Right to Information Act, 2005

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Right to Information Act, 2005
The Parliament of India
  • An Act to provide for setting out the practical regime of Right to Information for citizens to secure information under 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 or incidental thereto.
CitationAct No. 22 of 2005
Territorial extentIndia
Enacted byParliament of India
Enacted15-June-2005
Assented to22-June-2005
Commenced12-October-2005
Status: In force

The Right to Information (RTI) is an act of the Parliament of India which sets out the rules and procedures regarding citizens' right to information. It replaced the former Freedom of Information Act, 2002. Under the provisions of RTI Act, any citizen of India may request information from a "public authority" (a body of Government or "instrumentality of State") which is required to reply expeditiously or within thirty days. In case of matter involving a petitioner's life and liberty, the information has to be provided within 48 hours. The Act also requires every public authority to computerize their records for wide dissemination and to proactively publish certain categories of information so that the citizens need minimum recourse to request for information formally.[1]

The RTI Bill was passed by Parliament of India on 15 June 2005 and came into force with effect from 12 October 2005. Every day on an average, over 4800 RTI applications are filed. In the first ten years of the commencement of the act over 17,500,000 applications had been filed.[2]

Although Right to Information is not included as a Fundamental Right in the Constitution of India, it protects the fundamental rights to Freedom of Expression and Speech under Article 19(1)(a) and Right to Life and Personal Liberty under Article 21 guaranteed by the Constitution. The authorities under RTI Act 2005 are called public authorities. The Public Information Officer (PIO) or the First Appellate Authority in the public authorities perform quasi judicial function of deciding on the application and appeal respectively. This act was enacted in order to consolidate the fundamental right in the Indian constitution 'freedom of speech'. Since RTI is implicit in the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, it is an implied fundamental right.

Information disclosure in India had traditionally been restricted by the Official Secrets Act 1923 and various other special laws, which the new RTI Act overrides.[3] Right to Information codifies a fundamental right of the citizens of India. RTI has proven to be very useful, but is counteracted by the Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2011.[4]

The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019, seeks to amend Sections 13, 16, and 27 of the RTI Act. Section 13 of the original Act: It sets the term of the central Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners at five years (or until the age of 65, whichever is earlier).[5] Finally in Ashwanee K. Singh's case on 20 September 2020, it is stabilised that right to information is a fundamental right.[6]

Scope[edit]

A receipt for payment of a fee for collecting information under RTI act

The Act extents to the whole of India.[a][7] It covers all the constitutional authorities, including executive, legislature and judiciary; any institution or body established or constituted by an act of Parliament or a state legislature. It is also defined in the Act that bodies or authorities established or constituted by order or notification of appropriate government including bodies "owned, controlled or substantially financed" by government, or non-Government organizations "substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds".

Private bodies[edit]

Private bodies are not within the Act's In a decision of Sarbjit Roy vs Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission,[8] the Central Information Commission also reaffirmed that privatised public utility companies fall within the purview of RTI.[9] As of 2014, private institutions and NGOs receiving over 95% of their infrastructure funds from the government come under the Act.[10]

Political parties[edit]

The Central Information Commission (CIC) held that the political parties are public authorities and are answerable to citizens under the RTI Act. The CIC said that seven national parties - Congress, BJP, NCP, CPI(M), CPI and BSP and BJD - has been substantially funded indirectly by the Central Government and have the character of public authorities under the RTI Act as they perform public functions.[11][12] But in August 2013 the government introduced a Right To Information (Amendment) Bill which would remove political parties from the scope of the law. Currently no parties are under the RTI Act and a case has been filed for bringing all political parties under it.[13]

Amendment[edit]

The Right to Information Act 2019 passed on July 25, 2019[14] modified the terms and conditions of service of the CIC and Information Commissioners at the centre and in states.[15] It had been criticized as watering down the independence of the information commissions.[16]

Supreme Court judgement

Supreme Court of India on 13 November 2019, upheld the decision of Delhi High Court bringing the office of Chief Justice of India under the purview of Right to Information (RTI) Act.

Governance and process[edit]

The Right to information in India is governed by two major bodies:

  • Central Information Commission (CIC) – Chief Information commissioner who heads all the central departments and ministries- with their own public Information officers (PIO)s. CICs are directly under the President of India.[17]
  • State Information Commissions – State Public Information Officers or SPIOs head over all the state department and ministries. The SPIO office is directly under the corresponding State Governor.

