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Editorial Today – Right to Information

Issue Amendment to RTI act

History Its founding members included social activists, journalists, lawyers, professionals, retired civil servants and academics.

What is RTI? It is a law that empowers every citizen to seek replies from the public-funded organisations.

What comes under its purview? Citizens can ask for anything that the government can disclose to Parliament.

Effect of RTI Transparent Exam and disclosures of assets of public servant.

How RTI can be made much effective Proactive declaration of information.

Hurdles  Appointment of information commissioner and delay in giving information.

Why MP’s are demanding amendment to this act? National Security and misuse of this act.

Counterview Section 8 of this act and the study node by NGO.

Result of the studies Contrary to what asserted by Member of Parliament.

 

Issue

  • Several members of Parliament are demanding amendments to the Right to Information (RTI) act.

 

History

  • The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) was founded in 1996. Its founding members included social activists, journalists, lawyers, professionals, retired civil servants and academics. One of its primary objectives was to campaign for a national law facilitating the exercise of the fundamental right to information.
  • As a first step, the NCPRI and the Press Council of India formulated an initial draft of a Right to Information (RTI) law. This draft, after extensive discussions, was sent to the Government of India in 1996.  The Government finally introduced the Freedom of Information Bill in Parliament, in 2002. This was a very watered down version of the Bill first drafted by the NCPRI and others in 1996.
  • In August 2004 the NCPRI forwarded to the National Advisory Council a set of suggested amendments to the Freedom of Information Act 2002. These amendments, designed to strengthen and make more effective the 2002 Act.
  • The NAC endorsed most of the suggested amendments and recommended them to the Prime Minister of India for further action. These formed the basis of the subsequent Right to Information Bill.
  • But the bill introduced was not applicable to whole country but only the union government.
  • Because of the outrage from civil society groups the jurisdiction of the Bill was extended to cover the whole of India. The RTI Act then came into effect all over India, from 13 October 2005.

 

What is RTI?

  • It is a law that empowers every citizen to seek replies from the public-funded organisations.
  • The law provides a mechanism to ensure that information is given in a time-bound manner and imposes a penalty for willful default by government officials. It provides transparency guidelines for the government’s functioning through suo moto disclosure.
  • It requires the appointment of public information officer, from the panchayat level to the Prime Minister’s Office.

 

What comes under its purview?

  • Citizens can ask for anything that the government can disclose to Parliament.
  • But information that can prejudicially impact internal security, relations with foreign countries, intellectual property rights, breach of parliamentary privilege and impedes investigations cannot be shared with the public.
  • Cabinet papers are exempt until a decision has been implemented. However, discussions within the Cabinet can never be disclosed.

 

Effect of RTI

  • Now a days exam has become transparent. Students can now access answer keys of objective type question papers. After much reluctance and a CIC order, the answer keys of civil service examination and IIT-JEE are now available on the websites of the Union Public Service Commission and IIT-JEE respectively.
  • Assets and wealth declaration of all public servants, PM and his entire council of ministers, civil servants are now in the public domain.

 

How RTI can be made much effective

  • Proactive declaration of information by the government as stipulated in RTI law will reduce applications.
  • Putting all RTI replies on government websites will also curb unnecessary applications.
  • Empowering public authorities to give out information will make the process transparent.

 

Hurdles

  • Delay in appointment of the information Commissioner increases pendency in the clearing of appeals by the information watchdog.
  • Also, public authorities delay or do not give information, leading to harassment of RTI users.

 

Why MP’s are demanding amendment to this act?

  • Even a common person without establishing their locus, can use the RTI to ask questions on sensitive issues from the government such as national secrets related to missile programs and international relations. It could compromise National Security.
  • A key allegation made on the floor of the House was that the RTI is being widely misused, especially to blackmail public functionaries.
  • It was also argued that government servants are unable to take decisions objectively for fear of the RTI.

 

Counterview

  • Assertion that the RTI can be used to compromise national security is totally unfounded. Section 8 of the RTI Act spells out the restrictions to peoples’ right to information. It exempts disclosure of various categories of information, including information, which would prejudicially affect the security of India and its relations with a foreign state, and personal information, which has no bearing on public activity or interest.
  • The assertions above are not backed by data or evidence. The statements are based on anecdotal evidence drawn from some isolated cases.
  • On the contrary, two national studies on the implementation of the RTI, carried out by the RTI Assessment and Advocacy Group (RaaG) in collaboration with the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI), tell a completely different story.

 

Result of the studies

  • Less than 1 per cent of the RTI applications analysed pointed towards the misuse of the law in terms of frivolous or vexatious information requests.
  • The majority of applicants sought basic information about decisions and action taken by the government, norms related to the functioning of public authorities and the use of public resources.
  • Close to 70 per cent of the RTI applications sought information that should either have been made public proactively or communicated to the applicant without needing to file an RTI application.
  • A little over 1 per cent applications were voluminous, in terms of requiring a lot of information, which could divert time of public servants.
  • A government-sponsored nation-wide study in 2009 did not find any evidence to flag misuse.
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  • Waves

    A really great initiative… Thank u forum

  • Karthik

    thank you