Right to Information

This article has been written by Ayush Tiwari, a student of Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA. This article aims to discuss the critical aspects of the Right to Information Act of 2005 including the Act’s objectives, the right to information and the responsibility of public authorities, the establishment of Information Commissions, their powers and activities, appeals and penalties, etc.

This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Since the advent of democratic governments, interested individuals have sought information on how the administrations carry out the tasks assigned to them by law. Subjected citizens are sometimes curious about how their taxes have been utilised by competent authorities. Interested citizens also want to know how the administrators’ discretions are used and correctly executed for the benefit of society/community as a whole, or whether such discretions are used in the process of distributing benevolences from the State. Mechanisms have been developed from time to time to make administrators accountable for the use of funds designated for development projects. This level of scrutiny of administrative activity is only achievable when the opposing party in the Legislature is strong enough to reveal the Administrators/Executives’ wrongdoing. The difficulty in dissecting the flaws in government programmes arises only when the opposition is not morally powerful enough to critique government acts for obvious reasons. To conceal such wrongdoings or misdemeanours, authorities will endeavour not to reveal the actual facts to the public. In order to overcome the difficulties in obtaining information from government apparatus, information must be obtained from individuals who possess such knowledge. It really took India 82 years to get from an inaccessible governance system legitimised by the colonial Official Secrets Act to one in which citizens may demand the right to knowledge. The major goal of the Right to Information Act, 2005 in this regard is to secure information from authorities in order to expose wrongdoings or to strengthen the ability to oppose anti-people policies with legitimate grounds. The passage of the Right to Information Act in 2005 was a pivotal event in Indian democracy because more citizens have access to information, making the government more responsive to the community’s needs. 

In 2005, the United Progressive Alliance-1 (UPA) government led by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh introduced the Right to Information Act (14th Loka Sabha). The Right to Information stems from our basic right to free expression, guaranteed by Article 19 of the Constitution. We cannot create an informed view of our government or public institutions unless we have information about how they work. Citizens are at the core of governance, which is important to democracy, and press freedom is a necessary component for a democracy to flourish. As a result, it is clear that the primary reason for a free press is to keep citizens informed. As a result, it follows that the right to know is vital. The Act and its provisions provide a structure for requisitioning information, a time limit within which information must be delivered, a manner of providing the information, certain application fees, and exemptions from information that will not be provided.

Evolution of the concept of the Right to Information

The Global perspective

Sweden

On December 2, 1766, Sweden passed the world’s first Freedom of Information Act, 1766. In Sweden, this statute established press freedom, with those at stake including the government, courts, and parliament. As a result, Sweden’s constitution acknowledged that press freedom is dependent on access to information.

France 

Article 14 of the French Constitution states that “all people have the right to determine, by themselves or via their representatives, the necessity of a public tax, to voluntarily consent to it, to monitor its use, and to set its proportion, basis, collection, and duration.”

The United Kingdom

Since the olden days, democracy has been the fundamental precept of England, but secrecy rather than openness is emphasised. This is due to the legislature’s and the executive’s natural desire to enshroud policies rather than make them clear. The Freedom of Information Act of 2005 was passed in England. However, the current law is based on the Official Secrets Acts of 1911, 1920, and 1939. The English judiciary has endorsed government transparency. The House of Lords’ ruling in the case of Conway v. Rimmer, 1968, established its jurisdiction to require the publication of any document. It was also urged that a balance be maintained between the competing goals of secrecy and publicity. Lord Steyn’s statement in the case of R. v. Secretary of State for the Home Department, Ex P. Simms, (2000) demonstrates the importance of freedom of expression in English law: 

“Freedom of speech is the lifeblood of democracy.” Political discourse is informed by the free movement of information and ideas. It serves as a safety valve; individuals are more willing to accept choices that go against them if they may, in theory, try to alter them. It functions as a check on public officials’ misuse of authority. It allows the uncovering of flaws in the country’s administration and the delivery of justice…”

The United States

America is the oldest democracy in the world and hence often used interchangeably. America appears to be the torchbearer of a variety of democratic rights that should be part of a truly democratic framework. The same is true for information distribution. Antipathy toward intrinsic secrecy is thus not a characteristic displayed by Americans. According to Schwartz, “Americans genuinely believe in the beneficial benefits of exposure and have a strong aversion to the inherent secrecy of government entities.” RTI is granted by two major statutes: the Freedom of Information Act of 1966 and the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946. The right to information is not directly addressed in the United States Constitution. However, such a right is regarded as a consequence of the First Amendment freedoms. In the case of Lamont v. Post Master General (1965), the Supreme Court decided that a legislative provision constituted a restraint on the unrestricted exercise of First Amendment rights and so declared it unconstitutional. Similarly, in Stanley v. Georgia (1969), it was established that free speech safeguards the right to acquire information.

