RIGHT TO INFORMATION- A WEAPON AGAINST CORRUPTION

– SANJANA GOYAL

INTRODUCTION

There have been several amendments made in the Constitution of India, last being the 104th amendment made in January,2020, since it came into force in order to keep it at pace with the modernization, needs of the society and development in India. Fundamental Rights being the basic structure of the Indian Constitution under part III cannot be amended in a way that takes away the prime purpose and it has been under continual due diligence. Nowhere in Indian Constitution Right to Information has been clearly mentioned but in a handful of cases the Supreme Court held that the Article 19(1)[1] of the Indian Constitution implicitly guarantees the Right to Information declaring it as a Fundamental Right. In the case of Raj Narain vs the State of Uttar Pradesh,1975,[2] it had been ruled by the Supreme Court that RTI is going to be treated as a Fundamental Right under article 19 of the constitution. Public officials are accountable for their conduct. In Indian democracy where people elect its government and thus, they comprise of the right to information in order to know about the working of the public authorities and various functionaries.

The preamble of our Indian constitution itself secures to all its citizen social, economic, and political rights and having access to information makes it feasible and practicable to exercise all such other rights like freedom of speech and expression. Right to information is a pillar to which all the Fundamental Rights are knotted.

Corruption comes crawling wherever there is grant of absolute power. Therefore, people needed transparency and unambiguity from the government they have elected. It was out of the question to outreach the government by the public which led to frustration and the need for protests dawned upon the public to find a procedure or a law with which the authorities can be held accountable.

HISTORY AND BACKGROUND

The movement which got people striking on roads for protection of workers rights marked a stepping stone in the formation of the RTI act. It was started by the organisation, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) formed in 1987 on 1st May by its leaders Nikhil Dey, Aruna Roy, Shankar Singh. This was one among the very first campaigns for an idea of inquiry by demanding information of workers minimum wage in the rural India. They protested from across villages in Rajasthan to the city Beawar. MKSS was provided support by various villages and hefty amounts of donations came flooding for the protest considering such great cause being protested for.

The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information was formed in 1996 making all the efforts and hard work poured into a goal turn out to be fruitful. Within the same year the Press Council of India formulated a draft of RTI bill. By this time the RTI movement started appearing as a success and immediately then RTI laws were implemented and were enforced in States like Tamil Nadu and Goa in 1997 which was followed by Delhi in 2001, Rajasthan in 2000 enforced in 2001 and Karnataka in 2002.[3]

After being passed by both houses of Parliament in 2002 and grant of assent by the president in 2003, the Freedom of Information Act came into existence but it failed in getting notified. Thus, after various discussions and recommendations in the bill, the modified version of it was framed and sent for government review. This led to the introduction of RTI bill in the parliament in 2004 which was revised in 2005. It was passed by both houses of parliament in May 2005 and was assented by the president in June 2005. Finally, the fantasy of RTI turned into a reality in October 2005 when the Right to Information act came into force.

RIGHT TO INFORMATION AND APPLICABILITY

Right to Information culminated in a Fundamental Right that has been accorded recognition in the Constitution of India, part III. Citizens are privileged and authorized under this right to have their relevant questions answered for getting information from the government, public authorities and various departments about their functioning. RTI is a tool through which citizens can hold the government accountable. The right is only granted to citizens under RTI act. A person can make an RTI application either in online or offline mode. It is applicable to the government; public authorities and various departments can be questioned. Private bodies are excluded from its purview. The information cannot be sought from the private bodies except when they are being controlled, run or financed by the government and the information sought under the act is restricted in the sense it cannot be a private information about someone or relating to national security which can be detrimental to integrity, foreign relations or certain departments like CBI, RAW cannot be questioned under it. The act requires all public authorities to possess computerised records for time saving and easy access of information. The RTI act came into force to help the citizens make relevant inquiries to various departments and ministries in a right manner. The RTI act was enforced in place of the Freedom of Information Act,2002.[4]

In a recent High Court judgment of Hari Kishan v. President Secretariat[5] on 12th January, 2021, Single Judge Bench of Justice Prathiba M Singh in a video conference hearing opined that whenever under the RTI act information is sought, it is necessary to disclose an interest within such information sought in order to determine the bonafides of the applicant.[6]                               The former central information commissioner and many others opposed the view on such order stating that it is contrary to the Section 6 (2)[7] of the RTI Act which states that there is no need to provide reasons by the applicant relating to why he is seeking such mentioned information or the personal details until it is required.

One of the main objectives that has been derived using RTI is to use it for achieving anti-corruption India and mainly to find out reasons in procedural delays in a speedy manner as the authority is liable to reply within 30 days time period. The official secrets act was enacted before independence during the British regime and remained unaltered just like many other British made laws which never got repealed or amended and were left unaltered and are still in continuation. RTI act was also enforced in order to bring out needful amendments in the Official Secrets Act 1923. The act was enacted in order to curb espionage at that time and the government pursued with such act and used it for its advantage and to exploit it to literally protect anything which led in stoppage of information flow to the public hence no transparency. Thus, now RTI relaxes the information restricted under official secrets act, 1923 to some extent.[8]

