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This article is authored by Anvita Bhardwaj, from Symbiosis Law School, Noida. This article conveys how the Right to Information Act, 2005 is a basic requisite for good governance in India.

Introduction

No amount of developmental schemes can enhance the lifestyle of Indian citizens without good governance. To promote the concept of good governance Right to Information Act (RTI), 2005 was passed in India along with 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments. Right to information is viewed as the key to strengthening participatory democracy which is used for the welfare of the people. Access to information is empowering in a democracy as it urges the people of the nation to scrutinize the actions and policies of the government.  

Right to Information brings accessibility to the administration. The affairs of the state become transparent when documents are accessible by public eyes. With transparency, rampant corruption can be questioned and reduced. It also helps in rectifying public policies with the help of feedback provided by the people as these policies are made for the ultimate welfare of these people.

Right to Information’ (RTI) refers to the right of every citizen to access information held by or under the control of public authorities. The Congress-led UPA government took pride in passing the RTI Act in 2005. Since then, this Act has been used by citizens to question the government, reduce the rate of corruption, and point out mismanagement in government affairs. People redress their grievances using this Act.

Key Highlights of the RTI Act, 2005

The right to information is possessed by every citizen. RTI empowers a common citizen to have the exact knowledge that a legislator has.

The term “information” is defined under Section 2 (f) as any material in form of e-mail, records, documents, memos, opinions and advice, contracts, press releases, circulars or orders, etc. It also refers to information in any electric form as well as information possessed by public authorities regarding private entities.

Under Section 4 of the RTI Act the public authorities are mandated to make records of the information in a proper manner i.e. they should be dated and indexed and updated in the computer database within a reasonable time so that access is easily facilitated to the public.

Central Information Commission and State Information Commission are to be constituted by the Central Government and the respective State Governments.

The person who needs to obtain information needs to file an application. This application will be answered by the authorities within 30 days. If the nature of information is such that it pertains to the life or personal liberty of a person, the information will be made available in 48 hours of filing the application.

The public authority is bound to provide information to anyone who demands it via written communication or electronic means. However, they cannot ask for any kind of information. Some information is sensitive and hence, can be prohibited to be shared by the government. Such information can be anything crucial to the sovereignty and integrity of India amongst other grounds.     

If the authority fails to provide information upon request they shall be held liable for a fine of rupees 250 per day. It should also be noted that the total fine cannot exceed rupees 25,000. The Courts shall not intervene by entertaining any suit, application or other proceedings made concerning any order made under this Act.

Concept of good governance

In a country like India which has a democratic government, the government is of the people, for the people and by the people. Participation, transparency, legitimacy and accountability form the pillars of good governance. These are the key requirements for good governance. It is the right of people to know about the policies formulated by the government. 

Participation ensures the contribution of citizens and their involvement in their governance. We have a representative government. However, representation of the issues of a chosen few is not a true representation. We need all sections of society to be involved and to voice their concerns. A community needs the openness of government and right to information provides the same. Though some departments of the Union Government are not subject to the scrutiny of the public eye, many public and private affairs are accessible to the citizens. Right to information curbs corrupt practices of the government employees. Accountability is what completes the requisites of good governance, without it it is impossible to trace the failure of policies, be it policies of public sphere pr private sector.

How is the RTI related to good governance?

RTI is closely linked to good governance as it upholds all pillars of good governance. It is an effective tool for attaining the goals of good governance. The true goal of a representative government is the welfare of its people. People pay taxes which contribute to the income of the government. Subsequently, money paid by taxpayers is used for the development of the nation. It is only justified that people have access to the information related to the same as they have a right to know if taxpayers’ money is being utilized to its utmost advantage or not. The people are provided with this right under the RTI Act. They can not only access the information but also resort to legal action in case they discover fallacies in the information.    

  • Accountability and transparency in the system

The rights provided to the citizens under RTI definitely equip the citizens with greater transparency in the working of public affairs. Under Section 2 (j) of the Act, the people have access to all kinds of documents. Section 4 of this act mandates the authorities to provide a reason for all of its administrative decisions. Another feature that promotes the filing of applications is that the person need not provide unnecessary information to file it. He does not need to provide any reason to request for the application. Penalties are stipulated for those who obstruct the free flow of accessible information. This reduces unjust and arbitrary treatment. It helps enable an environment of a healthy democracy. Further, this also helps in curbing the rampant, widespread corruption which embedded its root in our nation. With a more transparent process, it is easier to hold a specific person responsible and take action against him.    