The United Nations

In 1946, the United Nations General Assembly issued a resolution on freedom of information that declared, “Freedom of information is a basic right that underpins all of the freedoms to which the United Nations is dedicated.” The right to gather, communicate, and publish news everywhere and everywhere is implied by freedom of information. As such, it is a vital aspect in any genuine endeavour to encourage the peace and growth of the world.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is regarded as a pivotal point in human rights history. It was developed by representatives from all around the world with diverse legal and cultural backgrounds, and it embodied the spirit of oneness despite its practical variances. It was established as a shared standard of success for all peoples and nations by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on December 10, 1948 (Resolution 217 A). Certain basic human rights that were to be uniformly guaranteed were established for the first time. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifically states in Article 19(2), “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of speech, which shall include the freedom to: seek, receive, and impart knowledge; regardless of boundaries – orally, in writing, or in print.”

The Indian perspective 

In India, the Right to Information (RTI) movement was launched at the grassroots level in the 1990s by an organisation called the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangthan. The initiative began with the goal of increasing transparency in village accounting. It arose as a result of the demand for minimum wages in rural regions. Despite the fact that Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangthan was a rural poor struggle, it captured the attention and support of a cross-section of the country’s media, lawyers and jurists, academicians, and even bureaucrats and legislators, many of whom gathered to form the National Campaign on the People’s Right to Information (NCPRI). The government of India formed a working committee led by consumer rights activist H.D. Shourie to prepare laws for the government’s consideration. The Government-appointed Working Group in 1997 was known as the “Shourie Committee” since it was led by former bureaucrat and consumer rights campaigner H.D. Shourie. It broadened the scope of exclusions to allow public agencies to withhold material whose publication would be detrimental to the public interest.’ Because public authorities would thereafter be entitled to delay the publication of incriminating evidence in the name of the public interest, this one phrase effectively broke the back of the entire Act. The previously mentioned important Section, which said that only information that can be denied to parliament or the legislature can be kept from the citizen, was not included.

In July 2000, the Shourie draft was revived with significant amendments and introduced as the Freedom of Information Bill, 2000. In 2002, the Freedom of Information Act was passed. Right to Information (RTI) is an Act of the Indian Parliament that establishes the current regime of people’s right to information and supersedes the previous Freedom of Information Act of 2002. This law was enacted by Parliament on June 15, 2005, and went into effect on October 12, 2005. Subject to the provisions of this Act, all citizens have the right to information. Public authorities are required to disclose information. Public Information Officers serve as the intermediary between the information seeker and the public authority.

Need for Right to Information

Encourages people to participate

The majority of government work is done for the people, so they must be included in the planning process and be aware of how things are done. People must be well informed about the essence of the projects and programmes in order to participate in planning processes and make decisions about whether specific plans and schemes are beneficial to them. This will allow them to provide their feedback well in advance of any desired updates or alterations. This will significantly lower project expenditures while increasing project outputs.

Transparency

There is an assumption that everything done by the government is done for the public good—that is, it is done to serve the goal of public well-being, it is done honestly, and to maximise the advantages of the money utilised. However, as we all know, abuse, misappropriation, and reckless use of public funds have weakened this presumption significantly. To counteract this, it is critical that all public interactions are completely transparent. This is bound to result in more cautious use and allocation of funds. Transparency will also assist individuals in holding authorities responsible for misusing public time and money.         

Limiting the discretionary powers granted to officials

Officials have the ability to misuse their discretion in order to serve multiple political or some other private interests, in addition, to misappropriating funds. In the lack of legislation governing the right to information, they are often kept secret. Although it is feasible to seek judicial action to force the disclosure of this information, impoverished individuals or villagers are unable to do so due to the expense, distance, and delays in the process. Another issue is the lack of openness in the selection process for public officers. The hiring of ineffective government officials contributes to the government’s inefficiencies and problems. As a result, the right to knowledge is critical to preventing the abuse of administrative discretion and ensuring a fair process.

Ensures the principle of accountability

India has a democratic system of governance in which the government is administered for the benefit of the general public rather than for the advantage of one or a few individuals. As a result, the government from the rural level to the national level must be accountable to the citizens. Citizens have a right to know what the government is up to. A Right to Information would guarantee that individuals can hold public authorities responsible on a regular basis, rather than putting the whole responsibility on their elected representatives, who are frequently unable to obtain the information sought while having all the tools at their disposal.

