In the present scenario of Democracy, corruption and other malpractices have taken a toll over all the government authorities and have affected its working adversely. There is a global demand for laws to ensure effective working of the government. At such a stage RTI emerged as a saviour and is working as a helping hand for the citizens to attain the global principle of “good governance”. This piece of work has emphasized on the scenario resulting in the upcoming of RTI and the relation of RTI with good governance, important definitions, and applicability of the Act.
Indian constitution has guaranteed Right to know to all the citizens under Article 19. This paper will deal with how citizens can use RTI as an effective tool for bringing greater transparency in the government and how citizens’ participation will increase in the functioning of the government. The paper will also discuss the importance of accountability of the people towards the government as an effective step towards good governance.
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The paper furthermore discusses about maintenance and publication of records, the exemptions, exclusions and when information can be denied under RTI. The paper has discussed the development in laws from Official Secrets Act to the RTI legislations of various states and finally the RTI Act in 2005. A government includes three pillars of executive, legislature and judiciary and to attain the goal of Good governance all the three pillars should work properly hence the paper explains the application of RTI on legislature and judiciary as well. In addition the paper explains that Right to information has not only reduced the corruption level in the government but has also helped in the development of the nation by poverty alleviation, better education and health care services, better economic facilities, empowerment of weaker sections, environmental protection, etc.
Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, Valedictory Address at the National Convention on RTI, October 15, 2006 The basic premise behind the right to information is that, since Government is ‘for the people’; it should be open and accountable and should have nothing to conceal from the people it purports to represent. In a responsible Government like ours where all the agents of the public must be responsible for their conduct, there could be no secrets. The right to know, though not absolute, makes citizens wary when secrecy is claimed for common routine business of administration.
Such secrecy is hardly desirable. Information is an antidote to corruption, it limits abuse of discretion, protects civil liberties, it provides consumer information, it provides people’s participation and brings awareness of laws and policies and is the elixir of the media. According to a paper prepared by the Human Rights Initiative,2 good governance has eight major facets. It is participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law.
It is assessed that if corruption is minimized, the views of the minorities and vulnerable members of society are heard, that promotes governance. Good governance is an ideal which is difficult to achieve in its totality. However, to ensure sustainable human development, action must be taken to work towards this ideal. The right to information is one of the methods by which success may be achieved in good governance. The Right to Information (RTI) is a vital tool for good governance. Transparency and accountability are for good governance.
If there is no transparency, accountability cannot be fixed. There should be maximum disclosure and minimum confidentiality3. The Main thrust of RTI law is to change the culture of secrecy and aloofness that has long plagued India’s monolithic and opaque bureaucracy. The RTI Act has promised to reverse this culture of secrecy and unaccountability. It requires public authorities to 2 3 “What is Good Governance” (July 2001). Former CJI J S Verma at Central Information Commission (CIC) conventionFormer CJI J S Verma at Central Information Commission (CIC) convention. isclose all information about their activities proactively and maintain all information they keep in a manner that facilitates the people’s right to information. Indeed, by breaking down this culture of secrecy, the law also opens channels of communication between citizens and government. Currently, communication between the government and people is one way, where citizens are susceptible to government manipulation of information which is often used to suit government interest by for example, gaining the required mandate during an election.
Without access to reliable information on government activities rather than propaganda it is difficult for citizens to make, political informed choices in the ballot box. However, the RTI Act provides citizens with a vital tool to inform themselves about a government’s record in office. In this way, it empowers ordinary people to make more informed electoral decisions, giving them an opportunity to participate more effectively in governance and policy formulation4. Right to Information or RTI means the freedom of people to have access to government information.
It implies that citizens and non-governmental organizations should enjoy a reasonably free access to all files and documents pertaining to the governmental operations, decisions, and performance. RTI Act is one of the strongest weapons that can be systematically used by the citizens to check the activities of the government either from time to time or continuously as they wish to. It is not only a strong tool against government but also against judicial corruption.
