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The right to information gained power when Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948 providing everyone the right to seek, receive, information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.The International Covenant on Civil and Political rights 1966 states that everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression, the freedom to seek and impart information and ideas of all kinds.
According to Thomas Jefferson “Information is the currency of democracy,” and critical to the emergence and development of a vibrant civil society. However, with a view to set out a practical regime for the citizens to secure information as a matter of right, the Indian Parliament enacted the Right to Information Act, 2005.
Genesis of RTI law started in 1986, through judgement of Supreme Court in Mr. Kulwal v/s Jaipur Municipal Corporation case, in which it directed that freedom of speech and expression provided under Article 19 of the Constitution clearly implies Right to information.
India is considered as the largest democracy in the world. The basic feature of every democratic setup is transparency, openness and accountability. In India, public authorities or administrative authorities have a wide discretionary power, so feeling has been arisen in the mind of legislators as well public that this may lead to misuse of power which will ultimately result in maladministration and corruption.
For this purpose there should be a right vested in the common people of the country to access the information regarding the conduct or act discharged by public officials, so the system of check and balance can be maintained. Therefore, Right to Information has emerged. Right to Information implies that the public can participate in governance by accessing the information held by administrative or public authorities regarding the function discharged by them for the public welfare.
The Act defines information in sec. 2(f) as any material in any form, including the records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, log books, 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 law for the time being in force. Sec. 2(i) defines the word ‘record’ as including (a) any document, manuscript and file, (b) any microfilm, microfiche and facsimile copy of a document, (c) any reproduction of image or images embodied in such microfilm and (d) any other material produced by a computer or any other device.
The right to information is defined in sec. 2(j) as a right to information accessible under the Act which is held by or under the control of any public authority and includes a right to (i) inspection of work, documents, records, (ii) taking notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records, (iii) taking separate samples of material, (iv) obtaining information in the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts where such information is stored in a computer or in any other device.
Sec. 4 makes it a duty of public authorities to maintain records for easy access and to publish within 120 days the name of the particular officers who should give the information and in regard to the framing of the rules, regulations etc. Subsection (3) of sec. 4 states that for the performance of subsection (1), all information shall be disseminated widely and in such form and manner, which is easily accessible to the public.
Sec. 6 permits persons to obtain information in English or Hindi or in the official language of the area from the designated officers. The person need not give any reason for the request or any personal details. Sec. 7 requires the request to be disposed of within 30 days provided that where information sought for concerns the life or liberty of a person, the same shall be provided within 48 hours. Under sec. 7(7) before any decision is taken for furnishing the information, the designated officer shall take into consideration the representation, if any, made by a third party under sec. 11.
A request rejected shall be communicated under sec. 7(8) giving reasons and specifying the procedure for appeal and the designation of the appellate authority. Sec. 7(9) exempts granting information where it would disproportionately divert the resources of the public authority or would be detrimental to the safety and preservation of the record in question.
Sec. 8 exempts from disclosure certain information and contents as stated in Sub-clauses (a) to (j) thereof. Sub-clause (b) exempts information, which is expressly forbidden by any court of law or tribunal or the dispute of which may constitute contempt of court. Sub-clause (g) exempts information the disclosure of which would endanger life, or physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purpose. Sub-clause (h) exempts information, which could impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders. Sub-clause (i) exempts Cabinet papers.
It is important to note that the Act specifies that intelligence and security organizations are exempted from the application of the Act. However, it is provided that in case the demand for information pertains to allegations of corruption and human rights violations, the Act shall apply even to such institutions.
The Act also said that any person may file a written request to an officer (PIO) which is appointed by the authority which is covered by this Act. It is the obligation to entertain the request made by citizens. If the officer is not present then the applicant has the option to file a request in front of state or “central information commission”. It also provides a time limit so that the process can be done speedily. Different time limits are prescribed for different situations:
When an application is entertained by any PIO then they have an obligation to reply to the application within a time limit of 30 days and any application which is presented before assistant PIO must be replied to within 35 days.
The application transfers to another PIO in 30 days which starts or counts from the day on which its application is transferred.
Any application presented in relation to information regarding corruption by any schedule secured agency or any kind of violation of human rights which are covered under schedule II of RTI Act then reply must be given within 45 days with the permission of the central information commission.
PIO is required to give information which includes “right to life and liberty” of the person.
Any person can file an application on any matter which is related to RTI simply by making an account and pay a nominal amount for the filling of application. Right to information is not only a statutory right which emerged from Right To Information Act, 2005 but it is preexisted and considered as a fundamental right enshrined in Part III of the Constitution. Although it is not expressly mentioned anywhere in the Indian constitution but falls within the purview of “Freedom of Speech and Expression” and “Right to life and Personal Liberty”. Through Interpretation of the Supreme Court in various landmark Judgments, we can infer that Right To Information is Fundamental Right.
The RTI amendment Bill 2013 removes political parties from the ambit of the definition of public authorities and hence from the purview of the RTI Act.
The draft provision 2017 which provides for closure of case in case of death of applicant can lead to more attacks on the lives of whistleblowers.
The proposed RTI Amendment Act 2018 is aimed at giving the Centre the power to fix the tenures and salaries of state and central information commissioners, which are statutorily protected under the RTI Act. The move will dilute the autonomy and independence of CIC.
The Act proposes to replace the fixed 5-year tenure with as much prescribed by the government.
By enacting the Right to Information Act India has moved from an opaque and arbitrary system of government to the beginning of an era where there will be greater transparency and to a system where the citizen will be empowered and the true center of power. Only by empowering the ordinary citizen can any nation progress towards greatness and by enacting the Right to Information Act 2005 India has taken a small but significant step towards that goal. The real Swaraj will come not by the acquisition of authority by a few but by the acquisition of capacity by all to resist authority when abused. Thus with the enactment of this Act India has taken a small step towards achieving real Swaraj.
By: SHIKHA PURI ProfileResourcesReport error
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