Right to Information Act

Background of RTI Act

  • In 1987, a few laborers In Rajasthan were refused their wages on charges of inconsistent performance. Mazdoor Kissan Shakti Sanghatan (MKSS), an activist group fought for these workers and demanded that the government produced the necessary proof to verify the worker’s performance records. After a series of protests, the MKSS got the copies of rolls, which also brought to surface the corruption existed among the officials. Provoked by such discrepancies, the MKSS protested for the RTI. This protest turned into a national event leading to the passing of the Freedom of Information Act 2002 which became the RTI Act 2005. A Pune police station received the first RTI application in the year 2005.

Right to Information

  • The Right to Information Act 2005 mandates timely response to citizen requests for government information.
  • The Government of India has implemented the RTI in order to see that the Indian citizens are enabled to exercise their rights to ask some pertinent questions to the Government and different public utility service providers in a practical way. RTI Act replaced the Freedom of Information Act 2002.

What is mandated by the RTI Act?

  • The RTI Act mandates that any Indian citizen is free to seek any information from any public or government authority and the authority is under liability to respond to such a request within a period of 30 days from the date of receiving such an application. However, the information sought must not be related to defense, national security, or personal details.
  • Before the advent of the RTI act, the disclosure of information in India was restricted by the Official Secrets Act and other special laws. The RTI Act relaxed many such laws in the country.
  • The RTI act has also made it mandatory for computerizing the records for the purpose of wide spread relay so that any information sought by the public can be processed quickly aided by the information categorization.

What Information can be sought under the RTI Act?

  • Any Indian citizen is free to seek answers from a Government Authority like applying for a delayed IT refund, driving license or passport, or details of a repair or infrastructure project completed or going on. Information sought can also be related to the funds allotted under the different kinds of relief funds in the country. The act enables students to get copies of answer sheets from the universities under this act.

Who is covered under RTI?

  • The Central RTI Act extends to the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir. All bodies, which are constituted under the Constitution or under any law or under any Government notification or all bodies, including NGOs, which are owned, controlled or substantially financed by the Government are covered.
  • All private bodies, which are owned, controlled or substantially financed by the Government are directly covered. Others are indirectly covered. That is if a government department can access 1information from any private body under any other Act, the same can be accessed by the citizen under the RTI Act through that government department.

Which Government Departments are exempted from the Act?

  • Twenty-odd organisations are exempted from RTI. But all these entities are related to the country’s defence and intelligence, such as RAW, BSF, CRPF, CISF, Intelligence Burearu, National Security Guard etc.
  • Further, there are some specific instances whereby RTI information cannot be furnished. These instances relate to matters which:
    • Would affect national security, sovereignty, strategic, economic and/or scientific interest.
    • Have been disallowed by the court to be released.
    • Have been disallowed by the court to be released.
    • Relates to trade secrets or intellectual property, information which might affect/harm the competitive position of a third party.
    • Relates to information under fiduciary relationship.
    • Relates to foreign government information.
    • Would affect the life/physical safety of any person.
    • Would affect the process of an investigation.
    • Relates to cabinet papers.
    • Relates to personal information without any public interest.

About Central Information Commission

  • The Central Information Commission has been constituted under the Right to Information Act, 2005. The jurisdiction of the Commission extends over all Central Public Authorities. 
  • The Central Information Commission shall consist of the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and such number of Central Information Commissioners not exceeding 10 as may be deemed necessary. 
  • Section 12(5) of the RTI Act 2005 provides that the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners shall be persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in law, science and technology,social service, management, journalism, mass media or administration and governance. 
  • Section 12(6) of the RTI Act 2005 provides that Chief Information Commissioner or an Information Commissioner shall not be a Member of Parliament or Member of the Legislature of any State or Union Territory as the case may be , or hold any other office of profit or connected with any political party or carrying on any business or pursuing any profession. 
  • Term of office —The Chief Information Commissioner, or Information Commissioners, as the case may be, shall hold office for a period of three years from the date on which he enters upon his office. 
  • Functions: To receive and inquire into complaints from any citizen as provided in Section 18 of the RTI Act, 2005, To receive and decide upon the second appeals from any citizen as provided in Section 19 of the RTI Act, 2005 and RTI rules 2012, To exercise the powers conferred on CIC under the RTI Act, 2005, To perform the duty of ” Monitoring and Reporting ” as provided in Section 25 of the RTI Act, 2005. 

State Information Commission

  • The Right to Information Act of 2005 provides for the creation of not only the Central Information Commission but also a State Information Commission at the state level. Accordingly, all the states have constituted the State Information Commissions through Official Gazette Notifications. 
  • The Commission consists of a State Chief Information Commissioner and not more than ten State Information Commissioners. 
  • They are appointed by the Governor on the recommendation of a committee consisting of the Chief Minister as Chairperson, the Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Assembly and a State Cabinet Minister nominated by the Chief Minister. 
  • They hold office till the age of 65 or 5 years. The information commissioner is eligible for the post of state chief information commissioner but can be in office for a maximum of 5 years including his tenure of information commissioner. 

Issues with ICs

  • Backlog of Pending Cases: One of the significant issues faced by Information Commissions is the backlog of pending RTI cases. The sheer volume of cases and limited resources often leads to delays in hearing and disposing of appeals and complaints. 
  • Lack of Transparency in Appointments: The appointments of Information Commissioners are sometimes criticized for a lack of transparency and alleged political influence. This can undermine the independence and impartiality of Information Commissions. 
  • Resource Constraints: Information Commissions, especially at the state level, often face resource constraints, including a shortage of staff and infrastructure. This can affect their efficiency in handling RTI cases. 
  • Non-Implementation of Orders: While Information Commissions can issue orders and impose penalties, there have been instances of non-compliance with these orders by public authorities. This raises questions about the effectiveness of the enforcement mechanism. 
  • Capacity Building: Ensuring that Information Commissioners and their staff are adequately trained and updated on the latest legal developments and technologies is a challenge. 

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