Right to Information Act

RTI, or Right to Information, is a fundamental democratic principle that empowers citizens to request and receive information from government institutions, fostering transparency and civic engagement.

Right to Information Act: A Comprehensive Overview

Introduction

The Right to Information (RTI) Act of 2005 stands as a crucial pillar of democratic governance in India. It was introduced with the primary goal of addressing citizen grievances, promoting governmental accountability, empowering citizens, and upholding democratic ideals. This legislation is instrumental in bridging the gap between the government and its people. It replaced the weaker Freedom of Information Act of 2002, which failed to recognize the people’s right to information. The RTI Act significantly altered the dynamics of interaction between citizens and government authorities.

Background of Right to Information Act

The genesis of the Right to Information movement can be traced back to the early 1990s in Rajasthan, where the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) initiated efforts to combat local corruption and exploitation. The RTI Act of 2005 was a pivotal development in this movement.  It replaced the weaker “Freedom of Information Act of 2002” and also antiquated the Official Secrets Act of 1923, which allowed the government to withhold information under the guise of secrecy and national security concerns. 

The movement of RTI  is rooted in the struggles of workers and drought affected small and marginal farmers. Aruna Roy is the mastermind behind the RTI Act, 2005. The Central Act was passed by the Indian Parliament on 12 May 2005 and received Presidential assent on 15th June 2005. It came into force on 12 October 2005. 

Even,  2nd ARC (2005) prepared a detailed blueprint to revamp the public administrative system. It submitted 15 reports to the Government covering areas like RTI, ethics in governance, local governance, terrorism, public administration, e-governance, financial management and so on

RTI Act 2005 changed the relationship between the citizens and officials in authority. Section 8 of the RTI Act categorically states that ‘the information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person’. First Indian State to introduce a law on RTI was Tamil Nadu.

Key Provisions of the RTI Act 2005

The RTI Act of 2005 is comprehensive in its scope and provisions. It grants every citizen the freedom and the right to access information from all public authorities at the Union, State, and grassroots levels, as well as from public sector undertakings within Union and State governments. The Act imposes a legal obligation on public authorities to provide information to the public.

Some Key Provisions under RTI Act 2005:

  • The legislation ensures that all citizens have the freedom and right to access information from public authorities at Union, State, and Grassroot levels, as well as public sector undertakings within Union and state governments.
  • Public authorities are legally obligated to provide information to the public.
  • The Act establishes the Central Information Commission (CIC) and State Information Commissions (SIC).
  • The CIC operates under the Ministry of Personnel and mandates the appointment of public information officers in every department to provide information to citizens.
  • The President appoints the Chief Information Commissioner, and state governors appoint state information commissioners.
  • The Commission includes a Chief Information Commissioner and up to 10 Information Commissioners at both central and state levels.
  • Members of the CIC are selected by a panel comprising the Prime Minister, leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and a Union Cabinet minister nominated by the Prime Minister.
  • In the State, the Member and Chairperson of SIC are selected by a panel consisting of the Chief Minister, Leader of Opposition in the Vidhan Sabha, and a minister nominated by the CM.
  • The CIC and SIC are required to publish annual reports on the Act’s implementation, presented before Parliament and state legislatures.
  • They investigate issues such as non-appointment of information officers, refusal of information, failure to meet information deadlines, provision of false or misleading information, and other information-related matters.
  • Both the CIC and SIC have the power to regulate their own affairs and have the powers of a civil court making them a quasi-judicial body.
  • The Act sets specific timeframes for providing information, with a 30-day deadline, or 48 hours in matters concerning life or liberty.
  • Information is free for people below the poverty line, while others are charged a reasonable fee of 10 rs .
  • The Act imposes penalties for not providing information, ranging from Rs 250 to Rs 25,000.
  • Government bodies are required to publish details of staff payments and budgets.
  • The appeal process for denied information involves a first appeal to the superior of the public information officer, a second appeal to the information commission, and a third appeal to a high court.
  • Exemptions are made for intelligence and security organizations, information affecting the security, sovereignty, and integrity of India, information constituting contempt of court, causing a breach of privilege of Parliament and state legislatures, and commercial information.

