Right To Information Act- An Overview

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The basic object of the Right to Information Act, 2005 is to empower the citizens, promote transparency and accountability in the working of the Government, contain corruption, and make our democracy work for the people in real sense. It goes without saying that an informed citizen is better equipped to keep necessary vigil on the instruments of governance and make the government more accountable to the governed. The Act is a big step towards making the citizens informed about the activities of the Government.

Preamble of the Right to Information Act & its Objectives:

Right to Information Act, 2005 was enacted on 15th June, 2005 for setting out a practical regime to enable citizens to secure access to information with the “public authorities” in order to ensure transparency and accountability. The Act ensures greater and more effective access to information and makes the Indian democracy more participatory and meaningful. The introductory note to the preamble of the Act itself stipulates as under:

AND WHEREAS 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;

AND WHEREAS revelation of information in actual practice is likely to conflict with other
public interest including efficient operations of the Governments, optimum use of limited
fiscal resources and the presentation of confidentiality of sensitive information;

AND WHEREAS it is necessary to harmonise these conflicting interests while preserving the paramountcy of the democratic ideal;

Objectives of the Right to Information Act which are set out in the Preamble can be summarized as follows:

  1. To set out a practical regime of RTI;
  2. To secure access to information under the control of public authorities;
  3. To promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority.

The Act, therefore, aims at bringing total transparency. The Preamble clearly states that it intends to harmonize the need to keep certain matters secret but at the same time
reiterating the paramountancy of the right to know. Thus, the Act intends to bring in a total change in the mindset of secrecy generated by the colonial legislations such as the Official Secrets Act and the Law of Evidence. The Preamble also outlines the grounds that may necessitate withholding of the information from the citizens. The Preamble permits non-disclosure of information that is likely to cause conflict with public interests including:

  1. Efficient operations of the Governments;
  2. Optimum use of limited fiscal resources;
  3. Preservation of confidentiality of sensitive information.

Thus, any information the disclosure of which is likely to cause conflict with public interest can be withheld by a public authority whether it is a part of the correspondence side or its a part of the Noting side.

Who can ask for information?

Any citizen can request for information by making an application in writing or through
electronic means in English/Hindi /official language of the area in which the application is being made, together with the prescribed fees.

Who will provide information?

Every public authority shall designate a Central Assistant Public Information Officer (CAPIO) at various levels, who will receive the requests for information from the public. The Central Public Information Officers (CPIO) in all administrative units/office will arrange for providing necessary information to the public. The application/request for information must be disposed off either by providing the information or rejecting the request, within a period of 30 days.

To know how to file an application under the Right to Information Act, click here.

Central Information Commission and the State Information Commissions:

The Right to Information Act, 2005 seeks to establish a practical regime to ensure that the right to access of information conferred on a citizen is put in actual practice in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority. With that object in view, it provides for constitution of Central Information Commission and the State Information Commissions.

The Act provides for provisions to ensure maximum disclosure and grounds on which
disclosure can be denied, the entire machinery and establishment of an appellate authority, i.e. the Central Information Commission (or “the CIC” for short), with the power to review decisions and penal provisions on failure to provide information as per law etc.

Denial of Information:

A citizen’s right to seek information is not absolute but is conditioned by the Government’s right to invoke exemptions, wherever such exemption applicable.

The object of RTI Act is to harmonize the conflicting public interests, that is, ensuring
transparency to bring in accountability and containing corruption on the one hand, and at the same time ensure that the revelation of information, in actual practice, does not harm or adversely affect other public interests which include efficient functioning of the govt’s, optimum use of limited fiscal resources and preservation of confidentiality of sensitive information, on the other hand. While Sections 3 and 4 seek to achieve the first objective, Sections 8, 9, 10 and 11 seek to achieve the second objective.

To know when information can be refused under the Right to Information Act, click here.

Indiscriminate and impractical demands under the Right to Information Act:

Indiscriminate and impractical demands or directions under RTI Act for disclosure of all and sundry information (unrelated to transparency and accountability in the functioning of public authorities and eradication of corruption) would be counter-productive as it will
adversely affect the efficiency of the administration and result in the executive getting
bogged down with the non-productive work of collecting and furnishing information. The Act should not be allowed to be misused or abused, to become a tool to obstruct the
national development and integration, or to destroy the peace, tranquility and harmony
among its citizens. Nor should it be converted into a tool of oppression or intimidation of
honest officials striving to do their duty. The nation does not want a scenario where 75%
of the staff of public authorities spends 75% of their time in collecting and furnishing
information to applicants instead of discharging their regular duties. The threat of penalties under the RTI Act and the pressure of the authorities under the RTI Act should not lead to employees of a public authorities prioritising `information furnishing’, at the cost of their normal and regular duties.

Conclusion:

The right to information is a cherished right. Information and right to information are
intended to be formidable tools in the hands of responsible citizens to fight corruption and to bring in transparency and accountability. The provisions of RTI Act should be enforced strictly and all efforts should be made to bring to light the necessary information which relates to securing transparency and accountability in the working of public authorities and in discouraging corruption.

To know more on the Right to Information Act, 2005 write to us at easykanoon@gmail.com.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.