LAW MANTRA     (Think Beyond Others)

RIGHT TO INFORMATION Empowerment or Abuse

Introduction of Right To Information

“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.”-Mahatma Gandhi

Right To Information Act of 2005, is a finest piece of legislation in Indian legal system which was enacted for bringing the transparency and accountability in the government. Access to information is so important to an individual’s life and other Fundamental rights that United Nations in the year 1946 recognized that people have a human right to access to the information from their government. And hence this decision compelled different countries to enact such set of rules which can give rights to citizens to have an access to the information to their respective governments. UN stated, ‘Freedom of information is a fundamental human right and the touchstone for all freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated’. UN realized that this right is at the core of all human rights because it enables citizens not only to know their entitlements but also to demand that the government fulfill its duties when their rights are being violated. 

“To provide an effective framework for an effective framework for effectuating the Right to Information recognized under Article 19 of the constitution of the India” so as to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority, the constitution of a Central Information Commission and State Information commissions and for matters connected therewith on incidental thereto. This right is equivalent to the right to freedom of speech and expression and also forms a part of it, the logic given behind including this right in fundamental right was that if people enjoy the right to speech then they must also have the right to hear what they want to hear and thus right to information also forms a part of it that’s why “The Right To Information”  Yet, this right to freedom of information is only a statutory right and if the entitlement to information is a right, it is equally a compelling obligation cast on the public authorities to supply the information. Not to supply the information or supply it in a manner different from the manner in which it is asked for or supplying insufficient information or incorrect information or to keep silent on the request or commit any delay in furnishing the information are all offences for which the concerned public information officers are liable to be penalized by imposition of penalties and they may also be subjected to disciplinary proceedings. Thus it may be stated that this Act crystallizes the Right to Information as an active principle. For the purpose of removal of doubts, there is Central Information Commissioner who will work at central level and State Information commissioner who will work at State level and they have to deal with requests from person seeking information and render reasonable assistance to the person seeking such information. A citizen has a right to seek such information from a public authority which is held by the public authority or which is held under its control. This right includes inspection of work, documents and records; taking notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records; and taking certified samples of material held by the public authority or held under the control of the public authority. It is important to note that only such information can be supplied under the Act which already exists and is held by the public authority or held under the control of the public authority.

On 12th October 2005, India became 55th nation to set up its own regime for the freedom of Information. The objective of the RTI Act is to establish a practical regime for citizens to access information held by Public Authorities. This in turn will lead to increased transparency and accountability at the public authorities. It is being recognised that access of information is not only human right but also an important right to promote good governance and fight corruption. With the growing demand of transparency in governance all over the world it was felt necessary to have such a set of rules and regulation which could ensure more and more transparency and more contribution of citizens in the governance.  Since we are the democratic nation, and being a democratic nation citizens must have right to know how are they governed, what are the policies enacted for citizens and how are the laws working. Such work of legislation protect the rights of Citizens and enables them to participate in democratic processes, it empowers them to become aware of and demand their rights, such piece of legislation helps in crusading corruption which is one of the most important problems for the growth of citizens and the government too. RTI leads to transparency, and transparency means that decisions taken and their enforcement are done in a manner that follows rules and regulations. It also means that information is freely available and directly accessible to those who will be affected by such decisions and their enforcement. It also means that enough information is provided and that it is provided in easily understandable forms and conveniently accessible mass media. With the increase in globalization, increase in the literacy rates and decrease in poverty people started participating actively in governance and by the enactment of this act they are able to move towards their destination of being involved in the process of governance. The Right to Information not only grants people to have access the information related to governance and policy making but also empowers them to take part in governance and make the governance worthy.

Access to information is so important to an individual’s life and other Fundamental rights that United Nations in the year 1946 recognized that people have a human right to access to the information from their government. And hence this decision compelled different countries to enact such set of rules which can give rights to citizens to have an access to the information to their respective governments. UN stated, ‘Freedom of information is a fundamental human right and the touchstone for all freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated’. UN realized that this right is at the core of all human rights because it enables citizens not only to know their entitlements but also to demand that the government fulfill its duties when their rights are being violated.

