Right to Information Act

Right to Information is a part of fundamental rights under Article 19(1) of the Constitution. Article 19 (1) says that every citizen has freedom of speech and expression. As early as in 1976, the Supreme Court said in the case of Raj Narain vs. State of UP, that people cannot speak or express themselves unless they know. Therefore, right to information is embedded in article 19. In the same case, Supreme Court further said that India is a democracy. People are the masters. Therefore, the masters have a right to know how the governments, meant to serve them, are functioning. Further, every citizen pays taxes. Even a beggar on the street pays tax (in the form of sales tax, excise duty etc) when he buys a piece of soap from the market. The citizens therefore, have a right to know how their money was being spent. These three principles were laid down by the Supreme Court while saying that RTI is a part of our fundamental rights.

If RTI is a fundamental right, then why do we need an Act to give us this right? This is because if you went to any Government Department and told the officer there, “RTI is my fundamental right, and that I am the master of this country. Therefore, please show me all your files”, he would not do that. In all probability, he would throw you out of his room. Therefore, we need a machinery or a process through which we can exercise this fundamental right. Right to Information Act 2005, which became effective on 13th October 2005, provides that machinery. Therefore, Right to Information Act does not give us any new right. It simply lays down the process on how to apply for information, where to apply, how much fees etc.

Right to Information Act 2005 empowers every citizen to:

  • Ask any questions from the Government or seek any information
  • Take copies of any government documents
  • Inspect any government documents.
  • Inspect any Government works.
  • Take samples of materials of any Government work.

The Central RTI Act extends to the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir. All bodies, which are constituted under the Constitution or under any law or under any Government notification or all bodies, including NGOs, which are owned, controlled or substantially financed by the Government are covered. All private bodies, which are owned, controlled or substantially financed by the Government are directly covered. Others are indirectly covered. That is, if a government department can access information from any private body under any other Act, the same can be accessed by the citizen under the RTI Act through that government department.

Isn’t Official Secrets Act 1923 an obstacle to the implementation of RTI Act? No. Sec 22 of the RTI Act 2005 clearly says that RTI Act would over ride all existing Acts including Officials Secrets Act. A PIO can refuse information on 11 subjects that are listed in section 8 of the RTI Act. These include information received in confidence from foreign governments, information prejudicial to security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the country, breach of privilege of legislatures, etc. There is a list of 18 agencies given in second schedule of the Act to which RTI Act does not apply. However, they also have to give information if it relates to matters pertaining to allegations of corruption or human rights violations.

One or more existing officers in every Government Department have been designated as Public Information Officers (PIO). These PIOs act like nodal officers. You have to file your applications with them. They are responsible for collecting information sought by you from various wings of that Department and providing that information to you. In addition, several officers have been appointed as Assistant Public Information Officers (APIOs). Their job is only to accept applications from the public and forward it to the right PIO.
[www.righttoinformation.org]

2 comments:

  1. Apart from the CWG scam which you wrote about, some other major scams have surfaced - the Telecom licenses scam and the Adarsh scam. It would be interesting to see what finally happens to these scamsters - merely being dismissed from their posts is no punishment. They have made their ill-gotten pile. They can enjoy it in peace. But suppose, just suppose, they are jailed or fined adequately will that stop further scams from taking place? How do we get out of this scam culture? Any thoughts on this? :)

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  2. I've posted an article today about these scams. Hopefully it speaks a lot about what I think about them. :)

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