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May 31, 2017

Essays for Competitive Exams 2020 : Right to Information Act (RTI) - Revolutionary Tool in Democracy

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Right to Information Act (RTI) - Revolutionary Tool in Democracy

  • Definition of RTI. 
  • How did RTI movement develop ?  
  • RTI Act was passed.
  • RTI became a global trend. 
  • It is implemented at all levels, viz, union, state, local etc. 
  • Other similar legislative mechanism for strengthening RTI. 
  • Strong movements in Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Gujarat help to apply RTI.
Citizen's participation is one of the main ingredients for a successful democracy. It is very important to make information available and put up government records for scrutiny under the control of public authorities. These factors led to facilitation of a legislative mechanism, the Right to Information (RTI) Act. 

RTI can be defined as an Act of the Parliament of India, "to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens". The act expressly mandates that every public authority shall provide reasons for its administrative and quasi-judicial decisions in order to promote transparency and accountability.

This RTI Act 2005 provides an opportunity to access information relating to public authorities. The act defines 'information' as any material in any form including records, documents, memos, emails, opinions, advices, press releases, orders, contracts, reports, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any law for the time it being in force. In this way RTI has led to a major shift in governance culture and has tried to transfer the power of democracy into the hands of people. 

This Act was to counter the `Official Secrecy Act' which was imposed by the Britishers in 1923. Under the guise of this act red tapism, malpractices, highhandedness, and deep rooted corruption flourished. RTI is derived from the Fundamental Rights, freedom of speech under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. 

This demand for Right to Information came from civil society group, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) led by Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey along with poor villagers in Beawar, Rajasthan resorted to dharana for demanding reasons for non-payment of wages to workers. This led to foundation of RTI movement.

National Campaign for People's Right to Information. (NCPRI) and Press Council of India formulated the draft of RTI in 1996. Government finally introduced Freedom of Information Bill in Parliament in 2002, but unfortunately it could not become an Act. 

In 2004, UPA Government initiated drafting of RTI under National Advisory Council (NAC), with Aruna Roy acting as torch-bearer for RTI Act formulation .When the bill was introduced for first time, it was to apply only to the Union Government. NCPRI forced government to review and introduce it with many amendments. Finally, RTI Act was passed on 13th October, 2005 in Parliament. This led to re-establishment faith in democracy. In recent years, RTI has become a global trend. The need for RTI Act was felt to ensure accountability and responsiveness to community needs. 

For RTI to be implemented at all levels such as, union, state, local and to legislature, executive and judiciary, an institutional mechanism was established consisting of Central Information Commission (CIC), State Information Commission (SIC), Public Information Officers (PIO) and Appellate Authorities. CIC it was meant to admit cases when applicant was not satisfied with response to the request from central authority, second appeal mechanism, when wrong information provided and request not accepted at lower level. Hence, it acts as a monitoring body at apex level. It also emphasises establishment of SIC, but as per second ARC report, 6 states have not formed SIC including Bihar, Jharkhand, Sikkim. 

Along with RTI there are other similar legislative mechanism for strengthening RTI like Whistleblower Protection Bill, 2011; Grievance Redressal Bill, Lokpal, Lokayuktas etc. Initiation for Whistleblower Protection Bill began after killing of Satyendra Dubey who disclosed scam in NHAI in 2004. India, a signatory of UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) under Article 33, also obliges government to protect whistleblowers. Findings by Commonwealth HR Initiative (CHRI) discloses that in past 10 years, 49 RTI activists have been killed, and 260 assaults have been made on activists. 

Grievance Redressal Bill makes way for citizens to get entitlement from the government and failure of delivery of RTI information would lead to action against government officials, leading to assurance of quality of service. Lokpal, Lokayukta also lean towards fighting against corruption along with RTI. Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010, Right to Service also strengthens the culture of transparency in the country. 

The Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathana has given rural face to RTI, while activists like Anjali Bhardwaj, Satish Shetty are active in urban areas. 

There have been strong movements from states like Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Gujarat. In Maharashtra, movement against corruption was laid by 4.1 Anna Hazare, who circulated RTI Bill in Marathi language to district and kr) Taluka level. He went on fast at Anandi in 1996 for demanding RTI from the side of government. Maharashtra Government established special courts to address the issue within 2 months, imposing a fine of 100 fine for delay of information per day. 

The main role of RTI is for creation, maintenance and dissemination of information, like disclosure of PDS database, full life cycle of citizen database etc. But this Act is not without challenges. It faces challenge in administration like structural, procedural, logistical issues. 

First of all, filing a request is difficult for the common man, due to apathy of officials and insistence on demand draft as a method of payment. So he has to spend 35 as bank charges to pay RTI fees of 10. Rate of disposal of cases is low. This is especially because of vacancy of posts in C IC and SIC. There was vacancy with respect to post of C IC for 10 months after end of term of Rajiv Mathur. 

Several RTI activists have been killed, one of them was, Satish Shetty, who exposed land scams in Maharashtra and was murdered in 2010. Amit Jethwa was murdered in front of Gujarat HC in day light, for fighting against illegal mining. Shehla Masood who fought against poaching of tigers in MP was also murdered. 

There are many exemptions under Section 8 of the Act under cause of security, defence, foreign policy, law enforcement, public safety and Cabinet papers. RTI has created millions of Lokpal and has led to empowerment of citizens. Right to information is right to democracy. It has led to exposure of scandals like Vyapam, administrative and recruitment scam, irregularities in PDS, MGNREGA human rights violation in communal riots at Godhra, under AFSPA etc. 

This act has been conceived and delivered in a better shape that will lead India to move forward by reducing corruption in government departments. It is a recognition of democracy that requires informed citizenry and transparency of information just for a better functioning. 

Difficult Words with Meanings :
  • Scrutiny careful examination
  • Legislative mechanism sequence of steps taken by legislative body
  • Regime reign, jurisdiction
  • Mandates give someone authority to act in a certain way
  • Quasi-judicial decisions having a partly judicial character 
  • Transparency clearness, clarity
  • Accountability responsibility 
  • Counter to say something opposite
  • Guise outward term
  • Red tapism excessive regulation of formal rules
  • Resorted to have recourse for use, help or accomplish something
  • Torch bearer a leader in a movement or campaign
  • Apex level the highest level
  • Dissemination distribution, dispersal
  • Poaching encroachment on another's property, right, ideas etc.
shared by Nisheeta Mirchandani
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