The Secrecy of the Great Britain was the country which regulated the era of secrecy in Britain with the enactment of “The Official Secrets Act” in 1889 for the first time. This act was also enacted in those countries which were once the colonies of Britain. Unfortunately India was also among one of its colonies and thus the impact of “The Official Secrets Act” was not untouched to India. In the same year in 1889 this act was also implemented in India. During the time of freedom movements to put a restraint over the press some amendments were made in the year 1904, and some of its provisions were made stricter. According to which all offences were made cognizable.  Later on more amendments were made in Britain and India and hence in 1923 this act was enacted in India and was continued to be implemented till the year 2005. And in the year 2005,   “The Right to Information Act” was enacted and it is considered as the finest legal framework of rules and regulations which empowers the citizens to ask whatever they want to ask. “The Official Secrets Act” was called “The Black Law” because this act did not tell the definition of the term “Secret” and hence it was totally depend on the government that which one to be considered as secret and which one to be considered as general. This Act of 1923 empowers the government and bureaucrats to keep the information away from the reach of citizens by considering it a secret.

After independence it was felt that there must be some amendments in “The Official Secretes Act” for which many committees had given their suggestions and view points, among those committees the prominent was the First Press Committee in 1954 demanded that the act should be in favour of the mass. The First Administrative Reform commission (1966-1970) demanded the withdrawal of various illogical and unimportant provisions which act as an obstacle in flow of the information. According to the report, discloser of any information which was even if just simple information could be considered as “Secret” and according to this act it fell under offence.   Indian Law Commission(1971) on its report on “National Security” mentioned the section 5* of this act and suggested that any general discloser of information which are not threat to national security. Indian Press Council in the year 1981 along with Indian Law Institute studied and analysed “The Official Secrets Act” very carefully on the subject “Official Secrecy and the Press”. Their report demanded some changes in the Section 5 of “The Official Secrets Act 1923”. The Second Press Council in the year 1982 demanded the abolition of Section 5 of this Act. According to the Council “The scope of this section is very much wide. In the whole Act the term “Secret” is not defined, this act did not answer some basic questions like ‘What is ‘Secret?’ and what is ‘Official Secret?’ thus without any proper justification it is fully depended on government’s decision whether any information is secret or not”

After so many allegations and a long debate and discussions between Civil Society and Government  “The Right to Information” Act was passed in the year 2005 but there is still existence of some provisions of “The Official Secrets Act 1923” in section 22 of  “The Right to Information Act. ”  India continued to be dominated by “The Official Secrets Act, 1923” for more than 60 years after the independence.  And the attitude of government towards freedom of information is still irresponsible, there is threat of losing the power in both organs of government i.e., Executive and Legislative because of fear of losing the control and power and also pressure of being responsible to the public after the enactment of RTI. The “Official Secrets Act” had given the officer enough protection and excuse to deny basic information to the people. Bureaucracy has typical colonial mindset and they have developed deep vested interests in guarding the information and working in secrecy. By denying the information to the people, bureaucrats think that they gain more power, so they do not disclose the basic information to the citizen. But now after the enactment of RTI Act they have to provide each and every information except some information which fall under “Secrets” under Section 8 of this Act which talk about Exemptions from disclosure of information.

RTI, as a tool to empower democracy and governance

RTI promotes transparency in the governance process, it ensures accountability of the government to the public. Now public is more aware, although literacy rates are still very low and people are unable to understand what actually law is but then also those people who are literate and who know what this law is made for are using this law and also using their right to seek information for those who do not know how to use or how to get information from the public officials which they are willing to get. RTI is the finest piece of legislation which proves that law has a greater impact on building the society. RTI is building up a better society, a better democratic nation where government is run by its people. It helps in making of such a democratic nation where there is no existence of any democratic king, a king which is chosen by us but is not answerable to his citizens. The whole scenario has now changed after the enactment of RTI. Before this act there was also an act which was known as “The Official Secrets Act” and it saved the government and bureaucrats because of the deficiency in this law and hence India was deprived of what she has to be given.  Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru once said, “The constitution is after all some kind of a legal body given in the ways of Governments and life of people. A constitution, if it is out of touch with people’s life, aims and aspirations becomes rather empty; if it falls behind those aims, it drags the people down. It should be something ahead to keep the peoples’ eyes and minds up to a certain mark.” Thus in a democratic nation like ours it is very important to participate in the governance and this could be done only by questioning about what and how government is working for us? How are we governed? How effective the policies are for us? What are the expenses? And all these came true due to the enactment of RTI, because it enables us to ask freely. RTI Act is powerful tool for ordinary citizens to try to overcome bureaucratic stonewalling and corrupt practices. Now after the 8 years of enactment there are millions of inquiries were made on the governance and even on the very petty things and public authorities are bound to follow.  Nominal amount is charged hardly from 10 rupees-20 rupees and is free for the people who are below poverty line. It was RTI only through which India was able to find out the big scams which amounts in billions of dollars. Individual is free to ask and based on that he is free to act. By using RTI people can know about the services provided to them by the government, various policies of the government and thus give a chance to have a better understanding and a better overview of the functioning of the government based on which a person is able to utilize those services and policies in very better ways and are also able to decide whether to choose the same government or not based on the performances. All these become possible because of the RTI Act although people do not do the same but yes if once people start analyzing the government on the basis of its policies, functioning and governance which can only be evaluated properly with the help of RTI, that day is not very far when everyone will directly or indirectly effect the governance, and that day the dream of true democratization will come true.

