What is RTI Act, Meaning, Definition, Historical background

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Right to Information (RTI) can be defined as an act of Parliament of India, “to provide for setting out practical regime of right to information for citizens.” Right to Information Act, 2005 mandates timely response to citizen requests for government information. It is an initiative taken by Department of Personnel and Training, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions to provide a RTI Portal Gateway to the citizens for quick search of information on the details of first Appellate Authorities, PIOs etc., amongst others, besides access to RTI related information/disclosures published on the web by various public authorities under the Government of India as well as the State Governments to promote transparency and accountability.

RTI- Right to Information

Evolution of Transparency Regime : Historical Background

Supreme Court landmark judgement in Mr Kulwal vs Jaipur Municipal Corporation 1986 case directed that freedom of speech and expression provided under Article 19 of the Constitution, clearly implies Right to Information, as without information the freedom of speech and expression cannot be fully used by the citizens. This led to new dawn of governance by providing information. In 2004, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government initiated drafting of RTI Act under National Advisory Council (NAC), with Aruna Roy as torchbearer for RTI Act formulation

National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) played an active role in by arguing and compelling government to introduce Act which aims to improve transparency and accountability of government. Finally, RTI Act was passed in 2005 in Parliament thus, introducing a regime of transparency and accountability and re-establishment of faith in democracy.

Important Provisions of Law

The act is applicable to whole of India (including Jammu and Kashmir which was not applicable earlier). Some important provisions of law are: • The Section 2(f) of act says that information means any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force. This in a way has led to transfer of democracy into the hands of people.

•Under Section 2(i) of the act, Right to Information means the right to information accessible under this act which is held by or under the control of any public authority

•Most important feature of the act under Section 4(2) is that it put onus on government to provide disclosure of information by public authority. A time period of 30 days is assigned to public authority to furnish the information from the receipt of application. If information sought concerns the life or liberty of a person, it shall be supplied within 48 hours.

•Every public authority is under obligation to provide information on written request or request by electronic means. Three bodies are created to hear the application of information that is Public Information Officer, First Appellate Authority and Central Information Commission (CIC). Maximum time gap for 1st appeal is 30 day and time period for Appellate Authority is within 30 days or in exceptional cases 45 days from the date of receipt by public authority. Maximum time gap for 2nd appeal is 90 days since limit of supply of information is expired.

•Central Information Commission shall consist of 1 Chief Information Commissioner and upto 10 Central Information Commissioners. The Chief Information Commissioner shall hold office for a term of five years from the date on which he enters upon his office and shall not be eligible for reappointment.

• However, Section 8(1) contains provisions which restricts disclosure of information which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the state, relation with foreign state or lead to incitement of an offence. RTI relaxes restrictions placed by Official Secrets Act, 1923.

RTI Amendment Bill, 2019

The Right to Information Act, 2005 was amended through Right to Information ) Act, 2019. The Act has amended the provisions of salaries and ervices conditions of Information Commissioners at Central as well as State levels.

Further, the term of Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information has also been changed. Now, appointment will be for such term as be described by Central Government. However, many critics are arguing that amendment will undermine the independence of CIC.

Need of RTI

The RTI Act is regarded among one of the most successful laws of independent . Importance of RTI can be ascertained from the fact that nearly 60 lakh RTI applications are being filed every year. RTI has been seen as the key to strengthening participatory democracy and ushering in people centred governance.

The act is essential for enjoying fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19 to make informed choices while exercising the choice during voting. The act ushers in transparency and accountability by arming citizens with a vital tool to inform them about what the government does with revenue it generates from them. The act was responsible for unearthing huge scams like Commonwealth Games and 2G Spectrum Case.

Challenges Before RTI

•Lack of awareness about Act can be understood from the fact only 36 per cent in rural and 38 per cent urban areas have heard of the RTI Act.

• Long Pendency of cases both at national as well as state level. Most Information Commissions signals casual approach towards RTI. Dilution of supplementary laws such as the one for Whistle-Blower Protection Act creates situation where witness turns hostile.

• Political parties which receive substantial funding from government remains out of the ambit of RTI Act which is serious flaw as they clearly comes under definition of public authority.

• Most of the time unnecessary information are sought thus, undermining the purpose of Act. Amendment to RTI Act increases the scope of political executives meddling in affairs of appointment and transfer of the Commissioners which can significantly alter the functioning of Act.

Suggestions to Make RTI More Effective

The success of RTI act depends largely on how the people are united, organised and aware of their surroundings and their capacity to fight against corruption and unlawful activities. Further, it is suggested that every public authority should computerise their records for wide dissemination and to proactively publish certain categories of information so that citizens need minimum recourse to request for information formally. It is also advised to the officers to provide the information which is brief, true and easily understood by citizens, this will avoid further complaints resulting into wastage of time, energy and money. All public information officers and appellate authorities need to be fully trained on what their responsibilities are under the law, how to manage applications and how to apply and interpret the law.

The exemptions should be minimised so that there is more transparency. Section 26 of the Act states that the appropriate government authority may develop and organise educational programmes to advance the understanding of the public, especially disadvantaged communities, regarding how to exercise their rights. The government may resort to the major sources of awareness like radio, social media, television and newspapers.

Conclusion

RTI is a significant step in the direction of good governance as it promotes transparency and accountability in the governance. Effective implemention of this act will make India as corruption free and inclusive society. The former Chief Information Commissioner of Jammu and Kashmir once said that “RTI is like a 10 rupee Public Information Litigation (PIL) for citizens” which underscores the importance of RTI in achieving social justice.

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