STEPS TO FILE RTI APPLICATION

  1. Visit the URL https://rtionline.gov.in[9] where one can file an RTI
  2. Click on the submit request which will take you to a page of GUIDELINES FOR USE OF RTI ONLINE PORTAL, after thoroughly going through it tick the I have read and understood the above guidelines and submit.
  3. After submission it will directly take you to the online RTI request form.
  4. The applicant has to select the public authority, ministry or department with whom he wants to file his application.
  5. In case you file it with a wrong ministry, then it is the responsibility of that public authority to transfer it to the right authority.
  6. Personal details of the applicant are to be provided.
  7. There is a requirement of payment of fee of Rs. 10 if not below poverty line.
  8. The text for RTI request application needs to be up to 3000 characters, in case it exceeds that limit, it can be attached as a supporting document and other document related can be attached too.
  9.  The text should be clear and concise. Generally, do not ask more than 4-5 questions because it can make the application lengthy instead you can file more than one RTI.
  10.  The questions asked must be direct and not confusing.
  11.  After this click the make payment option. It will take you to a payment gateway. After making the payment you will be redirected to the online portal.
  12. You will get a registration number and your RTI will be filed successfully.

A WEAPON TO CURB CORRUPT PRACTICES

The right to human development is directly related to and interdependent on human rights. In order to fully realise such human rights an aam aadmi needs to be aware about his/her basic rights which further leads in human development meaning being able to recognise and access opportunities and the freedom to improve their well-being. The major complication faced is the lack of information due to lack of awareness in a country like India due to the large population, lack of proper education along with the widespread poverty.

Enactment of laws is not the end but human rights activists and civil society organisations, NGO’s have a prodigious role to play afterwards and have a responsibility in effectively implementing such laws. Similarly, in case of RTI, spreading awareness and making the unaware aware about their rights that they inherit a right to question the public authorities about their functioning and poor execution of work under RTI instead of accepting their corrupt practices and delay in performance as their destiny and a way of life. Awareness is a crucial and very first step in bringing a change.

Social activists use RTI as a weapon against the corrupt practices of government officials by using the law or the RTI on behalf of the public for their advantage and betterment by promulgating the information, researching on it and making it a debatable topic. These activists become the voice for those who are voiceless and unheard.[10] Information which is hidden by the government due to their corrupt practices having an impact on the society can be sought under this act holding the public authorities accountable for their wrongdoings.

CONCLUSION

The Right to Information is a pivotal tool and has proven to be a great success because of its utility in today’s time to bring transparency and in creating well informed vigil citizens by empowering them with RTI.  But on its other side the RTI law is slowly appearing to be dying as the public authorities have managed to find loopholes in the law. Under the RTI act it is the responsibility of the public authority to whom an application for RTI is made to transfer such application if it was needed to be filed with some other public authority or where such application filed is best suited for some other public authority or closely relates to other public authority’s functions to such public authority. The authorities keep transferring the applications to escape the accountability and thus the very basic purpose of the RTI act fails here. With the massive increase in the RTI activism and disclosure of cases of corruption RTI has become a grave impediment for the government which has led to attacks on and murders of various activists who stood against the government. Every year, 40- 60 lakh applications for RTI under the RTI act are filed, where less than 45% of the applicants received accountability in form of an answer for information sought according to the ‘Report Card of Information Commissions in India, 2018-19’[11] and appeal filing percentage is less than 10% of the remaining 55% who did not get a reply. Lack of staffing and infrastructure in government offices poses another serious issue which leads in increase in number of applications.[12] This is an awakening call of why we should fight and take a stand against the authorities in order to save our own right and human right activists can help us achieve that by asking the right question at the right time.


[1] Article 19(1), available at: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1142233/ (Last visited on January 15th, 2021).

[2] State of U.P v. Raj Narain, AIR 1975 SC 865, available at: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/438670/ (Last visited on January 15th, 2021).

[3] RTI, available at: https://www.sify.com/news/10-things-about-rti-act-that-completes-10-years-news-columns-pkflhegibifjb.html#:~:text=This%20was%20followed%20by%20Delhi,RTI%20during%20UPA1%20in%202005. (Last visited on January 15th, 2021).

[4] What is RTI? What does RTI mean, available at: http://blog.onlinerti.com/2016/11/28/what-is-rti-how-it-started-everything-you-should-know-about-rti/ (Last visited on January 16th, 2021).

[5]Read the order, PDF: Hari Kishan v. President Secretariat, available at: https://www.theleaflet.in/disclosure-of-interest-in-information-sought-under-rti-act-necessary-to-establish-bonafides-of-applicant-says-delhi-hc-act-says-no-reason-need-be-given/# (Last visited on January 15th, 2021).

[6] Order, available at: https://www.barandbench.com/news/litigation/disclosure-interest-information-rti-act-necessary-delhi-high-court (Last visited on January 16th, 2021).

[7] Section 6(2), available at: https://rti.gov.in/rti-act.pdf (Last visited on January 15th, 2021).

[8] Right to information, available at: http://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/444/Right-To-Information.html (Last visited on January 17th, 2021).

[9] Online portal, available at: https://rtionline.gov.in (Last visited on January 17th, 2021).

[10]

Human rights Conclusion, available at: https://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/programs/ai/rti/india/articles/RTI%20as%20a%20Human%20Right%20and%20Developments%20in%20India.pdf (Last visited on January 18th, 2021).

[11] Introduction, available at: http://snsindia.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Report-Card-on-Performance-of-Information-Commissions-2018-Key-findings-FINAL.pdf (Last visited on January 17th, 2021).

[12] What the numbers say, available at: https://theprint.in/opinion/in-15-years-rti-has-gone-from-indian-citizens-most-powerful-tool-to-an-act-on-life-support/447507/ (Last visited on January 18th, 2021).

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