RTI is not just the piece of legislation but also an important aspect of our society because this only act is sufficient to bring big social changes which everyone is seeking for. Although it is just to seek information but it is actually far away from that, it is not only for seeking information but actually a weapon in the hands of people to crusade various challenges and problems prevailed in the society.  As per the cartoons by R.K Laxman, he clearly showed the power of citizens and also a hope in his cartoon. In his cartoon he portrayed RTI as weapon in the hand of people against the corruption and poor governance. In this act we can also find the glimpses of the dreams of Mahatma Gandhi who dreamed of active participation of each and every citizens and this act is able to bring real Swaraj in the society.

RTI brought various changes in the society which is not clearly visible in the society but its impact can be felt very strongly. There is a threat in the minds of bureaucrats, politicians and whosoever is related to governance in any way. By this act not only the corruption can be crusaded but also big changes can be brought like poverty, overpopulation, unemployment can be eliminated because although these problems are more of social problems than legal, but such problems are the result of poor quality of governance and hence once the problem of poor governance is eliminated any nation will be able to fight with each and every problem later or sooner, because governance regulates the society and decides up to where and till what extent any society can rise.

Emergence of New Era of Democracy  

With the enactment of The Right to Information Act, a new era of democracy emerged. The Right to Information Act transformed the society within 8 years of its enactment yet there are still lots of problems and challenges which seem to be solved by RTI itself but it will take time. Before its enactment people found the governance useless, they were frustrated from every side, corruption is prevailed everywhere, public authorities behaved like they are the kings and common people are their servants. Political parties once formed the government, then they never used to come to the common people for interaction and to know about their conditions. But due to increase in literacy rate people are now aware of the policies which are enacted for them by their government, now they use to have an eagle eye on every single step made by the government. This all has become possible just because of our freedom of information which enables us to take active participation in policy making because it is the people who directly or indirectly affect the policies. Democratization is now being done at every level of society, equality is being prevailed though slowly but RTI is showing its true colours now, it defeated the politicians and bureaucrats who do not like to share information with the people, now it became compulsory for bureaucrats to answer each and every question, except certain exempts of disclosure of information. A citizen can now ask for every single record of expenses, administration by the government and third party which is directly or indirectly connected to the government.

RTI helps in various ways and thus helps a lot to fight with the corrupt system. If any person who need a BPL (below poverty line) card has to bribe 2000-5000 rupees to public officials to get the card, now this do not happen after the advent of RTI because people can ask the procedure to get a BPL card. Thus although RTI does not help in giving someone BPL card but yes it will tell the procedure so that people can’t be charged more by the officials. Similarly if someone want an electricity connection for his house but he does not know the procedure, then RTI helps him in knowing the procedure, this actually helps in fastening the process of providing services.

RTI & Government

RTI proved a threat to the government and forced them to behave like a servant.  RTI completely changed the attitude of government towards the people. The Official Secrets Act helped them a lot in exploiting the citizens. Every kind of information was put under the secrets and anyone who was trying to disclose this information was put behind the bars. It was known as the “BLACK LAW” and was practiced till 2005. Bureaucracy and government made a lot of money by not disclosing the information and they let India in the hands of corruption and monopoly of “DEMOCRATIC KING”. But by the enactment of RTI every public official and anyone who is linked with the government was forced to keep the records of everything, even the record of investment of single rupee.

Government often comes with an argument that India is a developing country and it do not have enough resources to process so many information requests. On this Arvind kejriwal gave an example about an office in USA, where 3 million RTI applications were filed and the USA government spend 30 million dollar to process those request because they believe in bringing transparency in the system, and once you are clear with your motive then resources are to come anyhow.

