The part I of Right to Information (RTI) series had covered aspects on a brief history of RTI, also known as the transparency law in India. This article will cover some important aspects of RTI like:
Why do we need RTI?
Where can we file RTI?
How can RTI be helpful to us?
It is obvious that section 4 of the RTI Act (Suo Motu disclosure of information) if stringently implemented will help in reducing RTI applications since the information will then be easily available to the public. Also, this would also aid the Public Information Officers (PIOs) to a large extent. However such publication of information in the public domain should be done on a regular basis else it is dearth may give rise to an RTI application. It is also suggested that once an RTI application is received and been duly responded by the PIO appropriately then such reply along with its application should be published on the respective website in archives and in traceable format. This would eliminate the redundancy of RTI applications on the same subject been filed multiple times by various other people.
So why do we need RTI? We live in a democracy where people elect their own government expecting them to function for the welfare of the state. However, no democracy can function well without freedom of information because access to information is a basic and fundamental right. Freedom of information encourages transparency, accountability and good governance. The government which encourages the proliferation of information garners trust amongst its people. The information belongs to the people for India is a republic country and the government acts only in representation of the people. Propagation of information also raises public participation in decision-making policies of the government. Thus there exists RTI but it is expected that there should not arise the need to exercise RTI because the government should be proactive in providing access to information at avail.
RTI can be filed to any ‘public authority’ as defined in section 2(h) of the Act. In simple terms, a public authority is any authority or body of self-government established or constituted by or under the Constitution or by any law made either by Parliament or State legislature. A public authority can also be a body or constituted on the issuance of any notification or order of the appropriate government and includes any institution owned, controlled or substantially financed by the government. Even some private bodies those submitting their records to the government can be accessed if they fall within the definition of public authority. These may include co-operative housing societies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), privately (non-aided) run schools/colleges. For example, co-operative housing societies have to comply with the rules and regulations of the Co-operative Societies Act and accordingly submit documents to them. These documents like the registration, audit report, management committee details and others can be accessed under RTI. Also since all private deemed universities are established by virtue of a notification issued under the University Grants Commission (UGC) Act, they are public authorities and thus under the ambit of RTI.
If RTI can be useful in unearthing scams like Adarsh and 2010 Commonwealth Games (CWG), then would not it help resolve your civic issue without paying a bribe to the government employees? (Sharma, 2015)
For about two years, Suvarana Bhagyawant made several visits to the Ambegaon panchayat office to get her grandfather's death certificate. Every time, the official there would instruct her either to come later or to pay a bribe of Rs 500 to get the work done.
Suvarana needed this certificate so that her grandmother could apply for the widow pension scheme. Finally, Suvarana filed a query under the Right to Information (RTI) Act and she got the certificate within eight days of her filing RTI application. "This piece of paper is like a weapon for the powerless to fight against the corrupt establishment,'' says Suvarana, pointing to an RTI application (RTI Success Stories, 2018). There are several instances where the applicants were earlier harassed or made run from pillar to post for obtaining a passport, ration card or there was a delay in conducting any action based on a civil complaint. However, these applicants stared exercising their RTI and gradually with the improvisation in governmental policies, the occurrence of such problems have been decreased severely.
Delhi High Court in Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) vs. Aditya Bandopadhyay & Ors on 9th August 2011 has ruled that answer sheets can be provided to the examinees under RTI Act. And this too at no additional costs other than the fee applicable as per the RTI rules. (Moneylife, 2016). Otherwise, CBSE would earlier charge an exorbitant amount of fees for providing answer sheet copies to the examinee although it is a basic right of the candidate to view the evaluation done on his copy.
Guntupalli Anjaneyulu, aged 80 years residing in Andhra Pradesh was successful in securing his pension after Central Information Commission (CIC) hearing his plea in the second appeal. The Central Information Commissioner Prof. (Dr.) Sridhar Acharyulu compelled the Ministry of Culture to release his pension immediately and eventually issued a show cause notice to the ministry asking its PIO, the reason on his failure to perform the duty of responding to the RTI application within stipulated time.
There are several similar instances where a simple RTI application has evoked success which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible without bribing or using some other unfair means.
RTI is an important tool in a democracy. It’s very similar to the principle of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) and in analogy also affordable to the citizen. The RTI Act, 2005 is applicable to all the states and union territories of India except the state of Jammu & Kashmir which has its own Act similar to the Central Act. For the central government, the application fee is Rs.10 whereas there is no fee for first and second appeals. For the state, there are RTI rules governed by respective state governments and which generally for an application and appeals is around Rs.10 to 50. The people falling under the Below Poverty Line (BPL) category are however exempted from fee payment and have to produce the BPL certificate as issued to them by the appropriate government.
The citizen is the owner of the information and since the citizen owes information, also needs to know it. However, it is unfortunate that one has to seek RTI because RTI being an inherent right should otherwise need not to be asked or applied but available to the citizens without demanding or requesting it. And more the transparency in information, better is the accountability in governance.
Deshmukh, V. (2018, October 10). Right to Information. Retrieved from Moneylife: https://www.moneylife.in/article/rti-applicant-gets-his-pension-for-a-song/55518.html
Gandhi, S. (2018, December 18). RTI Act and Rules. Retrieved from Satyameva Jayate: http://satyamevajayate.info/rti-act-and-rules/
Indian Kanoon. (2018, December 18). Article 19(1)(a) in The Constitution Of India 1949. Retrieved from Indian Kanoon: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1378441/
Moneylife . (2016, September 6). Right to Information. Retrieved from Moneylife: https://www.moneylife.in/article/sc-asks-cbse-to-provide-answer-sheets-strictly-under-rti-act-without-charging-exorbitant-fees/48060.html
Sharma, B. (2015, October 13). 10 Years Of RTI: 5 Stories Of Ordinary People Using The Act For Positive Change. Retrieved from Huffington Post: https://www.huffingtonpost.in/2015/10/13/rti-10-years_n_8277290.html
RTI Success Stories. (2018, December 14). Retrieved from Vikaspedia: http://vikaspedia.in/e-governance/about-rti-act-2005/rti-news-update
Image credit: Steemit
(The views expressed by the author are his personal. For any feedback/suggestions, he may be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org)
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