|Antecedents and Evolution of the RTI Act in India
|Importance of the Act
|Impact of the Right to Information Act, 2005
|Cases Related to the Right of Information Act, 2005
“A basic tenet of a healthy democracy is open dialogue and transparency”, said Peter Fenn. The RTI Act was passed by the Parliament of India on June 15, 2005, and it came into existence on October 12, 2005. Every citizen of India has been bestowed the fundamental right to free speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. The right to information regarding matters of public interest becomes a pivotal point when it comes to forming opinions regarding the governance of the nation. RTI assures the citizens that the rights they possess will allow them to have complete transparency on the part of the government. In modern times, the educated as well as the illiterate classes of society want to be informed regarding the functioning and operation of the administrations in the country. They want to be apprised of how their funds and taxes are being utilized by the government. The citizens look forward to maintaining a system of scrutiny of the administrative campaigns in order to keep a check on swindling and corruptible activities. The paramount objective of the Right to Information Act, of 2005, is to strengthen the functioning of the authorities and make sure that no anti-people policies are carried out, and if any such activities are detected, they can be backed by legitimate grounds. India has evolved over a time period of 82 years from being a country where the citizens had no right to demand information regarding the secretive official Acts passed by the colonial officers to being a nation where the Constitution vests the rights of citizens to have access to every information regarding the working of the state machinery wherein the citizens are allowed to know the power and authority vesting in the officers, the utilization of the funds, as well as “information” involving and pertaining to press releases, records, notices, circulars, contracts, memos, models, public data, and reports released by Ministries, public sector undertakings, etc. The Hon’ble Supreme Court has also substantiated at times the need for an act that allows the citizens to have knowledge in order to better judge and inspect the functioning of the government.1
Antecedents and Evolution of the RTI Act in India
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948: It mandated the media to provide anyone and everyone seeking any information in regards to the government, irrespective of the frontiers, with the right medium to receive that information. It cleared the way forward for demanding the right to information in India.
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966: It encouraged the idea of freedom of speech and expression, under which people shall be provided with transparency to seek information and proclaim opinions and ideas.
- Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan: In the 1990s, the organization started the movement relating to RTI with regard to increasing lucidity at the village governance level and demanding the minimum wage. Although the movement didn’t turn out to be a successful moment because of a lack of a substantial platform and failed due to having a rural background, it still managed to draw the attention of significant personalities, including the media, lawyers, jurists, dignitaries, academicians, bureaucrats, and legislators, and led to the formation of the National Campaign on the People’s Right to Information (NCPRI)’. A ‘Shourie Committee’ was formed, which was led by the former bureaucrat H.D. Shourie, who was also a consumer rights campaigner. In July 2000, the draft prepared by the Shourie Committee was presented along with certain amendments and alterations and came into existence as the ‘Freedom of Information Bill, 2000’. The parliament passed the ‘Freedom of Information Act’ in 2002, and it’s a precedent of the current Right to Information Act that was passed by the parliament in June 2005 and came into implementation in October 2005.2
Importance of the Act
- Accountability: According to Abraham Lincoln, “Democracy is a rule of the people, for the people, and by the people” (Democracy is a rule of the people, for the people, and by the people). As a result, all authorities operating at various levels are accountable to the nation’s citizens, and each citizen upholds the right to hold the authority in question accountable for its actions. RTI has established a responsibility factor that applies to all government employees, not just those who are elected to serve in that capacity.
- Transparency: The Constitution has provided several rights to the government to work freely in an independent and cohesive manner, maintaining certain boundaries regarding their work profile, but RTI has also maintained within its provisions that the government should work on terms that are favourable to the public and nation, and to solidify that fact, it lays down that the public interaction on the part of the government should be absolutely transparent. Citizens possess the right to knowledge about where and how the taxes given by them are being utilized by the government, how the government functions, and what measures are being taken by the government to run the country.
- Rule of Law: RTI has also played a role when it has come down to posing certain limitations on the discretionary powers of the authorities. It has been established that the law is the supreme authority, and nobody has the power to cross the supremacy of the Constitution of India. Improvisations in regards to seeking judicial actions in cases of denial of information on inquiry have established a control on the powers of the government and have increased the efficiency rate of work in the government offices as well.
- Role of Media: Since the implementation of RTI, the role of the media and press has also received attention. From educating the public about their rights to publishing public opinion polls and assessments of the government and officials, the media has played a significant role in keeping the public informed about how the government operates, everything that is happening in the world, all international deals that are being made with other countries, and government policies.3
Impact of the Right to Information Act, 2005
RTI was implemented in order to improve communication between the government and its constituents. It has established the nation’s official definition of moral leadership. Keeping citizens and authority on an equal footing has caused changes in the orientation of superiority. The citizens now have a voice and a manifesto through which to voice their concerns, limit the authority granted to government officials and authorities, and monitor the services that are being rendered to them. The Act outlines a number of provisions and actions that the public may take to voice complaints and inquiries about any work done by any public office.