Increases the effectiveness of media

Even if the government guarantees the right to information, residents rely on media like newspapers, radio, and television for day-to-day information on government activities. The media serves as a conduit between citizens and their government. As a result, it is critical that the media have access to information. The right to information from the media is not a separate right, but rather a component of the public’s right to know. The media has several challenges as a result of their lack of access to government information. When main sources of information are suppressed, balanced reporting becomes impossible. They deliver biassed news, hiding or distorting facts in the lack of precise information. By granting the right to information, the media and the general public would work together to hold the government more accountable.

Appropriate and efficient implementation of government schemes

The national and state governments conduct several projects in rural regions to provide food, shelter, work, and education. These programmes are intended for the poorest of the poor in rural regions. Many people believe that these resources have been consistently misappropriated or mishandled on a large scale. Most individuals are unaware of the existence of these programmes, even if they are aware that they do not get their entitlements under the scheme, allowing them to take less than their allotment. Furthermore, since no one outside of the administration has access to these documents, they are frequently tampered with. Making all this information on these plans available to the public would hold the administration more responsible.

Safeguards civil liberties

The right to information is critical for defending people’s freedoms by making it simpler for civil society organisations to monitor wrongdoings such as custodial deaths and the abuse of legislation on preventative detention. Custodial institutions are among the least transparent places in the country.  Deaths in custody, holding prisoners in jail after they have finished their sentences, and harassment of women are all examples of violations in custody. Access to information is required for effective community oversight of these institutions. Some governments even considered officially granting the right to information with respect to jails.

Restrictions on the Right to Information

  • Several elements of restrictive law, such as the Official Secrets Act of 1923, are included in the legislative framework.
  • The bureaucracy’s widespread culture of secrecy and arrogance; and
  • Low levels of rights awareness among Indians. The fundamental strength of RTI is that it allows individual individuals to request information. As a result, without the need for pressure on organisations or alliances, it places power directly in the hands of the core of democracy- the citizens.

Right to Information as a fundamental right 

The right to information is now a well-established basic right derived from Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. The Supreme Court has constantly ruled in favour of citizens’ right to know throughout the years. The essence of this privilege, as well as its limitations, has been considered by the Supreme Court in a number of cases:

Following a careful examination, it can be confidently argued that the path toward the fulfillment of RTI within the constitutional scope began with the decision in Hamdard Dawakhana v. Union of India (1959). In Bennett Coleman v. Union of India (1972), the Supreme Court determined the Right to Information to be part of Article 19(1)(a), holding that the Newsprint Control Order of 1972-1973 issued under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 was ultra vires Article 19(1)(a). In the majority opinion, Chief Justice A.N. Ray stated, “It is unarguable that freedom of the press means the right of all people to discuss, publish, and express their opinions.” The freedom of the press represents the people’s right to know. What is referred to as the “right of the people to read” in this context refers to the readers’ right to obtain information.

The best interpretation in this respect came from Justice K. K. Mathew in State of U. P. v. Raj Narain,(1975), who emphasised that in a “government of responsibility like ours,” where all agents of the public must be held accountable for their actions, “there can be but a few secrets.” The citizens of our country have a right to know about every public act, performed by public servants.” The facts of this case were that Raj Narain, who contested the legitimacy of Indira Gandhi’s victory in the Lok Sabha elections, demanded the release of Blue Books containing the trip itinerary and security arrangements undertaken for the PM. Though disclosure was not permitted, Mathew, J. found that the people of the country have a right to know the specifics of every public transaction.

The Supreme Court made a significant breakthrough in S. P. Gupta v. Union of India, (1981) when it granted the Right to Information constitutional validity. The point of contention, in this case, was once again with regard to the government of India’s claim for privilege in relation to the disclosure of certain documents, including correspondence between the Chief Justice of India and the Chief Justice of the High Court of Delhi in linkage with the confirmation of Justice Kumar, an additional Judge of the Delhi High Court. In his ever-humanistic tone, Justice Bhagwati embraced the notion of open government, claiming it to be a direct emanation of the right of access to information, which appears to be implied in the right to free speech and expression provided by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. The learned judge concluded that the right to information, or access to information, is important for an ideal democratic way of life. As a result, it is critical that transparency in government operations be the rule, with secrecy justified only when the strictest criterion of public interest requires it.

