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RTI is No Less than Any Great Movement of Modern India

Nilaya Mitash Shanker for BeyondHeadlines

Noble Laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore dreamt of an India “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high, where knowledge is free, where words come out from the depths of truth, into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake”

There is a saying by Bob Marley which says-“Get up, Stand up for your rights. Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight”

“It’s a right and duty of the wise ones to purify the strong by teaching them their duties and to strengthen the weak by teaching them their rights”

The objective of the Right to Information Act,2005 (as enshrined in its preamble) 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 of the Public Authorities. The act applies to all the states and union territories of India except the state of Jammu and Kashmir which is covered under state level Law.

The law of right to information was passed by the parliament on June 15, 2005 and came into force on 12 October 2005. It has been hailed as the hallmark of democracy for the reasons that it purports to make, with regard to government information, disclosure as norm and secrecy as the exception. Experts feel that as the Act aims at making the government transparent and more accountable, the effective use of it would, in the long run, curb corruption.

Article 19(2) of the ‘International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’ (ICCPR), a United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2200A (XXI) of 1966 states: “Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any media of his choice.”

Every citizen has a right to know how the Government is functioning. Right to Information empowers every citizen to seek any information from the Government, inspect any government documents and seek certified photocopies thereof. This law also empowers citizens to inspect any government work or to take sample of material used in any work.

“In a government of responsibility like ours where all the agents of public must be responsible for their conduct, there can be but few secrets, the people of this country must have a right to know, every public act, everything done in a public way by the public functionaries. To cover with veil of secrecy the common routine business is not in the interest of public” (State of UP vs Raj Narain (1975)4 SSC 428,Mathew J on the behalf of bench)

Background

Disclosure of Government Information in India is governed by a law enacted during the British rule over large parts of what is now India, the Official Secrets Act of 1889 which was amended in 1923. This law secures information related to security of the State, sovereignty of the country and friendly relations with foreign states, and contains provisions which prohibit disclosure of non-classified information. Civil Service Conduct Rules and the Indian Evidence Act also impose further restrictions on government officials’ powers to disclose information to the public.

SOME FACTS ABOUT RTI

·         RTI came into force on 12 October, 2005

·         We can ask report and record under this Act

·         Individual citizen can seek information under this Act

·       PIO is the person in a public authority defined in section 2(h) that provides the information

·         The information should be provided within 30 days (with few exceptions)

·         In the case the matter relates to life and violation of human rights, the information should be provided within 48 hours

·         If the information is denied or not provided then you can file first appeal to the first appellate authority

·         You are not required to provide the reason for information

·         In case the first appeal is not replied to, you can go in second appeal to Information Commission.

·         The RTI Act, 2005 extends to the whole of India except Jammu and Kashmir.

·         You can complain to the Information Commission  in case of denial of information by appellate authority also

This Act has given the people the power to CHANGE the country. The RTI Act has made the inner working of the government visible. If WE, the average citizens learn to use this Act, WE can change the country. If WE think that the RTI Act does not affect you, “WE ARE WRONG.” If we are a citizen of India, the RTI Act has given us a lot of power that we can and must use. For example, next time you ask for a “telephone line” or a “water connection”, if you use the RTI Act, you can get your work done quickly. You will not have to make 15 trips to the Govt. offices and bribe and beg to the officials to get your work done. RTI has changed all that. Are the roads outside your house terrible, RTI will help you solve the problem? Is there a problem of un-hygiene in your area, RTI will help you solve your problem.

‘No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent.’ Abraham Lincoln on Government by consent, 1854

“It is one thing to fight the system but forming the partnership with the system and changing it from within is perhaps the easiest way of bringing about the change.”

RTI — A Catalyst

“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.

