IAS Gyan

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Context: The Madras High Court has overturned a decision made by the Tamil Nadu State Information Commission ordering a cooperative society to release information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act of 2005.


  • The Madras High Court has overturned a decision made by the Tamil Nadu State Information Commission ordering a cooperative society to release information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act of 2005, even though the Supreme Court had already ruled in 2013 that cooperative societies are not covered by the RTI Act.
  • The court stated that there is a difference between a statutory body and a body that is governed by a statute, such as a cooperative society. The court highlighted that the Supreme Court had ruled that society was not a statutory body but rather just a body corporate. Therefore, it was held that the provisions of the RTI Act would not apply to a cooperative society.

Right to Information


  • A "government of the people, by the people, for the people" is the definition of a true democracy. People need to be aware of both the decisions made by the government and the justifications behind them so that they can make informed decisions.
  • In India, the public has always recognised the need for access to information maintained by public bodies. The "Freedom of Information Act, of 2002" was the first law that India passed that enabled its citizens to access information that was under the control of public authorities. However, this law could not be made operational because of the infrastructure requirements.
    • The Act was repealed and replaced by a new legislation, ‘The Right to Information Act 2005’ which mandated timely response to citizen requests regarding government information.
  • The Right to Information (RTI) Act came fully into force in October 2005. It has been given an overriding effect on the other Acts so that even if a piece of information is prohibited in other Acts, it can still be provided if permitted under the RTI Act.

Salient Features of the Right to Information Act

  • Objectives of the Right to Information Act: The main Objectives are; Empower the citizens, Promote transparency and accountability in the working of the government, Reduce corruption Make Indian democracy work for the people in the real sense.
    • It is expected that an informed citizen is better equipped to keep necessary vigil on the instruments of governance and make the government more accountable to the governed.
  • Power of the citizen: According to the Act, any citizen of India is entitled to obtain ‘information’ under this law, inspect work, documents and reports held by the public authorities—or even information relating to private authorities under the control of the public authorities.
  • Meaning of public authority: A ‘public authority’ is any institution or authority or body of government established or constituted by or under the Constitution, or by any other law made by the Parliament or state legislature, or by notification issued or order made by the Government of India or state government/s. It also includes the bodies owned, controlled or substantially financed by the Government of India or the state government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) substantially financed by the Government of India or the state government.
  • Process of seeking information: The process of getting the information under the RTI Act is as follows:
    • Each government department or public authority must appoint its Public Information Officer (PIO).
    • The citizen makes an application to the Public Information Officer (PIO) of the concerned public authority in writing.
    • No personal details or any reason for seeking the information is needed.
    • The PIO, within 30 days of the receipt of the request, should either provide the information or reject the request for any of the reasons specified in the Act.
    • If the PIO fails to give a decision within the specified period, it shall be deemed that he has refused the request.
  • Appellate provisions under RTI Act
    • If the applicant does not get any information from the PIO, or he is not satisfied with the information, he can file an appeal to the First Appellate Authority (FAA) within the prescribed time (within 30 days).
    • If the applicant is still not satisfied with the order of the appellate authority, he may file a second appeal before the Central Information Commission (CIC) or State Information Commission (SIC) within ninety days.
  • Penalty provision under RTI Act: The CIC or the SIC has the power to impose a penalty on the PIO while deciding on a complaint or a second appeal. The penalty can be imposed, if the PIO has:
    • Refused to receive an application.
    • Not furnished the requested information within 30 days of receiving the application.
    • Malafidely denied the request for information.
    • Knowingly given incorrect, incomplete or misleading information.
    • Destroyed information which was the subject of the request.
    • Obstructed in any manner, in furnishing the information.

Official Secrets Act and RTI

The Official Secrets Act (OSA) was enacted in 1923 and it was retained after Independence.

The law, applicable to government servants and citizens, provides the framework for dealing with espionage, sedition and other potential threats to the integrity of the nation.

The law makes spying, sharing ‘secret’ information, unauthorised use of uniforms, withholding information, and interference with the Armed Forces in prohibited/restricted areas, among others, punishable offences.

If guilty, a person may get up to 14 years imprisonment, a fine or both.

The information could be any reference to a place belonging to or occupied by the government, documents, photographs, sketches, maps, plans, models, official codes or passwords.

OSA had become a contentious issue after the implementation of the RTI Act because it does not define ‘secret’ or ‘official secrets’.

Hence, a public servant may deny any information terming it a ‘secret’ when asked under the RTI Act.

Under OSA, confidentiality became the norm and disclosure, was the exception. Thus, it contradicts the principles of the RTI Act. The OSA is, thus, seen to go against the spirit of the RTI Act.

