The right to information as has been given to the Republic of India has a long history of origin. In 1977 the government headed by Morarji Desai decided to form a committee to review the Official Secrets Act of 1923. The Official Secrets Act, 1923 was the draconian colonial rule which put restrictions in the flow of the government’s information to the public at large. This information includes sedition, espionage, a threat to unity and integrity of the nation. This law gave the officials and the bureaucrats power to hide behind the veil of the act and do not provide any information. The committee framed in 1977 reviewed the Official Secret Act but recommended no change in the act. It held the act to be in the line of safety and security of the country.
Also in the same year, the Supreme Court ruled in its judgment of State of UP v. Raj Narain. In this case, it was held that the privilege under section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act can be taken if the document so produced is against the public interest and not to maintain any official secrecy.
“The foundation of the so-called privilege is that the information cannot be disclosed without injury to the public interest and not that the document is confidential or official, which alone is no reason for its non-production.”
After the attempt of 1977, the next step was raised in the year 1982 when Mathew committee was set up to recommend amendments which were necessary for OSA. The committee recommended a strong urge to open all the information in the major areas of government departments. However no heed to the recommendations was made and as a result, no law has been legislated till that time.
In the same year i.e. in 1982 the Supreme Court reiterated in the case of S.P. Gupta v President of India the following instance-
“Where a society has chosen to accept democracy as its creedal faith, it is elementary that the citizens ought to know what their government is doing. The citizens have a right to decide by whom and by what rules they shall be governed and they are entitled to call on those who govern on their behalf to account for their conduct. No democratic government can survive without accountability and the basic postulate of accountability is that the people should have information about the functioning of the government. It is only if people know how the government is functioning that they can fulfil the role which democracy assigns to them and make democracy a really effective participatory democracy.”
Further, it was the year of the great tragedy in Bhopal which led the environmentalists to claim accountability through transparency in the system. In 1985 aftermath the Bhopal Gas Tragedy the environment activists questioned the responsibility of the government. The presence of such highly toxic chemical industries in the country, the leakage of which took the lives of thousands of people and no information to the people, made the demand for more stringent laws which will reveal the information to the public at large. The right to know about the presence of any hazardous areas near the surroundings is the fundamental right of the people. Laxmi Murthy claims:
In 1989 during the tenure of VP Singh, he declared RTI to be a fundamental right in 1990 during the 20th meeting of the Ministry of Information & Cinematography.
The most important role in bringing the action was played by Mazdur Kisan Shakti Sangathan in 1990. It is an NGO based in Rajasthan, which made RTI a people’s movement. The organisation through its massive Jansunwai (Public Hearings) at the grassroots level has effectively marked the stepping up of the movement. They demanded transparency in the public works and also to curb the menace of corruption. The movement took a widespread look and resulted in the outcome of the Right to Information Act for the state of Rajasthan in the year 2000.
The next major and significant contribution towards the RTI formulation is of NCPRI. NCPRI stands for National Campaign for People’s Right to Information which emerged while the Mazdur Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) was at its peak in the protest and dharnas. The MKSS and its movement got momentum when the Press Council of India (PCI) joined the initiative. It made the movement nationwide and gave it massive coverage. In a meeting held in Delhi in 1996 by the Press Council of India, it launched the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information. The meeting was attended by activists, politicians and so many other people from around the country. It was NCPRI and PCI which prepared a draft bill for the formulation of the act. The bill called the Press Council draft bill on Right to Information was drafted and was submitted to the union government.
This bill was then given to the committee for its recommendations in 1997. The committee was called the Shourie Committee headed by HD Shourie. The committee submitted its report in the same year and submitted the draft legislation (which later was reformulated as Freedom of Information Act). However, the government’s response towards the bill was never in affirmative.
Apart from the development being made through the draft bill, in 1999 Mr Ram Jethmalani, the union minister of Urban Development passed an order to provide the photocopies of the files pertaining to his office. However this work was not appreciated by the government and the cabinet never approved this order of his. In the meantime, the work of the Shourie Committee was finally acknowledged by the parliamentary committee which was looking to its recommendations in 2001. This led to the formulation of the Freedom of Information Act in 2002.it was passed in December 2002 and the president gave his assent in January 2003. However, the act only brought disappointment to all the activists. The act defeated the main concern for which the movement was launched.
In the year 2004 when the United Progressive Alliance came into power, it promised to create the right to information as a fundamental right so as to strengthen people. To ensure the same the UPA made the National Advisory Council provide accountability and transparency. The major function of the council is to look at the Common Minimum Program which was brought by the UPA and the members of NAC.
NCPRI sought the formation of the NAC as a rare opportunity and used it to recommend the changes in the Freedom of Information Act, 2002. It was suggested by the NCPRI to suggest amendments in the act rather to formulate altogether a new act. These amendments were not acceptable to many bureaucrats which created intense fuss in the government. However, after intense lobbying and a final meeting with the prime minister, the UPA government finally introduced a draft bill on Right to Information in Parliament on December 22, 2004, with the recommendations suggested by NAC and NCPRI.