Important Note – Currently, “Political Parties” are not covered under the purview of RTI

The Right to Information (Amendment) Act, 2019

The Right to Information (Amendment) Act, 2019, brought about several changes to the original act. Here are the key amendments:

1.Change in the Term of Information Commissioners: The amendment replaced the fixed five-year term for Information Commissioners with a term “prescribed by the Central Government.” This change effectively gives the government more discretion in deciding the tenure of these Commissioners.

RTI Rules, 2019 – The CIC and ICs (at the central and state level) will hold office for a term of three years.

2.Salary and Allowances: The amendment empowered the Central Government to determine the salaries, allowances, and other terms and conditions of service for the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners. However, it provided a safeguard that these terms cannot be altered to their disadvantage after their appointment.

RTI Rules, 2019 – The CIC and ICs (at the central level) shall receive a pay of Rs. 2,50,000 and Rs. 2,25,000 per month, respectively. CICs and ICs (at the state level) shall receive a pay of Rs. 2,25,000 per month.

3.Continuity for Existing Commissioners: The Right to Information (Amendment) Act, 2019 also included provisions that ensured the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners appointed before the amendment would continue to be governed by the provisions of the original act, as if the amendment had not come into force.

4.Additional Clauses in Section 27: The amendment introduced two new clauses in Section 27 of the original act. One clause specifies the term of office for Information Commissioners, while the other pertains to their salaries, allowances, and terms of service.

Other Development – Supreme Court of India in 2019, upheld the decision of Delhi High Court bringing the office of Chief Justice of India under the purview of Right to Information (RTI) Act. 

Implications and Concerns:

The Right to Information (Amendment) Act, 2019 has generated significant debate and concerns. Critics argue that the amendments grant the government excessive control over the appointment and tenure of Information Commissioners, potentially compromising their independence and effectiveness in ensuring transparency.

The power to determine salaries and allowances, while safeguarded against unfavorable alterations, still raises questions about the potential for political interference in the functioning of these vital positions.

Process of Filing an RTI

Steps involved in the process of filing a Right to Information (RTI) request:

Prepare Your Request: Write down the information you are seeking or the questions you have. Make sure your request is clear and specific.

Submit Your Request: You can submit your request in writing or electronically, depending on the preferred method. No reason is required for seeking the information.

Provide Contact Details: Include your contact details in case the authorities need to reach you for any clarifications or to provide the information. No information other than contact details is necessary. 

Designated Officer: The designated officer for handling RTI applications is known as the Public Information Officer (PIO). Your application should be filed with them.

Application Fee: Pay the applicable application fee. It’s usually 10 rupees for the central government, while different states may have varying prescribed fees. For people below poverty line it is free.

Processing Time: Normally, information should be provided within 30 days from the date of the public authority receiving your application. If the information concerns a person’s life or liberty, it must be supplied within 48 hours. If a third party is involved, it should be supplied within 40 days.

Extension of Time: If the application is sent through the Assistant Public Information Officer or is directed to the wrong public authority, an additional 5 days may be added to the processing time (30 days, 48 hours, or 40 days, as applicable).

Refusal of Information: Information officers can refuse to provide information on 11 subjects listed in Section 8 of the RTI Act. These subjects include matters like information received in confidence from foreign governments, data prejudicial to national security, and other similar issues.

Remember that the specific details and procedures might vary slightly depending on your location, so it’s a good idea to consult the local guidelines and authorities for precise information on filing an RTI request in your area.

Is RTI a fundamental Right?

The right to information is an essential fundamental right, encompassed within Article 19(1)of the Constitution. This clause grants every citizen the freedom of speech and expression. In the 1976 case of Raj Narayan vs State of UP, the Supreme Court emphasized that effective expression relies on access to information; thus, the right to information is an inherent part of Article 19. The Supreme Court also highlighted the significance of the Right to Information in a democratic India, where citizens hold the ultimate authority. People have the entitlement to be informed about all aspects of government, both positive and negative. Therefore, RTI is a legal entitlement for all Indian citizens, ensuring that their curiosity is satisfied through the provision of answers to valid questions.

Conclusion

The Right to Information (Amendment) Act, 2019, has brought about notable changes in the functioning of the Information Commissioners, which are crucial for the proper implementation of the Right to Information Act, 2005. While proponents argue that these amendments aim to streamline and improve the appointment and service conditions of Information Commissioners, critics are concerned about the potential for government influence. The impact of these changes will likely become more apparent as the amendment is put into practice, and it will be essential to monitor their effects on transparency and accountability in the Indian governance system.

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