In a landmark ruling in Union of India v. Association for Democratic Reforms, (2002), the Supreme Court went on to establish the right of voters to know the antecedents of candidates. The scope of Article 19(1)(a) was expanded, and it was confirmed that the right to know the candidate running for election to a House of Parliament, a state legislature, a panchayat, or a municipal corporation is a prerequisite for exercising a citizen’s right to vote. People have a fundamental right to know the backgrounds of people running for a position of great importance in a democracy. Later, the government issued an ordinance, followed by an act, to negate the judgment’s implications. The Supreme Court ruled in People’s Union of Civil Liberties v. UOI, 1996, that the Act was unconstitutional. The Court made a significant observation: “the fundamental rights entrenched in the Constitution… have no set meanings.” “From time to time, this court has infused the skeleton with soul and blood, bringing it to life.”

We can conclude that the Court decisions have played a significant part in awarding constitutional validity to the right to information via interpretation of Article 19 (1)(a) and absorption of the spirit with which the Constitution’s authors devoted it to the people of India. The right to information, which is the cornerstone of democracy, flourishes under democracy.

Provisions of the Right to Information Act

Section 2 defines various important terms given in the Act 

Section 2 of the RTI Act, 2005 defines various important terms, some of which are dealt with as follows:

Appropriate Government [Section 2(a)]

The definition of “appropriate government” is provided in Section 2(a) of the Act. The appropriate government refers to the government’s relationship with a public authority concerned with the right to information. The Central Government, union territory administrations, or state governments establish, constitute, possess, manage, or fund such power.

Thus, the relevant government is the “Central Government” in the event of a public authority affiliated with the central government/union territory administration in the aforementioned way. Whereas the appropriate government is the “State Government” in the event of a public authority affiliated with the state government in the ways specified above.

Competent authority [Section 2(e)]

Section 2(e) of the Act defines “competent authority.” The competent authority is the authority in control of the autonomous institutions that operate in accordance with the requirements of the Constitution. This authority is ultimately responsible for enforcing the RTI Act at those institutions. In the instance of the Supreme Court of India, for example, the Chief Justice of India is the competent authority. Competent authority entails the following:

  • Lok Sabha Speaker
  • Rajya Sabha Chairman
  • State/UT Legislative Assembly Speaker
  • State Legislative Council Chairman
  • Chief Justice of India 
  • Chief Justice of a High Court
  • President or the Governor, as the case may be, in the case of other authorities established or constituted by or under the Constitution
  • Article 239 of the Constitution provides for the appointment of an administrator.

Information [Section 2(f)] 

Section 2(f) specifies the kind of information that can be obtained under the right to information. The term “information” refers to any content in any form, including:

  • Records (written information including any map, image etc. of any act, policy or judgment belonging to a governmental body) 
  • Documents (a portion of a record or a separate document or a piece of information giving specifics on a specific topic or decision of governmental authority) 
  • Memos (they may be in the form of a letter or a note on a particular subject) 
  • E-mails
  • Opinions (opinions of a government agency or government personnel transmitted in official affairs as part of the official record) 
  • Advice (advice on official affairs constituting part of the official record) 
  • Publications in the press (press briefings or press notes on official matters when released in an official capacity)
  • Circulars (government/public authority circulars disseminated in an official capacity informing a certain decision or policy)
  • Orders (any order issued by governmental authority in an official capacity) 
  • Logbooks (documents containing information, observations, and statistics of a particular project of public authority) 
  • Contracts (official contracts entered into by the public authority and the specifics thereof) 
  • Reports (reports about official issues including test results, inquiry reports, and expert reports on a certain subject) 
  • Papers (papers discussing proceedings) 
  • Samples (samples of items to be purchased/consumed for governmental purposes)
  • Models (models of programmes and projects to be done) 
  • Data maintained in any electronic format (data stored in computer, pen drives, CDs)
  • Information on any private organisation that a public authority can obtain under any other law is now in effect.

Public authority [Section 2(h)] 

The term “public authority” is defined under Section 2(h). A public authority is a self-governing authority, body, or organisation that is directly or indirectly linked to the government. Such authority may be linked to the government in the following ways:

  • It is founded by or, created by, under the Constitution.
  • It is established by an Act of Parliament.
  • It is established by a State Legislature Act.
  • It is founded or formed by a notice or order issued by the appropriate government.
  • Anybody owned, managed, or substantially financed by the appropriate government; 
  • Anybody owned, managed, or substantially financed by the appropriate government; 

Record [Section 2(i)]

A record, as defined in Section 2(i) of the Act, may include any of the following:

  • Document: It can refer to any piece of information or a collection of documents giving information on a certain subject.
  • Manuscript: A handwritten text, map, or sketch in its original form.
  • File: A collection of papers or related documents on a certain subject.
  • Digital documents in the form of microfilm, microfiche, and facsimile copy.
  • Electronic documents are reproduced in the form of images.
  • Any additional content created or generated by a computer or other device

Right to information [Section 2(j)]

The term “right to information” is defined in Section 2(j). It refers to the right to get information available under the RTI Act that is held or controlled by any public authority. These rights include:

Right of inspection

This refers to the right to examine and scrutinise papers, works, and records. In this case, no document or copy of a document is obtained, and the information is just observed and scrutinised.