Within five years of its enactment, there was a boom in the applications regarding informations from the government. The bureaucrat is now to consider himself not merely a powerful custodian of vital information, but a trustee. In a government committed to transparency, the civil servant becomes accountable for what he writes and how he performs his duties. He is required to be more responsive to the needs of his masters, and masters are the common people. RTI makes them realise that they are not the boss; they are actually servants working for “we the people”. Within the 8 years of its enactment millions of applications were filed for the information in Municipal Corporations, Finance Departments, Home ministry etc. And people came to know what the true colour of their government is. RTI is such a threat to the government body that PM Dr. Manmohan Singh while addressing the parliament asked for an amendment in this Act, according to him the amendment is necessary because it can be misused by people who are against the sovereignty of the Nation.

Various (abuse) Challenges to RTI

India’s is the best RTI law in the world. It is one of the most progressive laws ever laid down in the country. The citizen’s RTI is more than just a law; it is a fight against the governance shrouded in opaqueness, against the agenda of corruption and the arbitrary use of power. RTI Act is a powerful tool for ordinary citizens to try to overcome bureaucratic stonewalling and corrupt practices. Being so much strong, this Act still faces lots of problem and challenges which stops it from being implemented properly. One of the basic problems with this act is its improper implementation. And the reasons behind its improper implementations are also many such as poor awareness, poverty, politics, corruption etc. Once these problems got vanished, the RTI law will be implemented very properly and it will help in proper governance and will ensure the active participation of people in governance.

Poor Implementation and reasons for poor implementation

–          Low awareness and Corruption-

Problem is faced by each and every law which is enacted in India due to various social problems prevails in Indian society, and RTI is no exception. Various basic laws like RTE (right to education), Right to Food, Indra Awaas Yojna , MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act), various child development policies, various policies for women empowerment etc. These policies seem sufficient in eradicating respective problems but just due to poor implementation all such programmes are not used by public. The “Mid day Meal”, it was a program for the primary schools to attract poor children towards school so that they can concentrate on their education instead of concerning about earning wages to arrange food for themselves and their families too. It is one of the ambitious programmes of the government for which government will invest more than 38 thousand crore but this policy is also going to fail just because of corruption. According to this program every poor child will be provided good quality food in the school, but due to corruption and the social inequality which is prevailed in the society children in remote areas and also in urban areas are unable to get benefited by this programme. In villages children are said to be served with good quality food but the reality is far away from this. On conversation with an “aanganwadi” worker and the cook in primary school who use to prepare food for children, in a village named Chakethi in M.P, we were told that contract is given to N.G.Os and those N.G.Os provide the food to the children and they decide the menu, government provide them funds to provide food in the schools, a huge amount of money is misused by them. Children are forced to clean their rooms, their plates in which they eat, and in some places they are forced t cook the food also. A report by ABP news on Mid Day Meal cleared the picture of how the policies are implemented and how people are still unable to utilize it, this report showed that children are provided rotten food, they are provided food items which are unhealthy and not according to the menu decided by the government. The Children from higher caste are given good quality food and their food is kept separated from the food of those children who belong from the lower caste. Same problem is with each and every social developmental scheme, the Janni Shishu suraksha yojna it is a program of Central Government which provides resources to mothers of poor families so that the delivery of child could be done under the surveillance of well trained nurses and doctors. Government provide mothers van and other medical treatments for free and also give them money so that a good and healthy environment can be provided to the mother and their children. But due to poor awareness various families are unable to utilize this policy. We can see behind the failure of such beneficial programmes there are various problems and obstacles like corruption, ill awareness and social condition and politics. Same problem is with RTI too. RTI is the best tool for empowering the public, but poor implementation of RTI proved the biggest challenge. On a telephonic conversation with the secretary of congress of Anuppur district of M.P, he told that out of 1000 people only one or two know about RTI, there is no one to tell people about what RTI is, it is not only with RTI but with various other laws, corruption, ill-awareness and regional politics stops the people from making use of this law, he said “kahne ko to hum ek loktantrik desh me rahte hain lekin aaj bhi humpar rajneta aur naukarshah ka shashan hai”.  During the campaigning days with IAC(India against corruption ) team, we met a person, he told about his problem that his pension fund which is rupees 50000 in total is yet not given to him and Officer is demanding 10000 rupees and a lower officer is demanding 5000 rupees to give him information about his money, he told that after giving 20000 rupees what will left for him, his complaints were not listened, he was illiterate person and when we asked him about RTI whether he had any idea about RTI, he simply replied that for the first time he heard this word, then we elaborated him the full procedure of filing an RTI to know where his money is.