State and Central Information Commissions are independent bodies and Central Information Commission has no jurisdiction over the State Information Commission.[17]

Fees[edit]

A citizen who desires to seek some information from a public authority is required to send, along with the application (a Postal order or DD (Demand draft) or a bankers cheque) payable to the Accounts Officer of the public authority as fee prescribed for seeking information. If the person is from a disadvantaged community, he/she need not pay.[18] The applicant may also be required to pay further fee towards the cost of providing the information, details of which shall be intimated to the applicant by the PIO (Public Information Officer) as prescribed by the RTI ACT.[19]

Digital right to information systems[edit]

A digital portal has been set up, RTI Portal,[20] a gateway to the citizens for quick search of information on the details of first Appellate Authorities, PIOs etc. amongst others, besides access to RTI related information[21] / disclosures published on the web by various Public Authorities under the government of India as well as the State Governments. It is an initiative taken by Department of Personnel and Training, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions.[22]

Controversies[edit]

The Right to information in India has been mired with controversies ranging from their use in political battles, asking for educational degrees of political rivals, or cases of blatant refusals to provide information on high-profile projects to allegations of misuse by civil society.[23][24][25] The backlash against RTI by the state hampered the citizen's right to know.[26]

Attacks on RTI activists and protection suggestions[edit]

Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) data points to over 310 cases[27] across India where people were either attacked, murdered, physically or mentally harassed or had their property damaged because of the information they sought under RTI. The data throws up over 50 alleged murders and two suicides that were directly linked with RTI applications filed.[28] R.T.I. Act 2005 applies to both central as well as state governments. It also covers the acts and functionaries of the public authorities.

There is a consensus felt that there is a need to amend the RTI Act to provide for the protection of those seeking information under the Act.[29] The Asian Centre for Human Rights recommends that a separate chapter, "Protection of those seeking information under the (RTI) Act", be inserted into the Act.

Protection measures suggested include:

  • Mandatory, immediate registration of complaints of threats or attacks against RTI activists on the First Information Report and placing such FIRs before the magistrate or judge of the area within 24 hours for issuance of directions for protection of those under threats and their family members, and periodic review of such protection measures
  • Conducting inquiry into threats or attacks by a police officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police/Assistant Commissioner of Police to be concluded within 90 days and we also use RTI and get its benefit.

Intellectual property rights[edit]

Many civil society members have recently alleged the subversion of the right to information Act by the invocation of Intellectual Property rights argument by the government agencies from time to time.

Most notable are:

  • The Right to Information denied by RBI on Demonetization citing Intellectual Property Laws.[30]
  • The Right to Information Denied by Uttar Pradesh Irrigation Department after more than 8 months of a wait on under construction Gomti Riverfront Development Project. A group of researchers requested for environment Impact and Project Report on the project which is flagged for negative impacts, tax money wastage by environmental scientists and research reports.[23]

Debates[edit]

Rejection of RTIs[edit]

Scholars argue that the Right to Information Act's original intent to make government transparent and accountable is faltering as RTI requests are rejected and the bureaucratic systems are bogged down by millions of requests.

Many RTIs are rejected because the bureaucratic requirements (including the technocratic language used) of filing are too onerous and legalistic for ordinary citizens.[31] Sixty percent of the RTI appeals made to Information Commissioners in Delhi are rejected for a variety of reasons, including that appeals are not typed or not written in English, or lack an index of the papers attached or a list of date.[32] This bureaucratic barrier, worse for those without access to higher education or information, makes the right to information inaccessible. Many citizens have to seek out NGOs, RTI activists, or lawyers, to file their RTIs.[33]

Benefits[edit]

Many activists view the Right to Information Act as a final liberation from British colonialism; they describe the RTI law as “a tool for empowering ordinary citizens and changing the culture of governance by making it transparent, less corrupt, participatory, and accountable".[32] They also note that RTI requests provide strategy and substance for activists on a broad range of social issues, including "land and environmental rights, social security benefits, the working of financial institutions, political party financing reform, civic infrastructure, and even public-private partnerships”.[33]

Exempted organisations[edit]

As per section 24 of the Act, intelligence and security organisations, both central and state, are exempted from the RTI Act except in cases of corruption or human rights violation. Such central organisations are listed in schedule 2 of the Act.[34] The schedule has been amended four times, in September 2005,[35] March 2008,[36] October 2008[37] and May 2021.[38]

  1. Intelligence Bureau
  2. Research and Analysis Wing including its technical wing, Aviation Research Centre
  3. Directorate of Revenue Intelligence
  4. Central Economic Intelligence Bureau
  5. Directorate of Enforcement
  6. Narcotics Control Bureau
  7. omitted (content attached with sl. no. 2)
  8. Special Frontier Force
  9. Border Security Force
  10. Central Reserve Police Force
  11. Indo-Tibetan Border Police
  12. Central Industrial Security Force
  13. National Security Guards (spelling error for National Security Guard)
  14. Assam Rifles
  15. Sashtra Seema Bal (spelling error for Sashastra Seema Bal)
  16. Directorate General of Income-tax (Investigation)
  17. National Technical Research Organisation
  18. Financial Intelligence Unit, India
  19. Special Protection Group
  20. Defence Research and Development Organisation
  21. Border Road Development Board (spelling error for Border Roads Development Board, parent body of Border Roads Organisation)
  22. National Security Council Secretariat (secretariat of the National Security Council, in the Cabinet Secretariat)

