This article is written by Gautam Chaudhary, a law student at Chander Prabhu Jain College of Higher Studies and School of Law, GGSIPU. The present article talks about the Right to Information Act and its important provisions, followed by the amendments that were introduced in the Right to Information Act in the year 2019.
This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.
Table of Contents
Any country is said to be truly democratic on the basis of its five core components, i.e., transparency, good governance, participation, accountability, and corruption eradication. The right to information is a statute that, through its provisions, provides the public with the most important constitutional principle, i.e., transparency in the governmental administration and public authorities, without any question or doubt. Further, Greek philosophers named Aristotle and Plato also supported the right to information, saying that “disclosure of all information relating to the state and government and clarification of those details to the public is the core of democracy.” Hence, it is essential to know about the fundamental right to information since we all live in the largest democracy in the world. Therefore, the present article discusses the Right to Information Act of 2005 and its important provisions, followed by the 2019 amendment.
Right to Information Act, 2005
The National Freedom of Information Act of 2002 was the first ever Act formulated by the Indian government in order to provide the citizens of India a medium for getting public authorities’ information. The said Act was enacted by the parliament after a number of anti-corruption protests by numerous activists, heated debates, and due to pressure from other states that had already introduced the required activities in their respective states. But even after its introduction, it suffered since the Indian government did not put it officially in the Indian Gazette. The Right to Information Act was passed on June 15, 2005, and later came into effect on October 12, 2005. It became officially operational in 2005 when it was assented to by the President of India, making it a law. The said Act was introduced in India to bring the general public out of the dark with regard to the practical and actual functioning of the public authorities. But most importantly, it was introduced to truly achieve the status of “democratic,” i.e., giving the public the tool to have information about anything that remains with the public authorities, thereby having and promoting the notion of transparency in society between the general public and the public authorities.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, in the landmark case of Raj Narain vs. the State of Uttar Pradesh (1975), held that the general public has a fundamental right to information. Including it under the ambit of Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. Upon enactment and enforcement, the Right to Information Act gained widespread public acceptance and support for its operation because now the government and its public authorities could be checked upon the filing of RTI applications, which were not available to the public before.
Important definitions under RTI Act
Section 2(f) provides as to what may be termed “information” according to the act, wherein it states “information” means material in any form, whether in records, documents, memos, emails, opinions, advice, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, or models. It also includes data material stored in any electronic form. The act also provides information about any private body that is to be provided by the public body according to any other law.
Right to information
Section 2(j) defines the “right to information,” which states the “right to information” means the right to excess information under the provisions of the act, provided by or under the control of any public authority, the right to inspect works, documents, and records, to take notes, extracts, or certified copies of documents or records, or to take certified samples of material, or to obtain information in the form of printouts, diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes, or in any other electronic mode or through printouts.
Section 2(h) states the meaning of public authority under the act, wherein it says public authority means any institution or body of the government formed by or under the constitution, any law made by the parliament, and any law made by the state legislature. It also includes any institution formed by notification issued or order made by the appropriate government and any body owned, controlled, or substantially financed by a non-government organisation, directly or indirectly, with funds provided by the appropriate government. If the information sought by the applicant is held by or is part of any other authority, then in this case the office where the application was primarily filed will transfer the application to that authority at the earliest possible time. The time period for such transfer shall not exceed five days at most.
Time period for application’s disposal
Section 7 of the act prescribes the time period in which any application made under the statute is to be disposed of. It shall dispose of the application within thirty days, or if the information sought is related to the life or liberty of a person, then such an application shall be disposed of or entertained within forty-eight hours from the receipt of the application.
Right to Information (Amendment) Act, 2019
The Right to Information (Amendment) Act, 2019, was passed on July 22, 2019, by the Lok Sabha and by the Rajya Sabha on July 25, 2019. It came into force with the consent of President Ram Nath Kovind. The amendment of 2019 in the action brought key changes in the following sections:
Section 13 of the RTI Act talks about the term of office and conditions of service for the chief information commissioner and the information commissioner. Prior to the 2019 amendment, the act prescribed the terms of the chief information commissioner and the information commissioner under subsections 1 and 2 as five years. The terms of the aforementioned commissioners were changed to be at the discretion and on the orders of the central government as a result of the aforementioned amendment. The amendment also made changes to subsection 5 of the same section, which discusses the salary and allowances of the chief information commissioner and the information commissioner, which were previously equal to those of the chief election commissioner for the chief information commissioner and the election commissioner for the information commissioner. Now their salaries and allowances will be prescribed by the government.