  • Participation of the common people

It is imperative that every part of society gets a say in the formulation of policies, programmes or legislation as this affects them on some level. Even people who suffer the secondary effect of these policies deserve a say in their formulation. Participation of people is a crucial requirement for good governance. Before 2005, the society was not able to seek information or reasons about the policies implemented for them. They did not have a voice. Right to information connected the common people with the government. Without the participation of the people, the RTI Act would be a failure.  The RTI Act does not cause any distinction on the basis of a person’s status. It treats everyone equally. This makes people feel included and gives them a sense of empowerment.   

RTI Act as a tool of empowerment for common people

Before the introduction of RTI in India, people did not have a say in the socio-political decisions made by the government. As a result, people felt excluded and became ignorant and indifferent towards the policies of the government. A sense of secrecy surrounded the policies of the government. People felt like they had the right to know what was going on and that their voice should be heard as they were the sufferers of direct consequences of the policies.

The introduction of RTI Act in 2005 made an inclusive environment for the citizens. It enabled them to have access to information. It equipped them with a voice in political and economic decisions taken by the government. The people felt empowered as the secrets surrounding the policies were no longer kept from them. They were a part and parcel of the decision making process.   

Instances where the RTI Act has been useful in promoting good governance

The RTI proved to be very successful in facilitating greater transparency and accountability.

Here’s how!

  • Adarsh Scam

In a prime real estate area, Colaba, Mumbai a 31-storey building was erected. Originally this land was supposed to have a 6-storeyed building for the widows and war heroes of the 1999 Kargil War. Two activists filed an application which later revealed how the land did not belong to the Government of Maharashtra but to the Ministry of defence. This happened in the early days of the introduction of the RTI Act. It made the government officials frigid. 

  • 2G Scam

The 2G scam involved the telecom ministry led by Adimuthu Raja. It took months for this scam to unfold but slowly it revealed the rot of corruption spread in the Congress Party. It brought into light the bribery taken by some officials which ended up costing the Government over Rupees 1,50,000 crores. 

  • Commonwealth Games Scam (The Diversion of Dalit funds)

Shortly after the 2G scam came into light, the Commonwealth Games scam set up India for international humiliation. Suresh Kalmadi was responsible for the corrupt deals made during the CWG. The accommodation of the athletes was filthy. RTI Application revealed that he made India suffer a loss of Rupees 95 crores by handing the contract to Swiss Timing for Rupees 141 crores.

Another RTI revealed that the Delhi government diverted Rupees 744 crore rupees from the funds allocated to the social welfare of Dalits to CWG. The diversion of Dalit funds during the CWG triggered further investigations. Using budget documents and RTI, the National Coalition For SCSP-TSP Legislation, an umbrella organisation of Dalit and Adivasi groups, figured out that a staggering 5,27,723.72 crores worth of funds had been denied to Dalits and Tribals from the seventh to twelfth five-year plans (till 2014-15) in the Union Budget.  

  • Indian Red Cross Society Scam

Two months after the RTI Act was enforced an RTI application revealed how public officials in the Indian Red Cross society diverted millions of rupees from funds set up for Kargil War Relief and Rehabilitation (for those struck by natural disasters). It was later revealed that this money was used to buy luxurious goods by the IAS officers.

The list is not exhaustive. RTI is a truly commendable act that has made outstanding contributions in the fifteen years. It has made it easier for people to uncover scams and put an end to corruption. Curbing corruption is not that easy but India is on the right path. 

The way forward

The 2019 Amendments made to the RTI are heavily criticized by the citizens. The major change has been brought in Section 13 of the RTI Act. The term and salary of the Information Commissioners is now to be decided by the central government. By controlling the tenure and salaries of the Information Commissioners the BJP Government has radically altered the nature of the RTI Act. It has disempowered the people and empowered the central government. 

Conclusion

The success of RTI can be judged by the fact that in the first ten years after its enactment almost

5000 applications were filed on a daily basis. But with the recent amendments, there is a fall of 6% in the applications submitted. It is believed that the recent amendments challenge the independence of the RTI Act.

The RTI Act is a very powerful tool if used in the correct way. The effective implementation of this Act is needed. RTI is not a mere information provider, it is a tool that empowers the common people to take part in the decision making process. It strengthens our democracy. It is the true essence of good governance. The abuse of authority is controlled by the Act. The government should provide the information voluntarily to the people it governs. This will encourage trust between the people and the government. It will also save time and efficiency of the officials who have to provide the same information in different repetitive applications.

In order to file an RTI, visit https://rtionline.gov.in/.  


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