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Earlier, J&K Right to Information Act was in force in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. However, after the revocation of much of Article 370 of the Constitution of India, the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir (and also the Union Territory of Ladakh) came under the Central Act.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Noronha, Fredrick (2010). Access to Knowledge: A Guide for Everyone. Consumers International. ISBN 978-0-9566117-4-1.
  2. ^ Sharma, Nidhi (6 October 2016). "1.75 crore RTI applications filed since 2005: Study". The Economic Times. Retrieved 7 April 2018.
  3. ^ Rajagopal, Krishnadas (14 March 2019). "RTI trumps Official Secrets Act, says SC". The Hindu. Retrieved 10 September 2021.
  4. ^ "The Whistle Blowers Protection Bill, 2011". PRS Legislative Research. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
  5. ^ "Explainer: The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019". PRS Legislative Research. 19 July 2019. Retrieved 19 April 2020.
  6. ^ Sinha, Roshni (19 July 2019). "Explainer: The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019". PRS Legislative Research. Archived from the original on 5 August 2019.
  7. ^ "J&K people to face immense difficulties in obtaining benefits of Central RTI Act". Daily Excelsior. 11 August 2019. Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  8. ^ "Shri Sarbajit Roy vs Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission" (PDF). Central Information Commission. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 January 2017. Retrieved 29 May 2013.
  9. ^ "Changes in RTI Act's privacy clause will allow corrupt babus to escape public scrutiny: Information Commissioner" The Economic Times
  10. ^ Nayak, N. Dinesh. "Private institutions, NGOs now come under RTI Act: Information Commissioner". The Hindu.
  11. ^ "Khurshid sounds warning note on R.T.I ruling". The Hindu. Press Trust of India. Archived from the original on 10 June 2013. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  12. ^ "Political parties under RTI: Congress rejects CIC order". The Hindu Newspaper. Press Trust of India. Archived from the original on 27 October 2013. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  13. ^ Subrahmaniam, Vidya (12 August 2013). "First-ever amendment to historic RTI Act tabled in Lok Sabha". The Hindu. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  14. ^ PIB. "Rajya Sabha passes RTI Amendment Bill, 2019". Press Information Bureau, Government of India. Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions. Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  15. ^ Roshni Sinha (19 July 2019). "Explainer: The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019". The PRS Blog. Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  16. ^ Shoumojit Banerjee (22 July 2019). "Centre's decision to bring amendments to RTI Act draws criticism from activists". The Hindu. Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  17. ^ a b "FAQ | Central Information Commission". cic.gov.in. Retrieved 11 February 2017.
  18. ^ [1][dead link]
  19. ^ "Guide on the Right to Information Act, 2005" (PDF). Government of India, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions, Department of Personnel & Training. 28 November 2013.
  20. ^ RTI Online
  21. ^ Sharma, R. "Things required to file RTI Online". RTI Guru.
  22. ^ "About RTI Portal". rti.gov.in. Retrieved 30 January 2018.
  23. ^ a b "Gomti River front Development - Irrigation Department Denied Information". Gomti River front Development - Irrigation Department Denied Information. 9 December 2016. Retrieved 11 February 2017.
  24. ^ "PM Modi degree issue: HC stays CIC order on 1978 DU records". The Indian Express. 24 January 2017. Retrieved 11 February 2017.
  25. ^ Gandhi, Shailesh. "Right to information is misused, but those who do so make up less than 5% of total applicants". Scroll.in. Retrieved 11 February 2017.
  26. ^ Nigam, Shalu (2015). "The Right to Information Act: Ten Years of Transparency or Decade of Ambiguity".
  27. ^ "Maharashtra, Gujarat Top in Attacks, Killing of RTI Users". The Wire. Retrieved 7 April 2018.
  28. ^ "Maharashtra tops country in attacks, murder of RTI activists". The Times of India. Retrieved 30 January 2018.
  29. ^ "Admin | CauseListReportWeb". ciconline.nic.in. Retrieved 30 July 2019.
  30. ^ "RBI's refusal to share details under RTI is sheer arrogance, says activist Shailesh Gandhi". Firstpost. 31 December 2016. Retrieved 11 February 2017.
  31. ^ TJ, Shalin (1 May 2017). "When RTI is Difficult?". OnlineRTI Blog.
  32. ^ a b Sharma, Aradhana. “State Transparency after the Neoliberal Turn: The Politics, Limits, and Paradoxes of India’s Right to Information Law.” PoLAR: Political & Legal Anthropology Review, vol. 36, no. 2, Nov. 2013, pp. 308–325.
  33. ^ a b Aniket Aga, and Chitrangada Choudhury. A Dappled Sun: Bureaucratic Encounters in the Working of the Right to Information Act in India. Vol. 38, no. 3, 2019, pp. 540–556.
  34. ^ Second Schedule of the RTI Act, from India Code
  35. ^ G.S.R. 347 dated 28 September 2005
  36. ^ G.S.R. 235(E) dated 27 March 2008
  37. ^ G.S.R. 726(E) dated 8 October 2008
  38. ^ G.S.R. 319(E) dated 4 May 2021

External links[edit]