Right to take notes, extracts, and so forth.

Taking notes or extracts refers to jotting down specific information from papers. Important information from the papers is set down here, and authentic excerpts from the documents can also be copied.

Right to get verified material samples

A citizen has the right to acquire verified samples of government-purchased materials or materials used by the government.

Right to acquire information in an electronic format

When the information requested is recorded on a computer or other electronic device, the Right to Information Act allows citizens to acquire it in electronic forms, such as tapes, video cassettes, floppy discs, diskettes, printouts, and so on.

Section 4: Obligations of public authorities 

Section 4(1) states the following duties of public authorities:

Maintaining records: Every public authority is obligated to keep all of its records properly classified and indexed. To ease access to its data, the public authority must ensure that all records that are acceptable for computerisation are computerised and linked across the country on multiple systems within a reasonable time period and according to accessibility.

Publication of specified matters: Every public authority is obligated to publish certain particulars, some of which are listed below:

  • The details of its organisation, activities, and responsibilities;
  • The authority and responsibilities of its officials and staff;
  • The process followed in making decisions, including channels of monitoring and responsibility;
  • The particulars of any arrangement for public participation or public consultation in matters of policy formation or policy execution by a public authority;
  • Such public authority’s employee directory
  • Monthly salary paid to employees and officers
  • Details of Budget allocations for its agencies
  • Details on how subsidy programmes are implemented
  • Details about information stored in electronic form
  • Particulars of information-gathering facilities available to citizens
  • Information of the Public Information Officers, including their names and position held.

Publication of details: A public body must publicise all relevant details about major policies or decisions that affect the public when they are formulated.

Publication of decisions: Every public authority must explain its judicial or administrative decisions to individuals who are affected by them.

Suo moto disclosure of information: Section 4 (2)

Section 4(2) requires public authorities to make efforts to convey information to the public at regular intervals using various channels of communication.

Information dissemination: Sections 4(3) and 4(4)

Section 4(3) calls for the widespread distribution of information that is freely available to the public.

Section 4(4) requires that information be disseminated after taking the following elements into account:

  • cost-effectiveness,
  • a region’s native language, and
  • the most efficient mode of communication in a specific geographical location

Section 5: Designation of Public Information Officers

Section 5(1) requires every public authority to appoint Central Public Information Officers (CPIOs) and State Public Information Officers (SPIOs) within 100 days of the Act’s commencement. Such officers are required by the Act to furnish the requested information.

Section 5(2) establishes a Central Assistant Public Information Officer or a State Assistant Public Information Officer at each sub-divisional or other sub-district levels. Such officials shall accept applications for information or appeals under the Act and send them to the CPIO/SPIO or the senior officer indicated in Section 19(1), the Central Information Commission, or the State Information Commission, as applicable.

Responsibilities and functions of Public information officers

Section 5(3) assigns CPIOs and SPIOs the following responsibilities: 

  • to respond to requests for information from the person requesting information, and
  • To offer appropriate help to the individual requesting information.

Section 6: Request for obtaining information

A citizen who wishes to acquire information under the Act shall submit a written request to the Public Information Officer of the relevant public authority in English, Hindi, or the official language of the region in which the request is made. The application should be specific and precise. He must pay the application fee as specified in the Fee Rules when submitting the application. The applicant may submit the application via mail, electronic means, or in person at the public authorities’ office. The application may also be submitted via an Assistant Public Information Officer. The applicant should apply to the appropriate public authority. It is recommended that he make every effort to determine which public authority is in charge of the information and submit an application to the public information officer with that public authority.

The applicant may also be asked to pay an additional charge to cover the cost of supplying the information, the details of which must be communicated to the applicant by the Public Information Officer. The fee can be paid in the same manner as the application fee. If the applicant falls within the below-poverty line category, then he/she is exempted from paying any fees. He must, however, provide evidence to substantiate his claim of being below the poverty line. An application that is not supported by the necessary application fee or proof that the applicant falls below the poverty line, as the case may be, is not a legitimate application under the Act. There is no set application format for requesting information. The application can be completed on plain paper. However, the applicant’s name and complete postal address must be included in the application. If a person is unable to submit a written request, he may request the aid of the public information officer in making his application, and the public information officer must provide reasonable assistance.

