisfied (I) if the PIO is considering disclosing the information (ii) the information relates to the third party (iii) the third party treated the information to be confidential, the third party to be consulted and a notice to be sent to that party. Section 19 provides two tier system of appeals- First appeal and Second appeal. Any person who is aggrieved by the decision of the Central PIO and State PIO within 30 days can prefer First appeal before the First Appellate Authority. This authority shall be an officer who is senior in rank to the Central PIO and State PIO. An appeal can also be made by third party. The Second appeal lies before the State or Central Information Commission against the decision of the First Appellate Authority. It has to be filed within 90 days. As per Section 19(7), decision of Central or State Information Commission is final. The Information Commissioners shall be persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media and governance. In Nirmal Singh Dhiman V. Financial Commissioner Revenue, Section 23 says that no court shall entertain any suit, application or other proceeding in respect of any order and no order shall be called in question, otherwise than by way of an appeal. In case, the complainant was aggrieved against the non-supply of information by the Public Information Officer.

CRITICISM: The Act has been criticized on several grounds. It provides for information on demand, but does not sufficiently stress information on matters related to food, water, environment and other survival needs. It does not emphasize active intervention in educating people about their rights to access information. Another thing is allowing for file notings except those related to social and development projects to be exempted. File notings are very important when it comes to the policy making of the Government.

CONCLUSION: By enacting the RTI, India has moved from opaque and arbitrary system of Government to the beginning of an era where there will be greater transparency and to a system where the citizen will be empowered. The real Swaraj will come not by the acquition of authority by a few but by the acquition of capacity by all to resist authority when abused.

“KNOWLEDGE IS POWER, INFORMATION IS POWER, THE SECRETING OF INFORMATION MAY BE AN ACT OF TYRANNY CAMOUFLAGED AS HUMILITY.”

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