“ A popular government without popular information, or means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to farce or a tragedy or , perhaps both. Knowledge forever govern ignorance. People who meant to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power hitch knowledge gives” . Implicit in remark of James Madison is the essence of democracy which is rule by the people. However reality is very different and the actual power is left to government and its bureaucratic machinery. In India during colonial rule, the administrative culture is inward looking, people avoiding, secrecy practising. Even after independence the culture of secrecy , a colonial legacy, persist for a variety of reason – poverty and lack of real citizenship being major causative factors.
The last decade of twentieth century witnessed spread of governance philosophy, ushered in a new era of democracy strengthening with special emphasis on transparency,accountability and openness. Factors contributed for this new upsurge are changing socio- economic milieu, increased awareness among people about their rights , the need to have fully accountable and responsive government and growing public opinion that culture of secrecy as potent factor in enhancing the chances of abuse of power. There is a universal recognition that the people’s right to information is the foundation of healthy and functional democracy.
Genesis of Right to information in India
RTI in India is a product of constant effort by many NGOs and the apex court who argued in favour of right to information with a view to empowering people and enriching democracy. Masdoor Kisan Shakti Sangethan (MKKS) an NGO in Rajasthan played a pioneering role in mobilising rural masses to compel local administration to disclose information regarding expenditures of public works projects. Rajasthan soon came out with a state RTI, which later emulated on national level. Other NGOs like Lok satta, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Association for Democratic Rights as well worked for right to information and transparency. The Supreme Court in its landmark judgement of Raj Narain Case observed that Right to information is implied in the right to freedom of speech and expression under article 19(1).
The need for Right to Information
- Availability of information empower citizens who would otherwise be ignorant about the processes of governance.
- It creates conditions for open, transparent and accountable governance.
- Enhance people’s trust in governance which is the real basis of democracy.
- Makes citizen the co-sharers in public policy and decision making, thereby improving responsiveness and quality of governance.
- Contain corruption , prevent abuse of power and hold Governments and their instrumentalities accountable.
The Right to Information Act, 2005
Ultimately, the new law, was enacted in 2005. The preamble to the act affirms that ‘ democracy requires informed citizenry and transparency of information which are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and to hold Governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed ‘.
The important provisions of the act are :
- Every public authority has to provide citizen right to information in a time bound manner.
- Definition of the term information and public authority.
- Exemption clause which include national security, sovereignty and integrity of India, foreign relation, incitement to violence, commercial interest, parliamentary privilege etc.
- Record maintenance: Act makes obligatory on part of every public authority to maintain its records properly to facilitate the right to information.
- Section 4 of the act to publish information suo motu( voluntary disclosure).
- Constitution of central information commission consisting of chief information commissioner and information commissioners not exceeding ten in number. State information commission to be constituted by state government.
- Every public authorities is required to designate public information officer for providing information to the applicant.
Implementation of RTI
The RTI act has undoubtedly been one of the most empowering legislations for Indians. According to estimates, four to six million information applications are filed every year, making the Indian RTI Act the world’s most extensively used legislation. Even then, there are many impediment to actual implementation of the law.
- Poor compliance by government departments and agencies and ignoring the requirements of proactive and voluntary disclosure of information under section (4) of the act.
- Since fines are rarely imposed, officers gives incomplete , vague or unconnected information with impunity.
- Unattended appeals and complaint.Recent PIL to Supreme Court by the National Campaign for People’s right to Information point out that the CIC has over 23,500 pending appeals and complaint.
- Weakening of the law through amendments like removal of political parties from its purview and the proposed amendment that seeking control of government in matters of salary, allowance and other service conditions eroding independence of the institution.
- Poor budgetary support and unfilled vacancies diluting the efficiency of RTI implementation.
- Bureaucratic resistance to openness.
- process of filing an appeal or complaint to the information commission more cumbersome and legalistic
- Official secrets act along with other roles and instruction impinge on the regime of Right to Information.
“ Freedom of Information is a fundamental human right and the touchstone for all freedoms “. A free flow of official information results in better governance and contribute to the overall well-being of society. Rather than weakening of law, the law need to be strengthened making it easier to file RTI and access information.