Section 16 (state)
Section 16 of the RTI Act talks about the term of office and conditions of service for the chief information commissioner and the information commissioner. Prior to the 2019 amendment, the act prescribed the terms of the chief information commissioner and the information commissioner under subsections 1 and 2 as five years. The terms of the aforementioned commissioners were changed to be at the discretion and on the orders of the central government as a result of the aforementioned amendment. The amendment also made changes to subsection 5 of the same section, which discusses the salary and allowances of the chief information commissioner and the information commissioner, which were previously equal to those of the chief election commissioner for the chief information commissioner and the election commissioner for the information commissioner. Now their salaries and allowances will be prescribed by the government.
The present section frames out the power to make rules by the appropriate government, wherein the central government, through the said amendment, added two new subsections, i.e., “ca” and “cb.” The added sub-section generally empowers the government to make rules for the amended provisions to give effect to the said amendment in regards to tenure, salaries of the chief IC and information commissioner and of states as well, etc.
The above-substituted provisions inducted in the RTI Act, 2005 in the year 2019 are said to be arbitrary and authoritative because it is taken as the step taken by the central government to attain more power with respect to the RTI act which in consequence of the same hinders the independence of the central and states information commissions. The said amendment is also considered “fishy” in nature since the government of 2019 introduced the same without keeping the draft of amended provisions in the public domain mandated by the pre-legislative consultation policy of 2014, therefore violating the same. However, in response to the above-mentioned contentions against the amendment, the government justified the same on the ground of having a differentiation between the information commission and the election commission, According to the government, the earlier provisions Somewhere, the information commissions were mixed up with the election commissions, which is very unacceptable and uncalled for in nature since the election commission is a constitutional body established in accordance with the constitutional provision, i.e., under Article 324, whereas information commissions are statutory bodies formulated in accordance with the statute.
Judiciary and the Right to Information Act
The Apex Court has, as always from time immemorial, adjudicated matters in favour of the general public at large. It has undoubtedly provided judicial precedents and decisions advocating for the public’s right to information from the public body.
The landmark and most notable case of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India can be termed Raj Narain vs. the State of Uttar Pradesh, (1975), wherein the court was of the view that every citizen of India has a fundamental right to information since the people of India have every right to know the information that is available in the public domain and have the absolute right to know every detail of every operation of the public authority under Article 19 of the Constitution, which talks about freedom of speech and expression.
In Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India (1978), they provided an additional and new constitutional provision under which the general public could have the right to have information from the public authority. It provides the people of India with a right to information, which they can apply for under Article 21, which talks about the right to protection of life and personal liberty.
In CBSE vs. Aditya Bandopadhyay & Ors (2011), the Supreme Court dealt with the question of whether the examinee has a right to have his answer sheet from the public examination board and whether he has a right to obtain a certified copy of the same. To this end, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that the Central Board of Secondary Education undoubtedly comes under the definition of public authority given in the act, and therefore it must provide the required information pertaining to his answer sheet.
In Girish Ramchandra Deshpande vs. Central Information Commission & Ors. (2013), the Supreme Court held that information like assets, property, and liabilities of a public servant does not fall under the ambit of the RTI Act. The information relating to the same cannot be made public since it is the personal information of a public servant.
In a truly democratic country, one of the most important aspects of the rule of the people is the transparency between the governing bodies and the common public. Such transparency in countries like India which is said to be the largest democracy in the world can only be achieved by conveying the basic and necessary information to the general public. Likewise, the Right to Information Act operates as a medium between these two pillars, i.e., the government and the common public. The RTI Act enables the citizens to have knowledge about the public offices’ functions and operations without any objections because the constitution and the apex court of the land term it the people’s fundamental right to have it; otherwise, if this basic right isn’t available to the citizens, then it will be simply arbitrary and authoritative states, which would be against the core values of the Indian constitution.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Who can file an application under the RTI Act?
According to the provisions of the act, any citizen of India can file an application to obtain any information from the public authorities. The information requested must be provided to the citizen within thirty days.
Is the Right to Information a legal right in India?
The Right to Information is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Indian Constitution under Article 19.
What are the benefits of the Right to Information Act?
The Right to Information Act enables every person in India to have access to information that is with public authorities. The foremost benefit of the Right to Information Act is that it communicates information to the public about everything that is held by the public authorities, like information regarding delayed pensions, passport renewals, and the salaries of government employees.
- Book on the Right to Information Act by J.N. Barowalia, 5th edition, 2021.
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