The Indian Government, to promote transparency and accountability in the administration processes, brought into force the Right to Information Act on October 12th, 2005. As per the Parliament of India, the purpose of the RTI Act is ‘to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens’[i]. The Act applies to all the states and union territories of India, except Jammu and Kashmir. The Act is applicable to all constitutional authorities – any institution or body constituted by an act of Parliament or state legislature – including the executive, judiciary and the legislature. This act empowered the citizens of India to seek information from public authorities. In particular, the RTI act was expected to have a huge impact on the quality of the life of the poor and other backward sections of the community.
Over the last five years, several incidents have highlighted that the RTI act has enough ‘teeth’ in it to bring radical increase in transparency and reduction in corruption. At the same time, it has to be accepted that the act has not reached the envisioned level. However, the institutional mechanism for the implementation of act are in place and some stakeholders like media and civil right activists have been making extensive usage of the act to bring transparency and objectivity in the functioning of various public offices. However, the reach of civil society organizations and social activists is limited owing to the geographical size and population.
The success stories of the RTI act range from identifying lost postal orders to highlighting scams worth crores of rupees. Though, corruption and other inefficiencies in the Government were known earlier, citizens could not take any recourse measure. However, with the advent of the RTI act, this situation has changed. Public has found a powerful tool to bring measurability and accountability at all levels of governance.
During the study for this report, it was found that the major issues in the implementation of the RTI Act are – lack of awareness in the public, inconvenience in requesting information, lack of support for concerned authorities, lack of accountability and clarity in role, lack of infrastructure and training, inefficiencies at Information Commissions and the passive nature of Government in implementing the act. Another challenge before the Government is to aggressively encourage ‘voluntary disclosure of information’ among its various authorities.
Government needs to take proactive measure for the RTI act to live up to its expected potential. It needs to take steps to improve awareness among citizens, assist the applicants, set up independent and third-party audit committees to review the functioning of Information Commissions, generate efficient models for processing RTI files etc.
The Indian Constitution was written with an implicit right to knowledge. But then, over the years, as the Government mechanisms became more and more bureaucratic and political, many Government employees started looking at increasing their influence in the organisation – and that started off with with-holding information. Farmers and others who were kept in the dark regarding many Govt policies protested and the basis for RTI was born.
The Right to Information Act was passed in mid 2005 and was effective from October 2005[ii]. It superseded all the other special laws that had until then guarded official information in India, like the Official Secrets acti.
Salient features and Social Impact:
The six chapters and thirty one sections[iii] of the Right to Information act (2005) empower every citizen of India to ask any question and seek any information from the Government.
By information, we mean records, memos, circulars, documents, e-mails, opinions, samples, models, advices, press releases, reports, papers, orders, logbooks, contracts and...