Right To Information – A Catalyst for Good Governance
Right to information is a fundamental right and is a necessary condition for the existence of participatory democracy. Under Article 19(1) of the Constitution every citizen has freedom of speech and expression. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights under Article 19, the Right to information is treated as human right. The Act gives every individual the same powers as that of an elected representative.
The right to freedom of information was recognised in law for the first time more than two hundred years ago in Sweden, with the publication of the Freedom of Press Law in 1776. Currently, over 90 countries have adopted RTI laws. While most of these laws are similar in structure, there are considerable variances between them which substantially influence their effectiveness.
In 1994 a mass based called the Mazdoor Kisan Sanghathan took an initiative to lead the people in a very backward region of Rajasthan Bhim Tehsil to assert their right to information by asking copies of bills and vouchers and names of persons who have been paid wages mentioned in the master rolls on the construction of schools , dispensaries, small dams and community centres. On paper such development projects were all completed. Villagers knew that there was misappropriation of funds with roofless school buildings and dispensaries without walls, dams left incomplete, and community centres having no doors and windows. After few years it was confirmed there was misappropriation of funds. Mazdoor Kisan Sangathan organized a Jan Sunvai (People’s Hearing) the first ever in history of Rajasthan. Politicians , administrators, landless labourers , private contractors were all invited to listen, respond an if willing to defend themselves. The first jansunvai marked the beginning of the real struggle for Right to Information in Rajasthan thereafter several jansunvais were held.
Press Council of India prepared a draft Bill in 1996 to make a provision for securing rights to information known as Right to Information Bill, 1996. The Institute of Rural development Hyderabad also prepared a Bill in 1997. The working group appointed by the Government of India on January 2 , 1997 recommended that legislation in this regard is necessary. The Working Group recommended that the Bill should be named as Freedom of Information Bill as the Right to Information has already been judicially recognized as a part of Freedom of Speech and expression.
In 1995 with the efforts of MKSS Right to Information law was passed which enabled on payment of a prescribed fee citizens to demand and receive details of expenditures on the work done in the last five years in their villages and all the documents could be photocopied for possible use as evidence in the future. This law was informal and the Rajasthan Right to Information Act was passed in 2000.
Tamil Nadu introduced the Right to Infomation ct on 17th April 1996. The Bill was modelled on the draft legislation recommended by the Press Council of India. Though the enacted legislation was full of exemptions and inadequacies still effort of state government became example for others.
Goa followed the foot prints of Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu to enact the Right to Information legislation in 1997. It was passed by the Legislative Assembly of Goa on 31st July, 1997 and assented by the governmor of Goa in October 1997.
Chief Minister Digvijay Singh introduced the Right to Information Bill, 1998 aimed at proving transparency in the administration and got passed by Assembly on April 30th 1998 but Presidential assent was denied to the Bill. The Madhya Pradesh government again in 2003 tried to pursue the Bill and on 24 January 2003 assent was received to the Bill.
Karnataka Right to Information was passed in 2000. The legislature also enacted the Karnatake Transparency in Public Procurement Act 1999 which ensures transparency in public procurement of goods and services.
Delhi Right to Information Act received assent on 14th May 2001.
The Act came fully into effect on 13 October ands State Laws on Right to Information were repelled.
Information is any material in any form. It includes records, documents, memos,e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form. It also includes information relating to any private body which can be accessed by the public authority under any law for the time being in force.
A “public authority” is any authority or body or institution of self government established or constituted by or under the Constitution; or by any other law made by the Parliament or a State Legislature; or by notification issued or order made by the Central Government or a State Government. The bodies owned, controlled or substantially financed by the Central Government or a State Government and non-Government organisations substantially financed by the Central Government or a State Government also fall within the definition of public authority. The financing of the body or the NGO by the Government may be direct or indirect.
Public Information Officer
Public authorities have designated some of its officers as Public Information Officer. They are responsible to give information to a person who seeks information under the RTI Act.
Assistant Public Information Officer
These are the officers at sub-divisional level to whom a person can give his RTI application or appeal. These officers send the application or appeal to the Public Information Officer of the public authority or the concerned appellate authority. An Assistant Public Information Officer is not responsible to supply the information. The Assistant Public Information Officers appointed by the Department of Posts in various post offices are working as Assistant Public Information Officers for all the public authorities under the Government of India.
Right to Information under the Act
A citizen has a right to seek such information from a public authority which is held by the public authority or which is held under its control. This right includes inspection of work, documents and records; taking notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records; and taking certified samples of material held by the public authority or held under the control of the public authority. It is important to note that only such information can be supplied under the Act which already exists and is held by the public authority or held under the control
of the public authority.
The Public Information Officer is not supposed to create information; or to interpret information; or to solve the problems raised by the applicants; or to furnish replies to hypothetical questions.
The Act gives the citizens a right to information at par with the Members of Parliament and the Members of State Legislatures. According to the Act, the information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature, shall not be denied to any person.
A citizen has a right to obtain information from a public authority in the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through print-outs provided such information is already stored in a computer or in any other device from which the information may be e-mailed or transferred to diskettes etc.
The information to the applicant should ordinarily be provided in the form in which it is sought. However, if the supply of information sought in a particular form would disproportionately divert the resources of the public authority or may cause harm to the safety or preservation of the records, supply of information in that form may be denied.
Part I - For All Stake Holders
Guide on Right to Information Act, 2005
In some cases, the applicants expect the Public Information Officer to give information in some particular proforma devised by them on the plea that they have a right to get information in the form in which it is sought. It need be noted that the provision in the Act simply means that if the information is sought in the form of photocopy, it shall be provided in the form of photocopy, or if it is sought in the form of a floppy, it shall be provided in that form subject to the conditions given in the Act. It does not mean that the PIO shall re-shape the information.
In Government of responsibility like ours where all the agents of the public must be responsible for their conduct, their can be but a few secrets. The people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in a public way by the public functionaries… The responsibility of officials to explain or to justify their acts is the chief safeguard against oppression and corruption. Enactment of Right to Information Act, 20051 has ushered a new era leading us towards the development of the participatory democracy. It has led to a series of debates among the intellectuals and has also stirred common masses. May the masses continue to use the RTI and make India a better place to live in.
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