The Delhi High Court’s ruling that information about judges’ assets cannot be kept concealed and it must be disclosed to any citizen seeking the information under the Right to Information Act is remarkable. The historic verdict further held that the office of the Chief Justice of India is a public authority and it cannot enjoy special exemption from the RTI Act. Despite opposition from a section of judges, the High Court went ahead with the ruling describing the transparency law as powerful beacon. This bold decision by the court will undoubtedly go a long way in uplifting the sagging image of the Indian judiciary.
It was hard to fathom any rationale behind the specious views expressed by certain Supreme Court judges that the RTI Act should never be applicable to them as unveiling information regarding the personal wealth of judges could undermine the independence of the judiciary5. Definitions Information The Act defines information as any material in any form, including the records, documents, memos, emails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, log books, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material hold in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which 4
Goel S. L. Good Governance- An Integral Approach, New Delhi: Deep & Deep Publications Pvt. Ltd. (2007) P 273-314 5 RTI – a tool against judicial corruption. http://www. rti. org can be accessed by a public authority under any law for the time being in force. According to the section 2 of the Act the word record includes any document, manuscript and file, any microfilm, microfiche and facsimile copy of a document, any reproduction of image or images embodied in such microfilm and any other material produced by a computer or any other device. Right to Information
The “right to information” is defined under the Act as a right to information accessible under the Act which is held by or under the control of any public authority and includes a right to (i) inspection of work, documents, records, (ii) taking notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records, (iii) taking separate samples of material, (iv) obtaining information in the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts where such information is stored in a computer or in any other device. Good Governance Good governance” means the efficient and effective administration in a democratic framework. It involves high level organizational efficiency and effectiveness corresponding in a responsive way in order to attain the predetermined desirable goals of society. According to the World Bank document entitled ‘Governance and Development (1992)’, the parameters of good governance are as follows: 1. Legitimacy of the political system. 2. Freedom of association and participation by various social, economic, religious, cultural and professional groups in the process of governance. . An established legal framework based on the rule of law and independence of judiciary to protect human rights, secure social justice and guard against exploitation and abuse of power. 4. Bureaucratic accountability including transparency in administration. 5. Freedom of information and expression required for formulation of public policies, decision-making, monitoring and evaluation of government performance. 6. A sound administrative system leading to efficiency and effectiveness. 7. Co-operation between government and civil society organizations. Applicability
The Act applies both to Central and State Governments and all public authorities. According to the act a “public authority” is one which is bound to furnish information. It means any authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted by or under the Constitution, by any other law made by Parliament, by any other law made by State Legislature, by a notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government and includes any body owned, controlled or substantially financed, nongovernment organization substantially financed, which are all, directly or indirectly funded by the appropriate Government.
Greater transparency With a view to ensuring maximum disclosure of information regarding government rules, regulations and reports including decision making processes, every public authority is required to `maintain all its records duly catalogued and indexed in a manner and the form which facilitates the right to information under the Act’. The public authorities are therefore expected to make pro-active disclosures through publication of relevant documents, including web-based dissemination of information.
Besides, the public authorities are also required to ‘provide as much information suo motu to the public at regular intervals through various means of communication, including internet, so that the public have minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information’. In addition, a public authority, under section 4(1)(d) of the Act, is required to “provide reasons for its administrative or quasi-judicial decisions to the affected persons”.
In compliance of the above provisions of the Act, all the levels of the Government – the Centre, States and Local Bodies, including Village Councils have put all the records in public domain, through publications as well as internet in the regional languages. Thus, all the public authorities have duly placed the information in public domain and every citizen has the right to observe as to what is going on inside an organization.
In the cases where the information sought for are not provided within the stipulated period of 30 days or the information furnished are incomplete, misleading or incorrect, a requester is free to file a complaint or appeal before the Information Commission, for necessary directions to the parties as per the provisions of the Act. The Commission, u/s 20(1) of the Act, has the mandate, inter-alia, to impose penalty and to recommend disciplinary action against the information providers, if held responsible for obstructing the free flow of information.
The Commission may also award compensation for any detriment suffered by a requester for seeking information. The information seekers and the NGOs have put pressure on the public authorities for promoting the culture of openness in functioning of the Government due to perceived benefits of transparency and accountability. There is thus massive use of the right to know. In effect, thus, there is greater transparency than ever before in the working of the public bodies.
