Right To Information: Are You Informed?

Posted on August 1, 2010 in Society

By Tania Goklany:

We all pay taxes. If a beggar something he needs to pay the sales tax. This money belongs to us. But where does this money go? Why are there no medicines in the hospitals? Why are people dying of starvation? Why are the roads in such pathetic conditions? Why are the taps dry?

The Government of India always lays emphasis on making the lives of its citizens easy, smooth and making India truly democratic and keeping this in mind the Right To Information (RTI) Act has been established.

RTI has been given the status of a fundamental right under the constitution. Under this act, every citizen has the right to speech and expression and has the right to know how the government functions, how it works, what role does it play, and so on. The act confers right to the citizens to know as to how the government spends our money. It is meant for the citizens to secure access to information, under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the system.

Our country is the largest democracy in the world, thus, it is important for our citizens to be informed as the success of our democracy can be measured only by how informed our citizens are.

How to file an RTI?

To acquire information, a citizen has to file an application for it a fee starting from Rs. 10 — along with it. Filing an application is rather easy. But, ironically the process seems quite tedious. A lot of people, in spite of having genuine grievances prefer not to apply as to them it seems like quite a task and the wait for the response as per their requirements doesn’t satisfy many of them. [30 to 45 days]. But those who need to know have to be patient here.

The act mandates two ways of information sharing: proactive dissemination and reactive disclosure of information. Though proactive dissemination by many public authorities is not up to the mark, people have been testing reactive disclosure by filing requests and tasting some success.

Revelation of information in actual practice is likely to conflict with other public interests including efficient operations of the governments. When people ask for controversial information, or demand for information that the government or the bureaucracy is hiding, the applications could get rejected, like in the case of confidential information. The RTI officials have the right to formulate their own judgement in case an applicant demands for certain sensitive information. There exist several strict exemptions like National Security, Economic and Commercial interests.

Roughly, after a three year dialogue between the Central Information Commission, Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court of India, S.C. Aggarwal’s plea filed under the RTI Act regarding the revelation of judges’ assets was approved with the High Court declaring that the office of CJI comes within the ambit of RTI Act. Even the highest judicial officer was not let scot free from the purview of the RTI Act, this shows that our citizens can rely on the provisions of the act to remove ambiguities from their queries.

The RTI has been a great success in a lot of cases. The ration distribution system was reformed; it helped to reveal the Kargil War relief scam. An RTI by Hindustan Times exposed the scam in IIT Kharagpur. It helps people to make an informed choice; it had democratized the whole system. The government has been successful in catering to every section of the society. RTI has also played a very significant role in NREGA. It has checked corruption and leakage of public funding on NREGA in an effective manner. It has made NREGA more people centric rather than a bureaucratic program.

The RTI officials face a hard time dealing with frivolous applications and applications demanding for voluminous information. Even though citizens have the right to know what they want to, the officials end up wasting a lot of time answering their petty inquiries which are easily available elsewhere (online resources and offices). The process is perceived as inadequate considering infrastructure and resources. The awareness amongst citizen is minimal and the authorities have not adopted measures to make it people friendly.

Specifics of the RTI Act can be introduced in the class syllabus just like the Consumer Protection Act, in order to raise awareness. RTI applications made by people marginally above the poverty line should be made free. These are just a few policy suggestions in order to improve the effect of the Act.

Dr. Manmohan Singh conveyed to the public a very strong message, “Our government takes great pride in the implementation of the Right to Information Act. It is often said in that in modern society information is power. By sharing that information with the people at large, we are therefore, proposing decentralization and participatory governance. It is a revolutionary enactment that has placed huge powers in the hands of the ordinary citizen of the country to demand a transparent accountable administration.”