Daily News Analysis

RIGHT TO INFORMATION (RTI)

17th July, 2021 Polity

Context:

Armed attack on RTI Activist breaches the significance of RTI

Background

  • The Right to information is one of the classic examples of epitome in legal activism which is by far one of the refined tools to ensure transparency in the governmental system.
  • Right to Information Act, 2005 was promulgated in 2005 to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority.
  • A clear knowledge of the provisions of the Act to the Public Information Officers/First Appellate Authorities of the public authorities is key to the successful implementation of the Act.
  • The RTI act defines what is information, and it depends on the various interpretations of the court. Information means any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advice, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force.
  • The era in which there are various instrumentalities to disclose information from the public scrutiny it is one of the most pragmatic ways to ensure transparency and act as a hindrance to the tyrannical and shady practices of the government.
  • Information is something which is sacrosanct to a person’s existence and also enumerated as a fundamental right in the Indian constitution.
  • Transparency and accountability in administration is the sine qua non of participatory democracy.

Jurisdiction on RTI

  • It covers all the constitutional authorities, including executive, legislature and judiciary.
  • Any institution or body established or constituted by an act of Parliament or a state legislature.
  • It is also defined in the Act that bodies or authorities established or constituted by order or notification of appropriate government including bodies "owned, controlled or substantially financed" by government, or nonGovernment organizations
  • "substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds".

 

Policy level Challenges to Right to information

In the long history of the RTI Act 2005 in India, there have been varied challenges to beat. Since British times, there are several laws that prohibited implementation of the right to information which includes:

  • Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act 1872: “No one shall be permitted to give any evidence derived from unpublished official records relating to any affairs of State, except with the permission of the officer at the head of the department concerned,
  • who shall give or withhold such permission as he thinks fit.”
  • The Official Secrets Act, 1923: The Official secret Act 1923 is India's anti undercover work act control over from British colonization. It states clearly that action that involves serving an enemy state against India. It conjointly states that one cannot approach, inspect, or maybe jump over a prohibited government web site or space. Consistent with this Act, serving to the enemy state is often within the sort of human action a sketch, plan, a model of a politician secret, or of official codes or passwords, to the enemy. This law was the most important challenge in the history of RTI Act 2005 in India because it prohibited all public servants from disclosing any information to the public.
  • Rule 11 of The Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 1964: “No Government servant shall, except in accordance with any general or special order of the Government or in the performance in good faith of the duties assigned to him, communicate, directly or indirectly, any o cial document or any part thereof or information to any Government servant or any other person to whom he is not authorized to communicate such document or information.”
  • Oath by the Public Servant: Before joining duty, the public servant swears that the information is a state secret.
  • Archives Policy Resolution of 22 December 1972: States that each one document is classified for thirty years and henceforth solely no confidential material is obtainable to a restricted variety of individuals. Even unclassified material can't be communicated to anyone outside the govt. without permission.

 

International Activities

In the international arena the right to information is warmly welcomed in various international human rights documents.

Some of them are

  • The universal declaration of human rights.
  • The international covenant on economic, social & cultural rights.

Challenges in the Implementation of the Act

  • Section 4 (1)(a) of the Act says that every public authority shall maintain all its records duly catalogued and indexed, and all records should be computerised. But this hasn’t been done yet.
  • Section 4 (2) of the Act says that every public authority should constantly endeavour to provide as much information suo-moto to the public at regular intervals. But this remains an unfinished promise.
  • Delays have been witnessed in appointments to higher posts, including even the post of CIC lying vacant since August 2014 and were filled only in July 2015.
  • Political parties continue to remain outside the purview of the Act.
  • A large number of appeals are pending with State and Central Information Commissions. A report brought out by the RTI Assessment and Analysis Group (RAAG) in 2014 has shown a waiting period of around 60 years in Madhya Pradesh and about 18 years in West Bengal (based on current rates of pendency in Information Commissions).
  • Those who seek information on illegal construction, or alleged scams in social welfare schemes etc., face a threat to their life. Commonwealth Human Initiative has observed that around
  • 90 RTI activists have been killed since The said Act does not provide any protection to RTI Activists.
  • The Government staff is not trained adequately to reply to RTI queries. Besides, the colonial attitude of bureaucracy to withhold the information is acting as a barrier against disclosure.
  • Section 8 of the Act allows disclosure of information if the more significant public interest is served. But many times, such information is not disclosed by keeping it under the ‘national security clause’ of the Act. Recently the central government refused to disclose information related to Rafael deal under the ‘national security and friendly relations with foreign countries’ clause.
  • There have been cases of misuse of RTIs by people by filing frivolous and Vexatious Requests.
  • In the past 15 years of its enactment, only around 2% of Indians have filed the RTI application till 2018. Many people feel hesitant to approach the authority to seek the information even if it is necessary.

 

Second ARC recommendation

  • The information which qualifies for the exemption given under RTI Act can only be given a security classification.
  • Timeline: under the existing instructions, information once classified continues to be so without any time limit. In other countries, even war secrets are brought into the public domain after a lapse of a specific period, usually 30 years.
  • » Second ARC has recommended that documents classified as ‘top secret’ and ‘secret’ should remain classified not exceeding 30 years. Documents classified as ‘confidential’ and
  • ‘restricted’ should remain classified not exceeding ten years. However, they can remain classified if their disclosure causes damage to the national interest, but the competent authority should give reasons in writing.
  • Only officers of sufficient seniority should be empowered to classify documents. Second ARCs recommendation for officers: