‘Where is the life, we have lost in the living.

Where is the wisdom, we have in the knowledge.

Where is the knowledge, we have lost in information.”

T.S.Eliot

INTRODUCTION– India is a democratic country. In a democratic society, the responsibility of the government is more and the common masses have ultimate right to get information about every public act. If people do not know what is happening in their society, if the actions of those who rule them are hidden, then they cannot take a meaningful part in the affairs of that society. But information is not just a necessity for people- it is an essential part of good government. Bad government needs secrecy to survive. It allows inefficiency, wastefulness and corruption to thrive. Justice Krishna Iyer in Maneka Gandhi’s case[See Note -1] has rightly said that, “A government which functions in secrecy not only acts against democratic decency but also buries itself with its own burial.”

‘Right to Information’[ see Note-2] has removed the wall of secrecy built between the common masses and the government. It is the essential key to ensure democratic process, good governance, accountability, human development as well as realization of human rights etc. It is a fundamental right although it has not been expressly provided in the Constitution. It has been recognized by the Courts in a plethora of cases as implicit in Article 19 (1) (a) and Article 21 of the Constitution. In Bennett Coleman v. Union of India[see Note-3], the right to information was held to be included within the right to speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19 (1) (a). In State of Uttar Pradesh v. Raj Narain[see Note-4] ‘right to know’ has been made a fundamental right and in P.U.C.L. v. Union of India[see Note-5] ‘right to information’ is elevated to the status of a human right.  As it is a fundamental as well as basic human right, then still there exists a need to enact a law on right to information because it becomes essential to provide machinery or a process through which fundamental right can be exercised. Freedom to Information Act, 2002 has been enacted by the Parliament but National Advisory Council proposed certain important and significant changes in the said act to ensure smoother and greater access to information. Therefore, the above Act was repealed and The Right to Information Act 2005, (Act No. 22 of 2005) has been enacted which came into force on 12th October 2005. The main objective of the Act is to ensure greater and more effective access to government information in order to promote the transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority[see Note-6]. This Act lays down the procedure that how to apply for information, where to apply, how much fees etc. Besides this, this Act also prescribes about the appointment of PIO’s in the Centre and State Departments under Section 5[see Note-7] of the Act. Furthermore, it also provides the Constitution of Central Information Commission under Section 12 and State Information Commission under Section 15 of the Act. 28th September is celebrated as ‘International Right-to-know Day’ around the cosmos to recognize and promote the worldwide awareness of knowing the governmental process.

‘Right to information’ plays an important role in enhancing the proper functioning of executive, legislature and judiciary and other governmental institutions. All private bodies, which are owned, controlled or substantially financed by the Government, are also covered under this act. It is a statutory right available to all citizens. During interference of our Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh in the Lok Sabha on the right to information bill debate, he said, “It is the common man or common woman who is the fulcrum of our democratic system, as an observer, as the seeker of information, as the one who asks relevant questions, as the analyst and as the final judge of our performance.”[see Note-8] Therefore, this Act empowers common masses to ask any questions from the Government or seek any information, take copies of any government documents, inspect any government document or works and take samples of materials of any Government work. They can obtain information in the form of printouts, diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode.

Benefits of this Act: – (a) provides easy access to information from any public authority but there are minimal exceptions too. In Dinesh Trivedi v. Union of India[see Note-9], it was observed that “Citizens have a right to know about the affairs of the government. But the right is not absolute; secrecy can be legitimately claimed in respect of transactions with repercussions on public security”. (b) once application is submitted, there is a duty to inform i.e. suo motto disclosures, (c) operationalises the fundamental right to information, (d) helps in setting up systems and mechanisms that facilitate people’s easy access to information, (e) promotes transparency and accountability and enables people’s participation in governance, (f) helps in minimizing corruption and inefficiency in public officers, (g) reasonable fee structure, (h) provides information within a specified reasonable time period, (i) protection of whistleblowers (an informant who exposes wrongdoing within an organization in the hope of stopping it), (j) penalty is imposed under Section 20, if any Central as well as State Public Information Officer (PIO) malafidely denied the request for information or knowingly gives any incorrect, incomplete or misleading information or destroy any information which the informant wants to have, (k) a person can file appeal or even second appeal under Section 19, if he does not receive satisfactory reply.

Procedure for seeking information: – For Central Government Departments, there is no need of application form. We simply apply on a plain sheet of paper like an ordinary application along with application fee of Rs. 10 which is prescribed under Rule 3 of The Right to Information (Regulation of Fee and Cost) Rules, 2005. However, many states and some ministries and departments have prescribed formats. We accordingly fill these formats along with prescribed fees as every state has framed its own rules. We can deposit fee either in cash or through a DD or banker’s cheque or postal order drawn in favor of that public authority. In some states, there is a rule that we can buy court fee stamps and affix it on application and it would be treated as fee. We can deposit or submit application by post or in person to the Public Information Officer (PIO) and we can keep a copy of the application form with us for personal reference. If PIO is not available we can submit the application with the Assistant PIO or any other officer designated to accept the RTI applications.

Judicial Pronouncements- In Research Foundation for Science and Technology National Resource Policy v. Union of India[see Note-10], it was observed that “the right to information and community participation for the protection of environment and human health falls under Article 21 of the Constitution.”

In Dhara Singh Girls High School v. State Of Uttar Pradesh and others [see Note-11], the Allahabad High Court held that, “The provisions of the Act have to be read in consonance and in harmony with its objects and reasons given in the Act which have to be given widest meaning in order to ensure that unscrupulous persons do not get benefits of concealment of their illegal activities or illegal acts by being exempted under the Act and are able to hide nothing from the public. The working of any such organization or institution of any such private body owned or under control of public authority shall be amenable to the Right to Information Act. The petitioner being an institution recognized under the provisions of U.P. High School and Intermediate Education Act, 1929 and receiving grant-in-aid from the State Government is, therefore, covered under the Right to Information Act, 2005.”

In Thalapalam Service Co-Operative Bank  v. Union of India, and others[see Note-12], the question arose whether the Right to Information Act, 2005 is applicable to co-operative societies registered under the Kerala Co- operative Societies Act, 1969 or not? The Kerala High Court observed that it is applicable to societies registered under the Kerala Co- operative Societies Act, 1969 and directed the society to provide information directly to the person who has sought for the information.

Now-a-days, we have seen that almost in all exams, the students want to have proper and correct information about their results, their detailed marks, ranks etc. and they also want that those who qualify the exams, on what basis they qualify, what criteria has been adopted by the authority, how marks are given? Under this Act, the students have right to check their answer-sheets. A student not only has right to evaluate his or her answer-sheet but he or she has also right to evaluate other student’s answer-sheets. In University of Calcutta and Others v. Pritam Rooj[see Note-13] wherein the Division Bench of the Hon’ble High Court of Calcutta has held the answer script written by a candidate would come into the definition of word ‘information’ and under those circumstances, such a candidate is eligible for a copy of the same.

In The CPIO, Supreme Court of India, v. Subhash Chandra Agarwal & anr.[see Note-14] the Delhi high court held that the CJI was a public authority and his office came within the purview of the transparency law. Further, this judgement of single bench was challenged in Delhi High Court in Double Bench in the case of Secretary General, Supreme Court of India v. Subhash Chandra Agarwal[see Note-15] wherein the double bench upheld the learned decision of single Judge and observed that this decision is both proper and valid and needs no interference. It further quoted Edmund Burke, who said “All persons possessing a portion of power ought to be strongly and awfully impressed with an idea that they act in trust and that they are to account for their conduct in that trust.” Therefore the Bench observed, “Well-defined and publicly known standards and procedures complement, rather than diminish, the notion of judicial independence. Democracy expects openness and openness is concomitant of free society. Sunlight is the best disinfectant”.

