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Polity and International Relations (English) Readings for Prelims

Right to Information (RTI) Act 2005

Right to Information (RTI) is an Act of the Parliament of India to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens. The erstwhile Freedom of information Act, 2002 was replaced by Right to Information (RTI)   Act passed by Parliament on 15 June 2005 and came fully into force on 12 October 2005. The Right to Information Act, 2005 is one of the highly-acclaimed welfare legislations. It was among a slew of rights-based legislation put in place by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in its first term.  The Act seeks to secure for citizens access to information, promote transparency and accountability in the working of the Government, contain corruption and make out democracy work for the people in real sense. To achieve such objectives, it is important that information is being provided in a time bound manner.

Under the provisions of the RTI Act, any citizen of India may request information from a “public authority” (a body of Government or “instrumentality of State”) which is required to reply expeditiously or within thirty days. The Act also requires every public authority to computerise their records for wide dissemination and to proactively certain categories of information so that the citizens need minimum recourse to request for information formally. The first application was given to a Pune police station. Information disclosure in India was restricted by the Official Secrets Act 1923 and various other special laws, which the new RTI Act relaxes. It codifies a fundamental right of citizens.

The RTI Act covers the whole of India except Jammu and Kashmir, where J&K Right to Information Act is in force. It covers all constitutional authorities, including the executive, legislature and judiciary; any institution or body established or constituted by an act of Parliament or a state legislature.The bodies or authorities established or constituted by order or notification of appropriate government including bodies “owned, controlled or substantially financed” by government, or non-Government organizations “substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds” provided by the government are also covered in the Act.

Private bodies are not within the Act’s ambit directly. Private institutions and NGOs receiving over 95% of their infrastructure funds from the government come under the Act.

The Central Information Commission (CIC), consisting of Satyanand Mishra, M.L. Sharma and Annapurna Dixit   in one of its decision dated 03.06.2013 has held that the political parties namely AICC/INC, BJP, CPI (M), CPI, NCP and BSP are public authorities under section 2(h) of the said Act. The Government considers that the CIC has made a liberal interpretation of section 2(h) of the said Act in its decision. The political parties are neither established nor constituted by or under the Constitution or by any other law made by Parliament. Rather, they are registered or recognised under the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and the rules/orders made or issued thereunder. In August 2013 the government introduced a Right To Information (Amendment) Bill which would remove political parties from the scope of the law. The Bill tabled in the Lok Sabha proposes an amendment to Section 2 of the RTI Act which clarifies that parties would not be treated as public authorities: “Authority or body or

The Finance Bill amendments do three things: one, they Section 182 of the Companies Act to remove all caps on the amount companies can donate to political parties (prior to the amendment, this stood at 7.5% of the average net profits of the company for the last three years, to prevent companies being set up as fronts to channel money into political parties–that protection is also now gone). Two, they free the company from mandatory disclosure of donations made by it to political parties in its profit and loss books–the company no longer needs to say whom it donated to.

Ideally, the Representation of the People Act whose Section 29C requires all political parties to declare the names of all donors above Rs 20,000 should still protect us as citizens. We should also still be able to rely on Section 13A of the Income Tax Act which requires political parties seeking tax exemptions to declare the names of all donors over Rs 20,000. In fact, following Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s announcement in his budget speech that the limit on anonymous cash donations was being lowered to Rs 2,000, we should have been moving towards greater transparency.

Institution of self-government established or constituted by any law made by Parliament shall not include any association or body of individuals registered or recognised as a political party under the Representation of the People Act, 1951.”In another proposed amendment in 2016 it was sought to put a time limit of ninety days for disposal of second appeals filed under sub-section (3) of section 19 of the Act. The proposed amendment also ensures that a person is not deprived of his legal right for an unreasonable time period. Moreover, one cannot ignore the plausibility of information losing its relevance over a period of time.

The Right to information in India is governed by two major bodies viz. 1. Central Information Commission (CIC) – Chief Information commissioner who heads all the central departments and ministries- with their own public Information officers (PIO)s. CICs are directly under the President of India. 2. State Public Information Officers or SPIOs – Heading over all the state department and ministries the SPIO office is directly under the State Governor. State and Central Information Commissions are independent bodies and Central Information Commission has no jurisdiction over the State Information Commission.

A citizen who desires to seek some information from a public authority is required to send, along with the application, (a demand draft or a bankers cheque) payable to the Accounts Officer of the public authority as fee prescribed for seeking information. If the person is from a disadvantaged community, he/she need not pay.