‘This Act is a revolution to bring about the victory of the common Indian, who seeks the assurance of his fundamental rights and justice-from all forms of social, economic and political evils that stem from the inefficient governance and blatant corruption to materialize the dream of our erstwhile freedom fighters and revolutionaries and establish a truly ‘independent and corruption free India’

There is no doubt that the RTI Act enables common man to make a difference. The enactment has enabled citizens to demand records, which highlight deficiencies in working of Government departments in India. The struggle by citizens to get transparency and public accountability from the Government is gradually showing results and would lead to ushering in a new era of democratic governance. The success of RTI Act in India depends upon the non-Government initiatives. Without pressure from outside the Government and its officers would prefer to avoid the quantum jump in the direction of public accountability.

RTI Act has the potential to bring in a socio-economic revolution, provided that various agencies take up their responsibilities as per the spirit of the Act. The Civil Society Organizations and Media can act as pressure points, but most of the execution is to be carried out by the appropriate Governments and Information Commissions.

At the end of the day transparency and accountability in public administration require sustained efforts by the citizens. If the citizens show apathy towards the public issues and only indulge in arm-chair criticism of the Government, the problems of maladministration would continue. On the other hand transparency laws which enable access to public records, lead to democratic participation by the citizens. In India, as in all other countries, the quality of public administration depends upon involvement of citizens. RTI Act enables effective democratic participation by the citizens and sustained struggles are required to overcome the historical baggage of highly centralized governance, where citizens do not effectively participate.

At no point of time would it be possible to state that public administration system has reached perfection. In vast organizations, checks and balances are needed to correct the aberrations. RTI Act in India is a vital addition to the existing checks and balances; it may enable the citizens to keep the Government officers at their toes, to demand improved performance.

“I believe that the passage of this Bill will see the dawn of a new era in our processes of governance, an era of performance and efficiency, an era which will ensure that benefits of growth flow to all sections of our people, an era which will eliminate the scourge of corruption, an era which will bring the common man’s concern to the heart of all processes of governance, an era which will truly fulfill the hopes of the founding fathers of our Republic.”

 (Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, Speech in Parliament on May 11, 2005.)

The Success of the RTI Act in India

The real change would come when the people start demanding accountability and the government is forced to respond. Then it would not be easy for the governments to go astray. Right to Information is the first concrete step in that direction. People are already holding governments accountable by seeking details of funds spent in their areas. Large numbers of Non-Government Organizations are helping citizens in building sustained pressure on the Government. “RTI is no less than any great movement of modern India

RTI is a law which does not take any action but forces the system to take action as people get to know many information from the government body and their related ministry which was not disclosed before the passing of this law. This disclosure forces public authorities to act faster to redress the grievance. The RTI can be taken recourse in the following matters:

§                     RTI Act can help pensioners get their dues.

§                     RTI helps CA student get her answer sheet.

§                     RTI Act has helped in getting electricity connection.

§                     RTI Act exposed MP top cop’s fraud.

§                     RTI helps expose poll official.

§                     Woman uses RTI to get salary details of cheating husband.

§                     RTI Act can ensure transparency in National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

§                     RTI Act has helped expose irregularities in Public Distribution System.

§                     RTI Act has exposed criminals facing life sentence on parole from jail.

§                     RTI Act has enabled immediate repair of blocked sewers.

§                     RTI Act used by Belapur locals to save fort.

And there are many more!!

The following achievements are indisputable:

 – The basic tenets of the Act have been implemented and the institutional mechanism is in place and is in use by citizens

– The institution of Information Commission has assumed a pivotal position

– Civil society organizations have been, and continue to be, active in ensuring the implementation of the Act in letter and spirit

– Civil society organizations and the Media have started using this Act for bringing in transparency and objectivity

– Centre and State Government departments have initiated the training of key functionaries to assume the responsibilities of PIOs and FAAs

– Government employees/Public Authorities are aware of the basic elements of the Act

– Various State Governments have taken up initiatives, which go beyond the stipulations of the Act, and further the spirit of the Act.

“…democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information which are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and to hold Governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed” –

 Source: RTI Act’ 2005

(Author is student of Indian Institute Of Technology, Roorkee.)

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