Earlier, many people were unable to benefit from the schemes and amenities that the government used to publicize, but due to a lack of familiarity and awareness, they had no access to any of those. However, since the RTI Act, the government has mandated that several sectors correspond and make sure that the general public consumes the benefit of every such service.4
RTI has proven to be successful in manoeuvring the corruption rate in the country, which was one of its prime agendas. Now every person sitting in government offices on a chair fears exposure, and it has led to improvisation in their accountability towards the nation. It has led to a significant diminution in bribery. It has made the public officers more service-oriented; people have started taking their jobs seriously because the general public wants an on-paper record of whatever roles the officers are imparted with and whether they are doing their work with scrupulousness.
Every level of administration in our nation, from the local to the federal, has greatly benefited from it. It has highlighted the seriousness of the statement that everyone holding a position of authority is answerable to the public in every way permitted, including giving written testimony upon request or producing any document or report for inspection. It calls for the full disclosure of all records that the public has a right to access.
Cases Related to the Right of Information Act, 2005
In the case of Hamdard Dawakhana vs. Union of India5, the Drug and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisement) Act had put restrictions on advertising drugs with claims of having magical properties, which was challenged in court, saying that it was restricting their freedom to advertise. The Supreme Court held that advertising is no form of speech but a mode of trade and commerce, and therefore no such ideas can be put forth that might affect the purchasing power of the buyer. The customers have the right to information regarding what they’re purchasing.
In the landmark judgment of State of U.P. vs. Raj Narain6, Justice K.K. Matthew noted that in a “government of responsibility like ours,” where every officer is bound to be accountable for their actions, there has to be maintained a transparent relationship between the public and the citizens, and the public should be provided with every piece of information that relates to public affairs.
The court in the case of S.P. Gupta vs. Union of India7 granted constitutional validity to the Right to Information, highlighting the spirit of Article 19(1)(a) and drawing prominence to the fact how essential openness of government is when it comes to establishing the notion of an ideal democracy, and it drew a parallel significance of the Right to Information with the freedom of speech and expression by noting that the Act follows a correct line of interpretation of the Fundamental Right.
The court again emphasized the contribution of freedom of speech and expression in running the country in a systematic manner while pronouncing its judgment in the case of Union of Civil Liberties vs. Union of India8, where everyone has a right to speak against what they do not consider a righteous attempt at the management of policies.
So far, we’ve understood the magnitude of the word ‘information’ that covers under its ambit every public figure, report and stance of the government that is released at different stages of their governance in which they bring amendments, pass orders and legislation, herald schemes and policies, several documents related to public interest matters, and the connotation of the right to sustain it. The crux of introducing the Act is to provide a platform for the general public to express their opinions regarding what they consider to be the right policy for them and whether or not they’re satisfied with the utilization of the resources for which they are paying a contribution and share to the government. The act was implemented because only when the citizens of a nation are aware of the affairs of the country and when the population is educated regarding matters concerning them can they decide a future for the country and can we progress in the world scenario. The passing of the act was the need of the time so that no one suffers from a lack of government information and everyone has a record of every function of the legislators of our country. It is a transition from the arbitrary system of governance to an unbiased and transparent form of government where everybody has a right to be informed and be given a reason for every course of action being taken.
- The Right to Information Act, 2005: https://rti.gov.in/RTI%20Act,%202005%20(Amended)-English%20Version.pdf
- Second Administrative Reforms Commission: https://darpg.gov.in/sites/default/files/rti_masterkey1.pdf
- Report of the Workshop on The Right to Information and the Media Past Experiences and Future Possibilities: https://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/programs/ai/rti/india/workshops/wksp_rep_on_rtiact05_pune.pdf
- Guide on the Right to Information Act, 2005: https://rti.gov.in/RTICorner/Guide_2013-issue.pdf
- Hamdard Dawakhana vs. Union of India, P. (CRL)558/2016
- State of Uttar Pradesh v. Raj Narain, 1975 AIR 865, 1975 SCR (3) 333
- S.P. Gupta v UOI, AIR 1982 SC 149
- Article 19 of the Constitution of India
- Union of Civil Liberties vs. Union of India, AIR 1997 SC 568, (1997) 1 SCC 301
This article is authored by Vanshika Manish Tiwari, a second-year student at Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, GGSIPU.