In a large number of cases, the Commission has ordered for providing the details of the decision-making processes, which include ‘file noting, cabinet papers, records of recruitment, selection and promotion of staff, documents pertaining to tender processes and procurement procedure, the lists of beneficiaries of the Government’s subsidized schemes, such as, food grains supplied through ration shops, water and electricity, domestic gas, educational and health facilities, shelter for poor, muster rolls under employment guarantee schemes, health insurance scheme for poor, pension plans, food security for destitute, etc.
The disclosure of such vital information has thus resulted in checking corrupt practices in delivery of services and ensuring the reach of entitlements to the poor. The disclosure of information relating to use of funds allocated to poverty alleviation schemes, MLA/MP local area funds, details of performance of elected leaders, have contributed to advocacy in the election campaign to highlight the roles of political leaders in fulfilling their obligations.
The media and civil society have raised development issues, based on facts about the use of funds as well as the best practices in formulation and implementation of pro-poor schemes. The citizens are thus better informed about the performance and contributions of the elected representatives, which augurs well for a healthy democracy and democratic governance of projects. Citizen’s participation
The RTI Act provides a framework for promotion of citizen-government partnership in designing and implementation of development programmes for improving quality of life, which calls for increasing people’s options for higher earnings, better education and health care, a cleaner environment and a richer cultural life. The principle of partnership is derived from the fact that people are not only the ultimate beneficiaries of development, but also the agents of change. The stakeholders’ participation leads to better projects and more dynamic development.
Under the RTI regime, citizens’ participation has been promoted through (a) access to information and involvement of affected groups/communities in design and implementation of projects; and (b) empowerment of local government bodies at village level through the involvement and cooperation with NGOs/self help groups. The pro-active disclosure of information has enabled the beneficiaries, mainly through NGOs, to assume a central role in design and execution of projects. RTI has instilled a wider sense of ownership n the development activities. Besides, access to information has enabled the people to participate in economic and political processes through a dialogue between people and the government officials or public campaign on public policies. Accountability of government towards people The RTI provides people with the mechanism to access information, which they can use to hold the government to account or to seek explanation as to why decisions have been taken, by whom and with what consequences or outcomes.
There is no scope for any arbitrary decision. The information regime has, in effect, created conducive conditions for everyone to have a better understanding of how the government works or how a particular decision was reached. Such a chance given to people empowers them to make appropriate choice of leadership and the policies that affect them. This has begun to happen with salutary effects on delivery of socioeconomic services, particularly for the poor.
Even before the enactment of the right to information, poverty alleviation and empowerment programmes were implemented but the achievements were always below the general expectations, mainly because of the absence of the transparency and accountability norms. Lack of legal right to know and to scrutinize the public action or to question the authority contributed to inefficiency and corruption resulting in lower outcomes of public activities. With empowered citizens and free flow of information, there is significant quantitative and qualitative improvement in the delivery of services.
For instance, disclosure of information relating to: i) Attendance of staff in schools has helped in checking teachers’absenteeism and students’ drop out; ii) Attendance of doctors and nurses at primary health centres has led to improvement in health care facilities in rural areas; iii) The details of supplies and distribution of food grains through ration shops has assured the reach of entitlements to the beneficiaries; iv) The supply and demand for petroleum products, such as, domestic gas has reduced black marketing; v) Muster rolls and beneficiary of employment guarantee schemes has exposed corruption and ensured effective delivery of services to the poor who are entitled for wage employment on demand for at least 100 days in a year @ Rs. 60 – 80 per day, which means additional income of Rs. 6000 – 8000 per year; and vi) Allotment of retail outlets and agencies for distribution of LPG gas, including the registered beneficiaries has ensured fair play and objective decisions, as reflected from substantial reduction in litigation cases. RTI route has generally been followed by a large number of people for resolving disputes between the parties on the issues pertaining to the decisions on administrative, business and commercial matters.