Section 7: Disposal of request

Transferring an application or a part of one should be done as quickly as possible and, in any event, within five days of receiving the application. If a public information officer moves an application after five days from receipt, he is accountable for the delay in disposing of the application up to the number of days he takes in moving the application beyond five days.

The responding public information officer should determine whether the information sought, or a part of it is exempted from disclosure under Sections 8 or 9 of the Act. The part of the application that is exempt may be denied, and the remainder of the information should be delivered promptly or after receipt of additional fees, as applicable.

When a request for information is denied, the public information officer shall notify the individual who made the request:

  • the grounds for the refusal;
  • the time limit for filing an appeal against such refusal; and
  • the details of the agency to whom an appeal may be filed.

If the applicant is obliged to pay an extra charge as specified in the Fee and Cost Rules, the Public Information Officer should notify the applicant:

  • the details of any additional payments that must be paid;
  • the calculations used to arrive at the fee amount requested;
  • the applicant’s entitlement to file an appeal about the amount of fees requested;
  • the designation of the authority to whom such an appeal may be made; and
  • the deadline by which the appeal must be filed

Sections 8, 9, 11 and 24: Exemptions from the disclosure of information

Section 8

Section 8 states that the public information officer is not required to offer the following:

  • information, the publication of which would jeopardise India’s sovereignty and integrity, the State’s security, strategic, technological, or economic interests, relations with other states, or lead to the instigation of an offence; (Article 19(2))
  • information that has been explicitly barred by any court of law or tribunal from being published, or the revelation of which may constitute contempt of court; (Article 19(2))
  • information, whose publication would violate the privileges of Parliament or the State Legislature;
  • information, including commercial confidence, trade secrets, or intellectual property, the publication of which might impair a third party’s market advantage, unless the competent authority is convinced that the revelation of such information is in the broader public interest;
  • information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship, unless the relevant authority is convinced that publication of such information is in the broader public interest;
  • confidential information acquired from a foreign government; (Article 19(2))
  • information that, if disclosed, would jeopardise the life or physical safety of any individual or determine the source of confidential information or assistance provided for law enforcement or security reasons;
  • information that might obstruct the process of investigating, apprehending, or prosecuting offenders;

A public body may provide access to material if the public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to protected interests, regardless of anything in the Official Secrets Act of 1923 or the allowed exclusions under sub-section (1).

Section 9

Section 9 states that a CPIO/SPIO may refuse a request for information if doing so would result in infringement of copyright owned by someone other than the State.

Section 11

According to Section 11, when a Central Public Information Officer or a State Public Information Officer, as the situation may be, intends to disclose any information or record, or part thereof, in response to a request made under this Act that relates to or was supplied by a third party, and has been treated as confidential by that third party. The Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as applicable, shall then provide written notice to a third party of the request and the fact that the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as applicable, intends to share the information or record, or a part thereof, within five days of receiving the request. The authorities should also allow the third party to submit a written or oral statement on whether the information should be revealed, and such input should be considered when making a judgment about the disclosure of information.

Section 24

According to Section 24, nothing in this Act shall apply to the intelligence and security organisations listed in the Second Schedule, which are created by the Central Government, or to any information provided by such organisations to the Central Government. Provided, however, that material concerning allegations of corruption and human rights breaches is not excluded under this sub-section.  Furthermore, if the information sought is in relation to claims of human rights violations, the information shall only be released following the permission of the Central Information Commission, and notwithstanding anything stated in Section 7, such information shall be delivered within forty-five days of the date of the request being received.

Chapter III, IV and V : The Central Information Commission, the State Information Commission and their powers and functions

The statute establishes the Central Information Commission and the State Information Commission. Each commission will be led by a chief information commissioner and will consist of up to 10 additional information officers. Persons of eminence in public life with extensive knowledge and experience in law, management, journalism, mass media, or administration and governance will be appointed to these positions. Section 12 states that the President will appoint the Chief Information Commissioner and information commissioners on the recommendation of a committee comprised of the Prime Minister, who will chair the committee; the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha; and a Union Cabinet Minister to be nominated by the Prime Minister.