This step finally culminated in the formation of the Act which is known as Right to Information. The act was amended including the applicability to both stat as well as centre. The bill was passed in May 2005 and obtained presidential assent in June 2005. The act finally became fully operational in October 2005 with a transparent and accountable government ahead.
Objectives of the Act
The Right to Information Act in its beginning talks about the following aims to be established through its implementation:
- for the functioning of democracy
- to fulfil the democratic requirement of informed citizens
- to enable the citizens to get access to the information and records that are held by the public authorities for the promotion of transparency and accountability
- to curb corruption by holding the person accountable
Salient Features of The Right to Information, 2005
- The Right to Information Act, 2005 gives people the right to ask questions, seek information from the government, asking for copies of documents held by the government, to inspect documents, government works.
- Information from the departments that are under the central government or the state government, panchayats, organisations or institutions that are “established, constituted, owned, controlled or substantially financed, directly or indirectly, by the state or central government”.
- According to Section 5(1) of the Act, every department of the government must have one of the officers designated as Public Information Officer. This officer has to accept requests in regards to the information that is asked for by the people. At the divisional or sub-district level, there have to be Assistant Public Information Officers (APIOs) who are responsible for the same as PIO.
- According to Section 6(1), the applicant must seek the information in writing or via the use of electronic mode and such can be in English or Hindi language accompanied by the application fees.
- If the person seeking information is impaired, deaf, blind or otherwise assistance has to be provided by the Public Authorities to such person. This has been laid down in Section 7(4) of the Act.
- The person making the application is not required to give reasons for the seeking of such information besides the contact details.
Procedure to file an application
Who can file an application?
Right to information is the basic fundamental right given to all the citizens of India. Therefore all the citizens of India are entitled to file an application for seeking information under this act. No citizen can apply for the information of any public authority. However, the corporations, associations, NGOs or companies which are considered to be the legal entities but are not citizens cannot seek information under RTI act, 2005.
What can be asked in the application?
The applicant can ask any information pertaining to the government either central or state. The information regarding the security and safety of the state is not shared as well as the information possessing danger to the peace and security of the nation. This information can be furnished in the form of print outs, floppies, mails or any other electronic mode. Under section 6 (2) of the RTI Act, 2005, the applicant is not required to tell the reason for which the information is sought. “An applicant making the request for information shall not be required to give any reason for requesting the information or any other personal details except those that may be necessary for contacting him.”
Coffee and Me: Celebrating International Coffee Day
The information regarding various security agencies cannot be sought through the RTI Act. Under Section 20 (1) of the RTI Act, 2005, the organisations mentioned in the second schedule of the act are barred from providing any information. “Nothing contained in this Act shall apply to the intelligence and security organisations specified in the Second Schedule, being organisations established by the Central Government or any information furnished by such organisations to that Government.”
How to file an application?
The application can be filed in offline or online mode. The language to file an application as mentioned in section 6 (1) of the RTI Act, 2005, can be either English or Hindi. There is no compulsory prescription of the format and the applicant can draft the plea on plain paper. The application should be addressed to the PIO Public Information Officer of the concerned department. The procedure to file an application is as follows:
In case of the offline mode of sending the application, the applicant is required to send the application along with the demand draft or any other mode of fee payment mode. The fee for the application is Rs. 10. However, if a person comes under the category of Below Poverty Line, he is not required to pay any fees, provided he has to attach the BPL certificate along with the application. Also, section 7 (6) states that if the authority fails to provide the information in the prescribed time then the applicant need not to pay any money for the required information. “Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-section (5), the person making a request for the information shall be provided the information free of charge where a public authority fails to comply with the time limits specified in sub-section (1).”
In case the application is applied in the online mode, the Department of Personnel & Training has provided the web portal namely RTI online having the URL “www.rtionline.gov.in”. This link is applicable to all the central ministries of the government. The information pertaining to any particular department or ministry is transferred to the respective ministry under section 6 (3).”
The limit of the application is up to 3000 words. In case the size of the application is more, then the document should be sent as an attachment. However, the application is never rejected on this ground. The application should avoid the unnecessary mention of the grievances rather should be precise in what information or documents are sought under Right to Information.
- RTI Rules, 2012
- S.P. Gupta v President of India AIR 1982 SC 149.
- Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh, “The Journey of- “Right To Information (RTI)” in India”
- http://epao.net/epSubPageExtractor.asp?src=features.Focus_On_Media.Journey_of_Right_To_Information_RTI_in_India_By_Sanjenbam_Jugeshwor (last accessed 10 Oct 2019)
- State of UP v. Raj Narain AIR 1975 SC 865.
- The Right to Information Act, 2005.
BY- Samiksha Sharma | RGNLU, Punjab