The term Democracy refers to a government elected by the people, whether it is direct or representative. Accountability and transparency are the two sides of democracy. People are the masters and they have the right to watch the performance of the government. They have the right to know how they are being governed. The spirit behind the Right to Information was summed up in slogans like: “Hamara Paisa, Hamara Hisaab Hum Janenge, Hum Jiyenge.” Enactment of Right to Information Act, 2005, had marked a new era to lead us towards the development of participatory democracy. 56 countries in the world have already implemented acts providing right to information. Right to Information entirely forms part of fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of Indian. Justice Mathew had stated “Fundamental rights themselves have no fixed content; most of them are empty vessels into which each generation must pour its content in the light of its experience.” Therefore, the right to information should be used by the people to make them aware of their social, political and economic rights. The main objective of the act is to establish the practical administration of RTI for citizens to secure admission to information under the public control, to promote transparency and accountability in every public undertaking. Recently, the current government has made few amendments in the Right to Information Act 2005, which has been lately opposed by activists, advocates and many opposition parties.
Keywords- Information, Democracy, Transparency, Accountability, RTI Bill 2019
The former Vice President of India, Shri M. Hamid Ansari once said “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.” Democracy requires citizens with complete knowledge and transparency of information which are important aspects for its proper implementation and also to contain corruption and to hold governments and their instrumentalities answerable to the government, says the preamble of the Indian Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005.
Information as a term has been derived from the Latin words ‘formation’ and ‘forma’ which means giving shape to something and forming a pattern. Information is needed by human beings to realize their full social, political and economic capability. It is also a public resource collected and stored by the government in trust for people. The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI) is a Central Legislation “to provide for setting out the particular regime of right to information for citizens”. The right to Information Bill, 2005 was passed by the Lok Sabha on May 11, 2005 and by the Rajya Sabha on May 12, 2005 and received the consent of the President of India on June 15, 2005 and came to power on October 12, 2005.It has replaced the Freedom of Information Act, 2002. Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution, dealing with freedom of speech and expression also contains the basis of right to information.
The earliest mention of the Right to Information was found in Sweden, which passed the RTI convention in 1776. And lately it was recorded that Sweden is at the apex of the list of nations to be the least corrupt country as per Transparency International’s Index.
The UN general assembly passed a resolution in 1948 declaring freedom of information as fundamental human right thus recognizing people’s right to have entry to official information which is an element of article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The general assembly resolved that freedom of information is a fundamental human right and the standard for all freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated.
Journey from “Bill” To “Act”
Before 2005, a common man had no access to information of any public undertaking. Though the citizens were granted freedom of speech and freedom of expression by the constitution of India, still they had no proper right to know about the public policies by the government authority, therefore their basic right to participate and contribute towards the execution and planning of public policies were denied. Right to information has already been recognized by most of the developed countries in the world before India. During the period between 1975 to 1996 various judicial orders regarding transparency were introduced by the, then, newly formed The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI), due to the irregular demands for information by the citizens. Later, the campaign succeeded in formulating a draft RTI bill. Rapid growth in size and influence of the RTI movement in India resulted in passing of the National RTI Act which got finally passed in 2005 by the parliament. The passing of the act was to provide for setting out the practical command of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority as stated in its preamble
Minimum Exemptions: The limits on disclosure of information need to be closely defined. Any refusal of information must be based on proving that disclosure would cause serious harm to national security, international relations, etc., and that rejection is in the overall public interest.
Independent Appeals: Powerful autonomous and unbiased bodies must be given a comprehensive consent to review refusals to reveal information and other procedural matters. They should have full investigatory powers and their decisions should be obligatory.
Strong Penalties: The law should impose sufficiently heavy penalties and sanctions where there has been direct or indirect refusal to access information.
Proactive Disclosure: The act must grant practical publication of vital information which will reduce requests in the long run because people will be able to easily access regular information without having to apply to public bodies.
Simple and Cheap Access: A vital test of an access law’s effectiveness is the ease, inexpensiveness and promptness with which people seeking information are able to obtain it, with uncomplicated actions that ensure quick responses at affordable fees.
Effective Monitoring and Implementation: Usually, the independent Appeal Body is given the responsibility to check and promote the act. Members of Parliament also play an essential oversight role, as reports on observance with the law are usually submitted annually to Parliament for consideration and comment.
RTI and Democracy
In the case State of Uttar Pradesh v. Raj Narain, a Constitution Bench of the Court held that: “The people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything, that is done in a public way, by their public functionaries.” RTI is usually used as a synonym for democracy, which is a tool to strengthen citizens’ independence.
The RTI is all about making citizens informed. Through the RTI, citizens know about government decisions and the limitations of the country and the government. It promotes transparency and accountability. In the process, citizens are benefited in two ways — they are getting information through the RTI and protecting their personal information under the right to privacy. Information by itself is not power, but it is a necessary first step in the exercise of political and economic power. The public is only able to truly contribute to the democratic process when they have true and appropriate information about the activities and policies of government, and benefits and services that they must be entitled to. This creates a basis for natural exchange, allowing both officials and the public to take proper decisions and implement policies properly.
Transparency is an important belief of good governance since clarity and openness about how decisions are taken would help to build the capability of the poor and/or marginalized to play a role in policy formulation; and to persuade decision and policy-makers to use their power for the greater good.
Normally it is presumed that whatever is done by the government is done for the public for public welfare with optimum benefits from the funds used. However, the reality is other way round, as in recent times; there are many incidences of misuse, misappropriation and also careless use of public funds. In order to check it, a complete transparency in all public dealings is required. Transparency would go a long way in serving to expose the corrupt and allowing the honest people to do their jobs without any fear or favor.
The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was introduced in Lok Sabha by Mr. Jitendra Singh, the Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, on July 19, 2019. Though the bill was passed, the Opposition is up in arms with Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury calling it “dangerous”. The key features of the bill included:
Term of Information Commissioners: Under the Act, Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information Commissioners (ICs) are appointed at the national and state level to implement the Act, holding their term of office for five years. The Bill removes this provision and states that the central government will notify the term of office for them.
Determination and deduction of salary: The bill amended the provision of the salaries and allowances of the CIC and ICs, both at center and at state level stating that the salaries and allowances would be determined by the central government. If at the time of their appointment, they are receiving any retirement benefits for previous government service, their salaries will be reduced by a sum equal to the pension.
- the central government
- state government
- corporation established under a central or state law
- Government companies, owned or controlled by the central or state government.
The Bill removes these provisions.
Though the amendment bill has met with many criticisms, yet it stops being fair when it is based on half- baked information. Though it is debatable as to whether there was any need for the amendment to be formulated as there had been no problems the reason given by the government was that a decision made by the authorities constituted under the act could be challenged in the high court, it is still clear that as far as the hierarchy is concerned, the authorities are placed below. Therefore, it would be completely unjust to say that the amendment destroys the basic structure of the RTI mechanism.
Justice V. Krishna Iyer once stated that- A government which functions secretly not only acts against the democratic courtesy, but buried itself with its own funeral. In a democratic system there must be direct contribution by the people. This participation is meaningless unless the citizens are well informed from all the sides of issues. Article 19 of the Covenant states as following- “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” No democracy can be significant where their citizens cannot review the performance of their government. In order to review the performance of the government; the people have to be well informed of its policy, actions and failures. An informed citizenry is a necessity for guanine and participatory democracy. Therefore, the RTI Act 2005 has the effect of dismantling the culture of confidentiality and changing the mindset of bureaucrats and politicians and created circumstances for taking cultured decisions.
-[B.B.A., LL.B.] Banasthali Vidyapith