Right to information is more or less a universal concept. The concept of Right to know and right to Information, and right to make a demand for certain documents with the public authorities had been dealt with, and have been appraised. The idea that governments withhold information for the public’s benefit has become outdated. During the last decade, many countries have enacted legislations on freedom of information, giving their citizens access to governmental information, and thus, opening way to true democracy.
In India, the Official Secrets Act 1923 was enacted to protect the official secrets. The new information law intend to disclose information, replacing the ‘culture of secrecy’ in administration. It will promote public accountability which is a part of governance. Where the accountability is exposed, the malpractice, mismanagement, abuse of discretion, bribery etc are trimmed down.
The right to Know flows directly from the guarantee of free speech and expression in Art 19(1)a of the Constitution of India. Yet, it requires fair and efficient procedures to make the freedom of information work.
The first and most well-known right to information movement in India was by the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan(MKSS) in Rajasthan during the early 1990’s. MKSS’s struggle for the access to village accounts and transparency in administration is widely credited and sparked off the right to information movement in India.
The Right to Information Act, 2005 provides the procedure by which the public can make requests for information held by the public authorities. It also provides for the set up of Information Commissions to deal with complaints and appeals arising in the information system. The Act provides for the openness of the governmental activities and to publish regular information. The Act also provides minimal exceptions to the right to information where national security, public order, privacy etc are concerned.
The basic object of the Act is to provide access to information for the common man. And in order to exercise the freedom of speech and expression, a citizen should be informed. Informed citizenry which is the essence of RTI Act is the curator of democracy. The Act is also beneficial to the governments themselves as openness and transparency in the decision-making process assist in developing citizens’ trust in government actions and maintaining a civil and democratic society. The transparency and accountability in the public authority shall contain corruption and thus, the government and its various instrumentalities become accountable to the governed, i.e. the citizens.
The Key Concepts
- Transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority.
- The right of any citizen of India to request the access to information.
- The obligation of Public authorities to pro-actively make key information to all.
- A responsibility on all sections of life : Citizenry, NGOs, Media
SALIENT FEATURES OF RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT, 2005:
- The term Information includes any mode of information in any form of record, document, e-mail, circular, press release, contract sample or electronic data etc.
- Any citizen (excluding the citizens within J&K) may request information from a ‘public authority’ (a body of Government or ‘instrumentality of State’) which is required to reply expeditiously or within thirty days.
- Citizens have a right to: request any information (as defined); take copies of documents; inspect documents, works and records; take certified samples of materials of work; and obtain information in the form of printouts, diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode.
- The Act relaxes the Official Secrets Act of 1889 which was amended in 1923 and various other special laws that restricted information disclosure in India. In other words, the Act explicitly overrides the Official Secrets Act and other laws in force as on 15 June 2005 to the extent of any inconsistency.
- Applicant can obtain Information within 30 days from the date of request in a normal case. In specific circumstances Information can be obtained within 48 hours from time of request. If it is a matter of life or liberty of a person.
- The Act also requires every public authority to computerise their records for wide dissemination and to proactively publish certain categories of information so that the citizens need minimum recourse to request for information formally. The Act, in particular, requires every public authority to publish 16 categories of information. This includes the particulars of its organisation, functions and duties; powers and duties of its officers and employees; procedure followed in the decision making process; norms set for discharge of its functions; rules, regulations, instructions, manuals and records, held by it or under its control or used by its employees for discharging its functions; etc.
- The Act enumerates the types of information(s) that are exempted from disclosure.However, these exempted information(s) or those exempted under the Official Secrets Act can be disclosed if public interest in disclosure overweighs the harm to the protected interest. Also, the exempted information(s) would cease to be exempted if 20 years have lapsed after occurrence of the incident to which the information relates.
- Penalty for refusal to receive an application for information or for not providing information is Rs. 250/- per day but the total amount of penalty should not exceed Rs. 25,000/-
- If an applicant is not supplied information within the prescribed time of 30 days or 48 hours, as the case may be, or is not satisfied with the information furnished to him, he may prefer an appeal to the first appellate authority who is an officer senior in rank to the PIO. If still not satisfied the applicant may prefer a second appeal with the Central Information Commission (CIC)/State Information Commission (SIC) within 90 days from the date on which the decision should have been made by the first appellate authority or was actually received by the appellant.