Disclosure of information regarding the process of decision making or the grounds for action taken has helped resolve disputes on such issues as claim of refund of taxes paid by the individuals/companies, settlement of insurance claims, payment of dues of contractors, process of sanction and recovery of loans, etc. Since a reply is to be given within thirty days, disputes have been resolved faster than never before in the India’s history. A large number of grievances pertaining to service matters, mainly promotion and pension benefits have also been redressed due to openness and promptness in taking action on requests made under the RTI. ‘Public Accountability’ is a part of governance.
It is the Government that is accountable to the public for delivering a broad set of outcomes but more importantly it is the public service consisting of public servants that constitutes the delivery mechanism. Therefore, the accountability and governance arrangements between Government which acts as the principal and the public service which is its agent, impact on the Government’s ability to deliver and on its accountability to the public. The challenge lies in ensuring that the public service is geared to meet the expectations of the Government of the day and that public service is neutral, whichever party is in power. When a Government department translates a Government’s policy into programmes, the success of that translation is very much dependent on a clear understanding of and commitment to the outcomes that are sought.
It is not surprising that the history of accountability and governance within the public service has shifted from measuring “inputs” to measuring “outputs”, to matching outputs, and identify outcomes. The key which weakens accountability or the effectiveness of the Government or the public sector is the lack of information. 6 Maintenance & publication of records According to the Right to Information Act it is a duty of public authorities to maintain records for easy access and to publish within 120 days the name of the particular officers who should give the information and in regard to the framing of the rules, regulations etc. The Right to Information also provides that all information shall be disseminated widely and in such form and manner which is easily accessible to the public. Sec. permits persons to obtain information in English or Hindi or in the official language of the area from the designated officers.
The person need not give any reason for the request or any personal details. Sec. 7 requires the request to be disposed of within 30 days provided 6 Governance and Accountability in the Public Sector, speech by Hon’ble Lianne Dalziel, 2003 (www. scoop. co. nz). that where information sought for concerns the life or liberty of a person, the same shall be provided within 48 hours. Under sec. 7(7) before any decision is taken for furnishing the information, the designated officer shall take into consideration the representation, if any, made by a third party under sec. 11. A request rejected shall be communicated under sec. (8) giving reasons and specifying the procedure for appeal and the designation of the appellate authority. Sec. 7(9) exempts granting information where it would disproportionately divert the resources of the public authority or would be detrimental to the safety and preservation of the record in question. Exemptions, exclusions & when information can be denied There are some matters when information can be denied, which are given under Section 8 and Section 9 of the RTI Act. Sec. 8 exempts from disclosure certain information and contents as stated in subclauses (a) to (j) thereof. Subclause (b) exempts information which is expressly forbidden by any court of law or tribunal or the dispute of which may constitute contempt of court.
Subclause (g) exempts information the disclosure of which would endanger life, or physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purpose. Subclause (h) exempts information which could impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders. Subclause (i) exempts Cabinet papers. There are other exemptions. Sec. 8(2) provides that a public authority may allow access to information if public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interests. Sec. 8(3) exempts information regarding matters or events which happened 20 years before the date of application seeking information. Sec. provides the power to PIOs to reject any request for information which would result in infringing the copyrights subsisting in a person other than state. It is important to note that the Act specifies that intelligence and security organizations are exempted from the application of the Act. However, it is provided that in case the demand for information pertains to allegations of corruption and human rights violations, the Act shall apply even to such institutions. RTI legislations of various states Tamil Nadu was one of the pioneer states to introduce the RTI Act on April 13, 1996. The enacted legislation was full of exceptions and inadequacies and was not clear as to how the Act would apply to Panchayat Unions Municipalities and Panchayats.
This uninspiring model definitely did not merit emulation. Goa was the second state to enact this legislation (Oct. 1997). Despite tall claims made by the state government regarding transparency and opennness to strengthen democracy, the Goa Act also ironically consisted of several peculiar provisions, which allowed the state to withhold information without sustainable reasons for doing so. Vague exceptions and lack of clarity as to who would be the competent authority to furnish information were some of the deficiencies of this Act. Madhya Pradesh passed a bill a year later which was inexplicably sent for asset to the President. The assent never came. Rajasthan passed a bill in May 2000.