RTI- The Hindu-12-10-2022
About the RTI Act, 2005:
An Act to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority, the constitution of a Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
It sets out the rules and procedures regarding citizens’ right to information.It replaced the former Freedom of Information Act, 2002.
This act was enacted in order to consolidate the fundamental right in the Indian constitution ‘freedom of speech’. Since RTI is implicit in the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, it is an implied fundamental right.
Section 4 of the RTI Act requires suo motu disclosure of information by each public authority.
Section 8 (1) mentions exemptions against furnishing information under RTI Act.
Section 8 (2) provides for disclosure of information exempted under the Official Secrets Act, 1923 if a larger public interest is served.
Criticism of recent Amendments
Section 4 of the Act calls for proactive and voluntary dissemination of information, but only a few Central and State institutions have published relevant information.
Blow to Federalism: The role of State Governments has been diminished.
Against Democratic value: Opposition now has no role in the appointment.
A threat to transparency and accountability of CIC and ICs: Earlier the CIC and ICs were appointed with the consent of the Opposition and function relatively independently due to fixed tenure and salary.
Now the new provisions make CIC and ICs a pawn to protect sensitive information related to the government.
The most fundamental requirement of any independent oversight institution like the CVC, CEC, or the Lokpal is a basic guarantee of tenure which has been removed now.
Against the Spirit of Supreme Court Judgement & Parliamentary Committee:
In 2005, the parliamentary standing committee reviewing the RTI Bill had said the terms of appointment of information commissioners were the “essence of the Bill".
In the case of Anjali Bhardwaj & Ors. V/s UOI held that the RTI Act is enacted not only to sub-serve but also to ensure freedom of speech.
Constitutional Status to CIC and ICs: The constitutional status will give RTI and CIC proper sovereign backing to function in an autonomous way.
Awareness Campaigns: Any empowerment or transparency drive is incomplete without the involvement of stakeholders which can be ensured by mobilising NGOs and Citizens.
Protection for RTI Activists: There have been incidents of attacks on RTI activists and they too should be given enough protection for whistleblowing against the corrupt.
Balancing RTI with the Privacy and Official Secrets Act: The concern regarding sensitive data needs to be well-defined to avoid any vague dismissal of RTI applications by Public Information Officers.