“RTI: All you need to know”



Introduction and History:


Responsibility and transparency are the two important set-ups of a democratic country like India. It enables citizens to know the working of the government better. Right To Information is a human right and fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India which implies that this right is legally enforceable in the court of law. The Right To Information as enshrined in the Constitution of India enables the citizens of India to keep a check on the activities performed by the Government and its servants. RTI helps in achieving good governance by keeping a check on the transparency and accountability of the Government by enabling the citizens to duly predict the activities of the Government and actively participate in the process.

The roots of Right To Information in India can be found in the struggle of the rural poor in the urge to combat corruption in famine relief works in the year 1987. The struggle was led by an organization for people – Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, an organization for the empowerment of workers and peasants. The result of this struggle was that nationwide demand for a law to guarantee the right to information to every Indian citizen was raised. Widespread support from social activists, professionals, lawyers, persons within the bureaucracy, politics, and media was given demanding transparent and accountable government and people’s empowerment.

The factors which made this struggle a success were the grass-root struggles of the people and the activists for the most fundamental necessities that are livelihood and justice to the rural poor. This movement was started in the state of Rajasthan and was led by Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan whose main objective was transparency and accountability by the government to provide justice to the poor in matters of wages, livelihood, and land. The prevalent behavior of the government officials to hide facts from the poor and unprivileged and depict a picture of extreme secrecy and denial of basic access to information to the citizens laid down the basis of the movement which after many years of struggle and failures, and constant support from the powerful men of the society became successful in achieving its objective sought.


Factors for the adoption of RTI all over the world:


1. To effectuate smooth flow of information between the Government and citizens and to hold the government accountable and responsible for its actions.

2. A lot of public information is retained by the government of various countries, so, to effectuate transparency of government records, their actions, and activities, etc. access to the right to information was given emphasis.

3. For the promotion and protection of human rights, it was considered just that proper legislation for the right to access information be formulated. UN and the commonwealth nations have also recognized this right.

4. The provocation by various civil society groups about the freedom of information played a major role in shifting the focus of government towards enacting a proper law.

5. The transition of democracy in various countries led to the recognition of human rights in various constitutions all over the globe.

6. Scandals, frauds, and corruption by the public authorities and government servants gave rise to the need for the formulation of strong legislation to curb such false practices.

7. The expansion of the internet to almost every small aspect has fueled the demand for more information by the public, businesses and civil society groups, etc.


The Right to Information Act, 2005:


This Act was passed by the Government of India almost 16 years ago, still there remains a lack of awareness among most of the masses. The people are unaware of the basic questions such as- Why file an RTI application? How to file it? Where to file it? What kind of information can be sought from the government offices? And etc. The RTI Bill received the President’s assent on 15th June 2005 and became fully operational on 12th October 2005. The preamble of the Act reads as follows-

“An act to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority, the constitution of a Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”.[1]

This Act provides a right to all citizens irrespective of their class, creed, gender, etc. to exercise a right to question the government relating to any of their functionalities, services, and projects.

Section 2(f) of the Act defines ‘information’ and Section 2(h) of the Act defines ‘public authority’. This Act provides a basis of all necessities relating to seeking information, from whom information can be sought, the basis for denial of information, remedies in case of denial to the information sought, and so on. Some important Sections under the RTI Act, 2005 are:

1. Section 20- It talks about the procedure relating to how and what penalty is to be imposed on the CPIO (Central Public Information Commissioner) or the SPIO (State Public Information Commissioner), in case he defaults in his duties provided under the Act.

2. Section 18- It talks about the powers and functions of the Information Commissions. It empowers the CIC (Central Information Commission) or the SIC (State Information Commission) to receive and inquire into a complaint made by any person who is aggrieved due to any of the following reasons mentioned in the said section.

3. Section 17- Talks about the removal of the State Chief Information Commissioner or the State Information Commissioner.

4. Section 12 and Section 15- These sections talk about the Constitution of the Central Information Commission and the State Information Commission respectively.

5. Section 7 and Section 8- These sections talk about the disposal of a request made and the exemption from disclosure of information respectively.

In the case of S.P. Gupta v. Union of India[2], also known as the “Judges transfer case”, The Supreme Court, responding to the RTI stated that Whether correspondence between the Chief Justice of Delhi and the Chief Justice of India is protected from the disclosure? It was rejected by the Supreme Court.

Also, in Secy. Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India v. Cricket Association of Bengal[3], The Hon’ble Supreme Court has explicitly reasoned as to how the Right to Information can rationally be inferred from Right to freedom of Speech and Expression and it also includes freedom of the press to circulate and determine the volume of such circulation.


Procedure to file an RTI application:


1. The first step before actually filing an RTI is to determine the correct department wherein the application has to be filed. In case of applying online, visit the official website[4] and register yourself. By clicking on the ‘submit request’ button on the homepage, the actual process to apply begins. But before starting with the process, the acknowledgment form needs to be duly read. Thereafter, enter the department selected for the submission of the application and fill in the personal details.

2. The next step is to enter the subject line which relates to the context of writing the application. The questions should be drafted crisply and clearly so that it becomes easy to seek information from the authority concerned.

3. The last step is the submission of the fees that is INR 10, but no fees is charged for people who are below the poverty line.

4. After the completion of the application, the same shall be sent via speed post or any registered post. In the case of applying online, no speed post/ registered post is required. The reply is given by the authority within 30 days, and if not then the concerned person can approach the Central Information Commission for the same.


Conclusion:


It is right to say that the Right to Information is a fundamental as well as a human right. Every person has a right to seek and impart information without any hindrances, as a part of his right to know. The States and the Centre are obliged to respect this right of the citizens of India. Right to know forms a basic part of the democratic polity of India, therefore, this right needs to be protected at all costs. Even after being of utmost value, masses are still unaware of this basic right and how and when to use it. Awareness should be created in the rural as well as the urban masses so that this right can be exercised by them in matters demanding. This right is only restricted under the reasonable restrictions stated under Article 19(2) of the Constitution. The basic aim of this legislation was the involvement of the community at large in order to curb false practices and move towards a more responsible and aware democratic setup and this can only be achieved when people are made aware and use this right at the most appropriate time.








[1] The Right to Information Act, 2005, No. 22, Acts of Parliament, 2005 (India). [2] S.P. Gupta v. Union of India, 1992 AIR SC 149 [3] Secy. Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India v. Cricket Association of Bengal, AIR 1995 SC 1236 [4] http://rtionline.gov.in

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