History of Right to Information

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Right to Information has given a platform to the people to know about the proper functioning and the administration of the government. Before the need for Right to Information emerged, there were other acts such as the Evidence Act and the Official Secrets Act which gave certain privileges to the government to prevent certain documents to be disclosed to the public. As a result the government started using these privileges to serve their own ends. Slowly as time passed, people started questioning the administration of the government. Thus came the need for right to information.

The need for the right to information first emerged when the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), an NGO located at Rajasthan started an organization against corruption by leading the people in asserting their Right to Information asking for copies of bills and vouchers and names of persons who have been paid wages mentioned in muster rolls(list of names of officers) on the construction of schools, dispensaries, small dams and community centres. Though all the projects were completed on paper, the villagers very well knew that the funds have been misappropriated because there were roofless school buildings, dispensaries without walls, dams left incomplete and community centres having no doors and windows. After many efforts the MKSS finally succeeded in getting photocopies of certain relevant documents which made the misappropriation of funds clearly obvious. . In some cases, the muster rolls contained names of persons who either did not exist at all or died years before. This incident is more than sufficient to show the importance of the ability of information for eradicating mal-practices. Later on MKSS organised a Jan Sunwai (People’s hearing), the first ever in the history of Rajasthan. Politicians, administrators, landless labourers, private contractors were all invited to listen, respond and, if willing, to defend themselves. Popular response was phenomenal, but village officials and politicians stayed away and remained silent, and thereby weakened their position and darkened their image. With so many scandals emerging from time to time, it became vital for the proper management of public funds and survival of democracy. Thus in 1993 a draft for Right to Information was proposed by the Consumer Education Research Council (CERC). In 1996, Justice PB Sawant, the Chairman of the Press Council of India, presented a draft model law keeping in view the dire need of the day and the observations made by eminent persons that in a democracy, it is the people who are the masters and those utilizing public resources and exercising public power are their agents. The draft model was submitted to the Government of India on 1996. In 1997 the draft model law was updated and renamed as Freedom of Information Bill, 1997. Meanwhile, the MKSS started a National Campaign on People’s Right to Information(NCPRI), 1997. 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. Also in 1997 , a working group under the chairmanship of H.D. Shourie was set up and named as the Shourie Committee, for preparing a draft legislation on freedom of information. The Working Group on the ‘Right to Information and Promotion of Open and Transparent Government’ submitted its comprehensive and detailed report and the draft Bill on Freedom of Information on 24 May 1997. The sailent features of the Bill were :- i. When enacted, it will also apply to State governments over riding State legislations to the extent they clash with the Central legislation; ii. A fee would be paid by the citizen while seeking information from Government, and the officer or the...
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