–          Poverty

Poverty is also one of the basic reason for the poor implementation of RTI, though government provide information for free to those who are Below Poverty Line, but then also due to poverty one and only concern left for them is food and only food, they care for only and only food, they have to do nothing with any law, they have nothing to do with governance. The only thing they think necessary is food. This is what which lowers the spirit of RTI. Once the problem of food and shelter abolished, people will be able to take part in governance because then they will become educated, as it happens in countries like Sweden, USA, Switzerland, Newzealand etc. where there is high literacy rate and people have interest in governance, in these countries corruption rates are very low and people are not poor, thus they have extra things to think rather than thinking about food and shelter. Poverty is also the basic reason of social inequality, poor people can easily be victimised, if a poor files an RTI to get some information, he gets beaten up by politicians and bureaucrats. Poverty leads to illiteracy and an illiterate person do not know how to file an RTI. This is the bitter truth of RTI. Eradicate poverty and eradicate the problem of poor governance and vice versa.

–          Involvement of politics in RTI

In the year 2006 there was a need felt of amendment in RTI although it was withdrawn later on when PM said that RTI should not impede administration. He was clear in his views that RTI should not be used for political purposes but for better governance so that the basic problems like corruption and ill-governance can be curbed. Politicians use the RTI for the political purposes to use it against each other; it should not be done because RTI should be used for fair means not for political means. An RTI was filed by Varun Gandhi to get information about the people who had their bank accounts in Swiss bank, although he said that his purpose of filing RTI was not political but then also there was a political motive because as he said that he wanted to know how many ministers have their bank account in S Swiss bank. Congress criticised every move of BJP against it and hence criticised Varun Gandhi too for filing RTI for the Swiss bank account holders, but this is what opposition known for as Arvind Kejriwal said in his interview in Surya T.V that opposition party are meant to be check each and every move of ruling party, and hence they are in opposition and if someone feels it a misuse of RTI but it is actually the use of RTI and it is the duty of opposition to get the information and to challenge the government. So the kind of argument by the ruling party U.P.A that opposition is misusing the RTI and are doing politics on the basis of those informations and also blackmailing the government, proved to be very childish argument. Politicization is not done here, but it is done with common people, any person who filed an RTI for some kind of information which is a threat to the public officials and politicians then they use to frighten people. Various cases are in news regarding the murder cases of various RTI activists, and this is actually a threat to the democracy, right to life of a person is infringed due to politicization in RTI. It created a kind of fear in the minds of people and hence from time to time there was a demand of such a set of law under the RTI Act itself so that the RTI activists could be live freely without fear of losing their life and they can help in empowering the spirit of democracy.

In the year 2012, an RTI activist named Shehla Masood was brutally killed in Bhopal (M.P) because she was one of the best RTI activists in M.P and was very active as an activist. Till now CBI is unable to find out the actual reason that why was she killed. Similarly There are number of cases of murder of RTI activists.

Arvind Kejriwal the well known RTI activist and who is considered as the father of RTI activism in India on the “Swadeshi Jagran manch” in Jaipur, Rajasthan said that corruption can be brought into light by using RTI, thus the job of RTI is done after providing information, but the basic problem lies within the further procedure, complain which is made against corruption on the basis of information provided by RTI is remained unheard, no further actions are taken by police, or by vigilance. Here comes the role of politicians, that how politicians suppress the case against them by misusing their power. So the problem lies within the proper implementation and the governance. Until and unless there is existence of improper governance no law can be implemented properly. In his speech, Arvind Kejriwal laid emphasis on the proper implementation of laws, and a real democratic state in which every citizen is to be heard and every decision to be made after consultant with general public as it was happened in our ancient India and as it is practiced in various developed countries.

CONCLUSION:

“Right to information is as critical for the existence of democracy as a parliament in a parliamentary democracy”

RTI is the best law which empowers the citizens to have an access to information and their contribution in the governance. But due to various challenges, the main objective of RTI is yet not achieved.

 

Submitted by:

NITESH DWIVEDI

B.A LL.B (HONS)

SEM 3RD

NATIONAL LAW UNIVERSITY AND JUDICIAL ACEDEMY

 

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