This Act is very essential in another way also for instance- we pay taxes to the government and we have right to obtain information how our hard earned money is being utilized? If it is not properly used, then it becomes duty of ours to raise voice against those malpractices. Another instance is that we buy products from markets, we have right to know how and on what basis M.R.P is calculated, what is the actual cost, what are the profit margins etc.? This will ensure transparency, impartiality and correctness. We can get all information under Section 6 [see Note-16] of the Act.

Concluding, we can say that in modern democracies, the citizens have right to obtain information about the affairs of government. RTI Act, 2005 provides that easy accessibility of information and release of facts pertaining to results of students, health and medicines, finance, proceedings and decisions of all the social activists and it is essential to promote a culture of accountability and expose incidents of bribery, mismanagement, abuse of discretion and other forms of corruption and malpractices. According to Fitzgerald Report 1989, “Information is a lynch-pin of the political process. Knowledge is, quite literally, power. If the public is not informed, it cannot take part in the political process with any real effect.”[see Note-17] But does this Act really achieve the target of making our nation free from corruption? Does this Act really expose the scams related to money and expose our esteemed corrupt politicians? Does this Act enables to know how our hard earned money which we pay as taxes is being utilized? And similar other infinite questions which arise in our mind relating to governmental transactions. The Answer of all these questions is- ‘only the future will depict’. But in the present scenario, if we look around at the various cases being disposed by the judiciary and various information that has been revealed by the various PIO’s, then we can say with proud that yes, it has depicted various important information that was unknown to the common masses earlier. THANKS to RTI and to end with an optimistic note, it is hoped that in near future RTI will help to remove the barriers between the government and the common masses and will help to achieve transparency in all governmental affairs.

AUTHOR: MEHAK AHUJA

ADVOCATE

e-mail id: [email protected]

________________________________________________________________

[1] AIR 1978 SC 597.

[2] According to Section 2(j) of Right to Information Act, 2005, “right to information” means the right to information accessible under this Act which is held by or under the control of any public authority and includes the right to- (i) inspection of work, documents, records; (ii) taking notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records; (iii) taking certified 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.

[3] AIR 1973 SC 106.

[4] AIR 1975 SC 865.

[5] (2004) 2 SCC 476.

[6] According to Section 2(j) of Right to Information Act, 2005, “public authority” means any authority or body or institution of self- government established or constituted- (a) by or under the Constitution; (b) by any other law made by Parliament; (c) by any other law made by State Legislature; (d) by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government, and includes any-  (i) body owned, controlled or substantially financed; (ii) non-Government organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government.

[7] According to Section 5 of Right to Information Act, 2005 deals with Designation of Public Information Officers. It provides that (1) Every public authority shall, within one hundred days of the enactment of this Act, designate as many officers as the Central Public Information Officers or State Public Information Officers, as the case may be, in all administrative units or offices under it as may be necessary to provide information to persons requesting for the information under this Act. (2) Without prejudice to the provisions of sub-section (1), every public authority shall designate an officer, within one hundred days of the enactment of this Act, at each sub-divisional level or other sub-district level as a Central Assistant Public Information Officer or a State Assistant Public Information Officer, as the case may be, to receive the applications for information or appeals under this Act for forwarding the same forthwith to the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or senior officer specified under sub-section (1) of section 19 or the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission, as the case may be: Provided that where an application for information or appeal is given to a Central Assistant Public Information Officer or a State Assistant Public Information Officer, as the case may be, a period of five days shall be added in computing the period for response specified under sub-section (1) of section 7. (3) Every Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, shall deal with requests from persons seeking information and render reasonable assistance to the persons seeking such information. (4) The Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, may seek the assistance of any other officer as he or she considers it necessary for the proper discharge of his or her duties. (5) Any officer, whose assistance has been sought under sub-section (4), shall render all assistance to the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, seeking his or her assistance and for the purposes of any contravention of the provisions of this Act, such other officer shall be treated as a Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be.

