RTI AND TRANSPARENCY
Transparency is most required for any government to satisfy the masses with the implementation and effectiveness of various schemes and policies for the betterment of people. Dalai Lama once said that “Lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity”, which means that the reason of distrust could be lack transparency. If the government is made answerable to the citizens, it would generate level of trust in people which could help any government to stay longer than just 5 years as transparency is the basis of good governance and first step to fight against corruption.
The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) started by Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey though their Mazdoor Kishan Shakti Sanghatan was one of the first campaigns to fight for RTI Act. After a long struggle various states passed legislations for Freedom of Information before the central law was implemented in October 2005.
The RTI Act was passed to make information from public authorities accessible for the general public by making it liable to provide the asked information by the Public Information Officer. As per Section 5(1) Public Information Officer has two responsibilities, receiving/facilitating requests and responding to requests. Under this law any citizen can ask for the information from public authorities after paying requisite fee which is Rs 10 for majority of government offices.
Fight for RTI in India
On 24th January 1975 the Hon’ble Supreme court decided that the citizens right to know arises from the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression (Article 19(1)(a)) guaranteed by the Constitution when the citizen sought disclosure of blue book related to the rules and regulations of protection of Prime Minister while travelling. The petitioner claimed that the documents would claim how the government had engaged in corrupt practices and violated/misused limits of money that may be spent in an election campaign. This case gave light to the Right to Information and was one of the important case which somehow gave importance to RTI Act and made gathering information easy that we are exercising today through RTI Act-2005.
RTI Act was implemented on 12 October 2005, 58 years after India got independence and 239 years later after first RTI Act of the world came into existence in Sweden (Freedom of Press Act,1766). Since 2005 it has been a remarkable journey of citizens of India with RTI Act, from the journalists seeking investigation to the lawyers representing the mass for the betterment of the society to the individuals filing application for the information with the RTI in hand. Before the RTI Act-2005 the Freedom of Information Bill-2000 was introduced in Lok Sabha initiated by Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Bajpayee which was passed but rules were not framed and his government lost in 2004. After that, the new government introduced RTI Act in 2005 under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
RTI – A POWERFUL TOOL
No government office, institution set up by any state was easily accessible and gathering information related to any aspect was a hindrance. RTI is a tool for everyone to get the information that was hard to get before 2005, now a common man using Rs 10 can ask for any information and could easily expose a scam/fault in the system. Indians on an average file 60 Lakh RTI requests every year which represents nothing but the reach, popularity and effectiveness of the transparency lay in India.
RTI could be filed in any government office requesting for information. The applicant can file RTI along with the request of such information to the Public Information Officer of the concerned department through email, online RTI portal or through written request. The PIO is responsible to facilitate and respond to such request. If the PIO is not able to do so, the applicant can file an appeal as per Section 7(1) of RTI Act if he does not receives the asked information within 30 calendar days, this could be followed by second appeal to respective Information Commissions.
CBSE vs. Aditya Bandopadhyay (2011) 8 SCC497
This case came up with a question that whether the examinee’s (student) right to access the answer sheet is comes under RTI or not. CBSE based on a request replied to the student that it is information of fiduciary relationship and it was exempt as per section 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act, However the court in this case held that the student had all right to access his answer sheet since the examining body did not hold any information in a fiduciary relationship with the examiners or examinees and thus the CBSE is liable to provide student his answer sheet without any delay and the concerned answer sheets should be provided to the students who seek them under RTI.
RTI Act makes all the public authorities liable to provide the information to the applicant including legislature, executive and judiciary along with any authority that is a body or institution established by any act of parliament or by the state legislature. However the Act in its Section 8 where there are 9 sub-clauses where there are certain exemptions from disclosure of information including anything affecting the sovereignty and integrity of India to the information that is related to personal information where no public interest lies.
There are many government authorities which are still reluctant to provide the information. Several courts have on many occasions ordered in favour of applicants. Most notable is the order of Hon’ble Supreme Court dated December 16, 2015 in the matter of Reserve Bank of India V. Jayantilal N Mistry where the court said that “It had long since come to our attention that Public Information Officers(PIO) under the guise of some exceptions given under section 8 of RTI Act, have evaded the general public from getting their hands on the rightful information that they are entitled to” thus RBI plays no fiduciary relationship with the financial institution and therefore RBI has a statutory duty to uphold the interest of public at large and should not deny to provide information that might even embarrass individual banks.
So, The need of hour is that the concerned citizen must file RTI to get the information of public interest, and Public Authorities must ensure to provide the Information to the applicants. If effectively used RTI Act has a potential to reform the government functioning by reducing inefficiency and corruption.