According to Section 15, the Governor shall appoint the State Chief Information Commissioner and the State Information Commissioners on the recommendation of a committee comprised of the Chief Minister, who shall serve as Chairman of the committee; the Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly; and a Cabinet Minister to be nominated by the Chief Minister.  The Chief Information Information Commissioner or the state chief information commissioner, or the Information Commissioner, must not be a Member of Parliament or a Member of the Legislature of any state or union territory, hold any other office of profit, or be connected with any political party, or carry on any business or pursue any profession.

 A public information officer is appointed for a five-year term beginning on the date he takes office and ending when he reaches the age of 65, whichever comes first, and is not eligible for reappointment. However, provided that upon resigning his office under this subsection, every Information Commissioner shall be eligible for appointment as Chief Information Commissioner in the manner indicated in subsection (3) of Section 12. Furthermore, if the Information Commissioner is appointed as the Chief Information Commissioner, his total term of service as the Information Commissioner and the Chief Information Commissioner should not exceed five years.

The federal and state information commissions have been granted the authority to investigate complaints submitted by offended parties. Aggrieved people include anyone 

  • who has been unable to make a request to a Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, either because no such officer has been appointed under this Act, or 
  • who the Central Assistant Public Information Officer or State Assistant Public Information Officer, as the case may be, has declined to accept his/her application for information or appeal under this Act; or 
  • who has been denied access to information who has been asked to pay an unreasonable charge; 
  • who feels that he or she has been given incomplete, misleading, or inaccurate information under this Act; and in respect of any other issue pertaining to seeking or receiving access to data under this Act

While investigating any issue under this section, the Central Information Commission or State Information Commission, as the case may be, shall be given the same authority as a civil court while trying an action under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, in respect of the following matters, namely:

  • calling and compelling people to appear and forcing them to provide oral or written testimony under oath and produce documents or items;
  • necessitating the discovery and scrutiny of documents;
  • receiving evidence on affidavit;
  • obtaining a public document or copies of a public record from any court or office;
  • issuing summons for witnesses or documents to be examined; and
  • any additional matters that may be prescribed

Section 20: Penalties

The CIC/SIC has the authority to impose sanctions on the CPIO/SPIO for purposeful violations of the Act when resolving a complaint or an appeal under the Act. Before any decision regarding the application of a penalty is made, the CPIO/SPIO in question must be given a reasonable opportunity to be heard. The burden of proving that he behaved reasonably and diligently is solely on the concerned CPIO/SPIO.

In Section 20(1) of the Act, several grounds are mentioned according to which a penalty is imposed at the rate of Rs. 250 per day till the application is received or information is furnished. However, the total amount of the penalty shall not exceed Rs. 25,000. Those grounds are:

  • unreasonable refusal to receive an application for information, or
  • information not provided within the time period specified in Section 7(1), or
  • malafidely rejected the information request, or
  • knowingly provided false, incomplete, or misleading information, or
  • the applicant’s requested information was destroyed, or
  • obstructed in any way in providing the information, or

Similarly, in Section 20(2) of the Act, several grounds are mentioned on which a commission shall recommend that disciplinary action be taken against the concerned CPIO/SPIO under the service rules applicable to him. The grounds are related to the persistent default/failure of the CPIO/SPIO in:

  • receiving an application for information or has not furnished information within the time specified under sub-section (1) of Section 7, or
  • malafidely denying the request for information or knowingly giving incorrect, incomplete or misleading information, or
  • destroying information that was the subject of the request, or 
  • obstructing in any manner in furnishing the information.

Impact of the Right to Information Act

The Right to Information Act of 2005 fosters peaceful coexistence between citizens and their governments. Previously, when a problem arose, public officers were more superior-oriented rather than service-oriented, because there were no checks on their services. However, the RTI Act provides a straitjacket solution for making public servants more service-oriented. People now have the right to get information from public authorities under the RTI Act, which causes a fear of exposure in the minds of public servants, affecting their attitude toward their tasks and obligations. The Right to Information Act of 2005 plays an important role in good governance since it improves accountability and government performance. The Act creates a method for the public to get information from public offices. Any administrative action or quasi-judicial judgment rendered by any public authority must be documented in minute detail. The general public or concerned parties can obtain this information from public offices at any time. The Act also values citizen engagement in the decision-making process. NGOs, cooperation, institutions, or the general public have the right to obtain information about various yojana, plans, schemes, and allotments of funds and resources by the government in rural and urban areas. With the aid of data from NGOs and social welfare institutions, the institution gains an understanding of society’s problems and their remedies. The Act gives assistance to prevent corruption in public offices; today, public officers are not using funds for personal gain and are not abusing their public power.