The Second Administrative Reforms Commission (SARC) Report, 2006, suggested that OSA should be substituted by a chapter in the National Security Act that incorporates the necessary provisions.

It stated that OSA’s background is the colonial climate of mistrust of people and the primacy of public officials in dealing with the citizens, which has created a culture of secrecy.

Amendment of RTI Act in 2019

  • The government of India, in August 2019, amended the RTI Act and notified the new RTI Rules in October 2019. These amendments have significantly impacted the autonomy of the RTI Act.
  • These amendments gave the Union government the power to fix the tenure, salaries and terms and conditions of service of the Information Commissioners (ICs), including the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) in the Central Information Commission (CIC) and the State Information Commissioners (SICs).
    • It also gives the Union government power to make rules concerning matters about State ICs.
    • Thus, the executive and not the legislature will get to determine the terms and conditions of the service of the Information Commissioners.
  • The original RTI Act gave CICs and ICs a status equal to the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners (ECs), which also put them at par with the judges of the Supreme Court insofar as salaries, allowances and other terms and conditions of services were concerned.
    • However, in the amended Act, CICs and SICs have been equated with serving civil servants, who are placed in the same pay grade.
    • CIC is equated with a cabinet secretary and other ICs with secretaries. ICs are thus made subordinates to the CIC, who is made a subordinate to the government.
  • The tenure of a CIC and all ICs in the Central Information Commission (CIC) and State Information Commissions (SICs) have been reduced to three years, instead of the previous five years.
  • The Central Government is empowered to relax the provisions of any of the rules concerning any class or category of persons.
    • This raises serious concerns that the government could potentially invoke these powers to determine different tenures for different commissioners at the time of appointment.
  • It is widely believed that the RTI amendment may weaken the position of ICs. It will be now easier to remove them if the central government is not happy with them.
    • This is bound to impact the autonomy of the Commission. Their lower status now would attract less talented people to work in the Commission.

Limitations of the RTI Act

  • While the RTI Act is useful for getting information, it does not provide for the redressal of the grievances of the citizens.
  • The RTI Act has a huge impact on the functioning of the governments at the central and state level. However, the experiences of the RTI Act have not always been positive as it has created many problems in governance.
    • It takes a huge amount of resources from the government to provide information to the citizen, who gets it at virtually no cost.
      • Government departments are already running short of strength in most places and have to divert their scarce resources to provide information, which impacts their efficiency.
    • One of the results of RTI has been that government officers have started avoiding taking decisions that need the use of discretion or are based on subjective knowledge of a person or situation.
    • RTI activists often blackmail the officers in the name of RTI by flooding the officer with RTI queries, which often causes harassment to many honest officers.
    • It has demoralised many honest government officers in taking administrative action against inefficient and corrupt officers because they usually don’t have documentary evidence to support their information, which could be demanded under the RTI Act.
  • The mere conferment of the right to information without changing the prevailing culture of governance would not take the exercise far enough. There are several issues and challenges in the implementation of RTI in an effective manner. Some of these are listed below:
    • Lack of public awareness about RTI and its clauses whereby the people can ask for required information from the public authorities.
    • Inadequate and poor quality of the information provided by the public authorities to the applicants.
    • At times there are constraints faced by the information seeker in the inspection of records.
    • At times the public authorities fail to make information available in the stipulated timeframe of 30 days.
    • The Public Information Officers at many organisations don’t have the required skills.
    • There are not many efforts in imparting training to the PIOs and First Appellate Authorities.
    • PIOs lack commitment and motivation.
    • Obsolete record management.
    • Inadequate infrastructure.

Steps to improve the effectiveness of the RTI Act

  • The RTI Act has been in operation for over a decade now. Many positive and negative sides of the RTI Act have been noticed.
  • Many people are not aware of the negative sides of RTI since public servants are not allowed to express their views before the media due to Conduct Rules.
    • However, their views must be taken into account and the RTI Act must be modified to serve its desired purpose.
  • The following suggestions may improve and optimize the RTI Act:
    • The information asked should pertain to the person asking for the information.
    • If information is asked in the public interest, the reasons must be disclosed. The PIO must take public interest into account while disclosing the information.
    • Penalty or costs for frivolous RTI applications should be imposed.
    • The fee for getting information must be revised and the actual cost of providing the information must be recovered from the applicant.
    • The information must be supplied with a caveat that it can’t be used for commercial or publicity purposes.

Conclusion: Information sharing in open societies is essential to the development of democracy. Enlightenment occurs when there is information. Abuse, corruption, subjection, and anger occur when there is no power sharing, no rule of law, and no accountability.


Q. Critically analyze the significance and limitations of the Right To Information Act.