[8] nadt.gov.in/training%20manual.doc.

[9] (1997) 4 SCC 306.

[10] (2005) 10 SCC 510.

[11] AIR 2008 All 92.

[12] Pronounced on 3rd April, 2009.

[13] AIR 2009 Calcutta 97.

[14] Pronounced on 02.09.2009.

[15] Pronounced on 12.01.2010.

[16] According to Section 6 of Right to Information Act, 2005 deals with Request for obtaining information provides that  (1) A person, who desires to obtain any information under this Act, shall make a request in writing or through electronic means in English or Hindi or in the official language of the area in which the application is being made, accompanying such fee as may be prescribed, to- (a) the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, of the concerned public authority; (b) the Central Assistant Public Information Officer or State Assistant Public Information Officer, as the case may be, specifying the particulars of the information sought by him or her: Provided that where such request cannot be made in writing, the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, shall render all reasonable assistance to the person making the request orally to reduce the same in writing. (2) An applicant making request for information shall not be required to give any reason for requesting the information or any other personal details except those that may be necessary for contacting him. (3) Where an application is made to a public authority requesting for an information,- (i) which is held by another public authority; or (ii) the subject matter of which is more closely connected with the functions of another public authority, the public authority, to which such application is made, shall transfer the application or such part of it as may be appropriate to that other public authority and inform the applicant immediately about such transfer: Provided that the transfer of an application pursuant to this sub-section shall be made as soon as practicable but in no case later than five days from the date of receipt of the application.

[17]  http://www.infocomm.nt.gov.au/publications/docs/oic_annual_report_0304.pdf

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  1. TUYDIB says:

    A most illuminating and brilliant article-I congratulate the author and this site both.
    As regards the question raised, one has to accept that the ground realities are rather different. In 99% of the cases, the concerned authorities are not at all bothered-both at the Centre and certainly in all the states/Municipal authorities, various autonomous development bodied like the DDA, GDA, etc. In fact, their attitude is truly that of “couldn’t care less”!. This mainly because their superior bureaucratic and polical bosses are behind them in their concerted venture to retain authority, power and position and to protect their ill-gotten wealth. Many athorities even dare to audaciously warn the aspiring applicants, who are on the verge of filing/have filed any application under the RTI Act, of the consequences of such an action since the aggrieved person would have to face the department/authorities again and again in the futiure, thus successfully discouraging a very large number of applications everyday. And, as regards the police-it is the most dangerous thing to ever file any application against or seekin any information about any action taken by any police officer-whwther a constable or the DGP. It is rather simply unthinkable, in effect constructively excluding the Police from the jurisdiction of the RTI Act.
    What is really sad is that, fighting corruption in this country is indeed an impossible thought and task. The highest authorities in the State as well as Central Revenue Deptts., in MCD or the DDA and their counterparts everywhere plainly say that the illegal demands of the Revenue/DDA/MCD officials have to be met to get the work done and that is “practice”.

    This, to be frank, is the reality. The saddest part of this story is that, the so-called anti-corruption NGOs are also deeply involved in most unhealthy and anti-democratic practices, with the help of PERMANENT Chairmen/Presidents, i.e., controlling the affairs of these bodies through particular coterie and keeping control in the hands of the coterie, which enable them to be nominated on the CVC advisopry boards, ministries’ advisory committees, getting free foreign trips, enjoyo=ing the hospitality of PSUs in the name of addressing the officers on corruption-vigilance-related matters and networking in order to be able to raise funds and distribute favours entirely with the sole purpose of being in and to enjoy power ever. These essentially “senior citizen’s clubs” are themselves so much involved in financial irregularities and malpractices that their presence has no relevance in the field of corruption which is India’s religion.
    But thank you all the same for this great academic piece on this essentially academic subject.

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