Criticism of Right to Information Act

The Act has been criticised for a number of reasons. It gives information on demand but does not emphasise information on food, water, the environment, and other necessities that must be provided proactively, or suo motu, by public authorities. The Act places little emphasis on active action in educating the people about their right to information, which is critical in a nation with high levels of illiteracy and poverty, or on promoting an open culture within official organisations. Without extensive education and knowledge of the new Act’s prospects, it may remain on paper. The Act further strengthens the controlling role of the government official, who has broad discretion to withhold information. The most vehement criticism of the bill has come from those who point to the broad exclusions it allows. Information on security, foreign policy, defence, law enforcement, and public safety is often restricted. Furthermore, under the Right to Information Act, cabinet materials, including records of the council of ministers, secretaries, and other officials, are exempted, essentially shielding the whole decision-making process from required publication. Another harsh criticism of the Act is the recent revision that was to be made, allowing for the exclusion of files other than those pertaining to social and development initiatives from the Act’s scope. When it comes to government policymaking, file notes are quite essential. These notes provide the reasoning behind actions or policy changes, why a particular contract was awarded, or why the punishment was withheld in order to pursue a corrupt person. As a result, the government’s proposal to exclude file notings from the Act has been met with harsh criticism. 

Also, logical grounds for rejecting requests for information are not supplied, as required by Section 7(8) of the Act. Furthermore, the exemption clause in Section 8 of the Act is being abused to conceal wrongdoing in the guise of national security, integrity, and so on. Although the addition of a public interest override is a significant step forward, the fact that the exemptions only feature a low-level injury test requiring that relevant interests be “harmed” or “prejudicially impacted” might be used to deny a large number of applications at the outset. Applicants have often complained that information is not supplied to them in their regional language. This is contrary to the legislative spirit expressed in Section 6(1) of the Act, which states that information must be supplied in Hindi, English, or the official language of the region in which the application is filed.

Issues and suggestions for effective implementation of Right to Information Act

The following recommendations are made to ensure that the Act is effectively implemented:

  • The technical aspects of submitting an RTI application should be simplified. Rural India has a low literacy rate, making it difficult for them to comply with the regulations.
  • The applicability and impact of the RTI should be popularised through public awareness efforts, particularly for the poor and disadvantaged, who are more harmed than the rest. The contribution of non-governmental organisations and the media in this regard is greatly expected.
  • There is an urgent need to safeguard whistleblowers who are readily targeted or attacked. 
  • Children are seen as resources for a nation’s future health. As a result, the RTI Act should be included in the school curriculum to kindle children’s interest in RTI at the grassroots level.
  • It may be practical, but the provision for charging fees for revealing information appears to be contrary to both the spirit of the right and the Act. It is rather odd that a person must pay to obtain knowledge. As a socially motivated policy, it strikes the wrong chord here by creating a division between individuals on an economic basis. The wealthy classes have easy access to information, whereas students and the poor strata of society do not.
  • Although the Act empowers the CIC and SIC to levy fines ranging from Rs. 250 to Rs. 25000 on erring employees who engage in unjustified no disclosure of information. However, it does not have the same deterring impact on powerful officials. However, while recommending disciplinary action appears to be successful, it is insufficient for rigorous compliance with the RTI Act of 2005. The absence of such teeth, which may bite officials via the rigours of the law allows for the formation of an accountable and transparent government.

Conclusion

Without a doubt, the Right to Information Act is momentous, with the potential to forever change the balance of power in India, disempowering governments and other powerful institutions and transferring power to the people. To change the nation from a representational democracy to a participatory democracy, in which governments and their functionaries at all levels are directly accountable to the people for their acts and inactions, thereby strengthening the basic foundations of the world’s largest democracy. Realising this promise will require a far more determined effort in the coming years. When it comes to power and control, there is simply no time to waste. Those in authority will exploit people’s weaknesses if they do not stick together and continue their attempts to reclaim the power that is rightly theirs. By implementing the Right to Information Act, India has transitioned from an opaque and arbitrary system of governance to the start of a new age of more openness and a system in which the public is empowered and the genuine centre of power. Only by empowering ordinary citizens can a nation grow toward greatness, and India has made a significant step towards that objective by implementing the Right to Information Act 2005. The true Swaraj will be achieved not via the acquisition of authority by a few, but through the development of the capacity by all to reject authority when it is misused. Thus, by passing this Act, India has taken a significant step toward achieving true Swaraj. However, if this potential is to be realised, a far more determined attempt to develop the RTI regime in the coming years is required. There is no time to spend on basic conflicts like those for power and control. 

References


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