Right To Information Act – Boon Or Bane
The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI) is a Central Legislation “to provide for setting out the particular regime of right to information for citizens”. The government of India enacted Right to Information Act in the year 2005 and which came into force on October 12, 2005. It has replaced the Freedom of Information Act 2002. This act is applicable throughout India except the state of Jammu and Kashmir. (Jammu and Kashmir has a similar act which was enacted in 2009.)
The enactment of this Act encouraged participatory democracy where people have the right to know. In the case of R.P.Limited v. Indian Express newspapers the Supreme Court has read into article 21 of the the constitution regarding the right to know. To quote the Supreme Court “Right to know is a basic right which citizens of a free country aspire in the broader horizon of the right to live in this age in our land under Article 21 of the Constitution.”
India has the world’s largest democracy where people elect their own representatives. So people have a right to know what the representatives elected by them are doing for their welfare. People have got the powers to obtain copies of permissible government documents, inspect permissible documents and inspect permissible government works and samples. People can submit a request to the P.I.O or to the A.P.I.O who forwards the request to the P.I.O to obtain the desired information with the prescribed fee in writing or electronically. The tax payers of the country have a right to know how the funds are being utilized by the government for their welfare. It builds trust on the government as almost every action and rationale behind every decision of the government is clearly visible to the people.
It is a sad state of affairs that we need an act to enforce our basic rights. Right to information is a fundamental right of all human beings. Right to information was provided to all citizens in Article 19 though it was not expressly stated. This Act is an extension of the article 19(1) (a) right to freedom of speech and expression.
The Act is one of the means of arousing the public opinion by spreading public awareness. It is now very easy for the masses to find out the reason behind the delay in the government works and projects taken up by the public bodies. The large number of RTI applications that are being filed is a clear proof of the interest of the general public in the functioning of public bodies. Many NGO s and social activists have made good use of this Act to help the public.
RTI is not an expensive affair as it involves a nominal charge of just Rupees Two per page for the information sought and Rupees Ten in cash to be paid with the application for court fees stamp. However, if the information seeker falls under the below poverty (BPL) line information given to him will not be charged. This makes the Act accessible to all i.e. the rich and the poor. In case there are additional efforts in gathering the information extra charges can be levied. It is not only necessary for the people to abide by the decisions taken by the public bodies they also have a right to know how these decisions were arrived at. Therefore, this Act has given the people the right to inspect the file notings.
The RTI act has helped in promoting transparency and accountability. Public dealings are no more a secret as this was the main cause of misuse and abuse of power and corruption. The Act has put a check on all this. It makes the elected representatives accountable to the people for the promises made by them and the works and projects taken up and executed by them. Any work or any project that is useful or beneficial to the public which has been held up due to vested interests of the elected representatives, through this act people can obtain the information and question the delay. It also helps in curbing bureaucratic red-tapism. By promoting transparency and accountability there has been a reduction in corruption. The funds of the country cannot be diverted for private use of people in power as it is easy to obtain any kind of information.
The RTI Act provides for the establishment of central information (Section 8) and state information commission (Section 10) through gazette notification of the central government and state government respectively. The information commission has the duty to receive complaints from persons who have not been able to submit their request for information as there is no PIO appointed in their area, who has been refused the information requested for or received no response within the stipulated time, who feels the fees charged is not reasonable and who feels the information received is false incomplete or misleading. The commissions are vested with the powers of civil court also. This provision of the act makes the act more citizens friendly.
Central Information Commission will send an annual report to the Central Government on the implementation of the provisions of this law at the end of the year. The State Information Commission will send a report to the state government on the same. Central Government will table the Central Information Commission report before Parliament after the end of each year. The concerned State Government will table the report of the State Information Commission before the Vidhan Sabha. This makes the administration of the country and the state more transparent. A track of the number of requests received by the PIO’s number of requests rejected etc can be kept)
Section 20 of the Information Act has imposed penalties on the public information officers who fail in providing information in time. So this acts as a deterrent in the minds of the officers which enables them to work properly without any bias. Though the RTI Act has been an effective tool for the public it does have a few loopholes which may prove dangerous to the smooth functioning of the democratic machinery.
Misuse of the information by people for their ulterior motive or vengeance is the biggest drawback of the act. Section 6(2) of this act states that there is no need for the information seeker to give any reason as to why he requires the particular information and he need no give any personal detail also. It is practically also impossible to check the background and credentials of every person who files an application under this act to seek information. In the case of V.V. Minerals V. Department of Mining geology and others3 Madras High Court held that the information seeker can obtain information for any purpose and the information can be put to any use. Unless the information sought comes under the exemption clause under the Act it should be provided to the applicant. He can himself misuse the information or leak the information to an external agency which may take undue advantage of the information given. By providing the information about the government officers they are put to risk. The information seekers who apply electronically or by hand through printed application forms can be made to upload or write their adhar card number or may be asked to provide any identity proof so that the details of the person are with the government. This creates a sense of responsibility on the information seeker and he would make only the right use of the information obtained by him.
Sometimes the public information officers disclose only part of the information and not the full information because of prejudices and biases stating reason s that it is in the best interest of the public. In the case of R.K. Gupta v. ITAT the full bench stated that “when a specific law lays down the scope the range of information to be disclosed to a person facing specified action, it will be a sure interference if larger range of information is allowed under the RTI Act.”
Right to information is not absolute. Section 8 of the RTI A excludes matters relating to national security, sovereignty, foreign government and law enforcement. Information on defense is available to all foreign countries through newspapers but it is exempted from this Act and our own citizens do not have access to such information. Such exemptions must be reduced for the proper functioning of this act. Section 4(2) of the RTI Act allows the public authority to reveal information that is personal though it infringes the right to privacy of an individual in the interest of larger public.
According to section 23 of the Act, lower courts are barred from entertaining suits or applications against any order made under this Act.
In order to harness the potential of the RTI it is necessary for the public to be made aware of the act. The state government under section 26(1)(a)(b)
& (c) required to organize awareness programmes to educate the public but in reality nothing of this sort is done. Conducting training workshops for PIO’s will help in better implementation of the act.
It is difficult to decide as to if right to information is a boon or a bane to our country. The RTI Act has helped to raise the feeble and unheard voice of the Indian public. It has created a sense of responsibility not only on the officials but also on the people. It is encouraging participative democracy. It has built a sense of involvement in the people. At the same time RTI might cause the breakdown of the constitutional machinery which may prove dangerous to our country if it continues to function with the existing loopholes. However measures have to be taken to improve this Act and make sure that it serves the ultimate purpose for which it was enacted. The RTI Act has been enacted to do good to the society and the people. Hope the RTI Act is utilized to the fullest extent for the welfare of the public.
1. AIR 1989 SC 190
2. Public Information Officer
5th year B.A.L.L.B
Bangalore Institute of Legal Studies
The author can be reached at: Prajnabhat@legalserviceindia.com