Governance · Law · Society

Evolution of the Right to Information Act

“Right to Information is envisioned to set up a system for the populaces of India where they can secure access to information under the control of public authorities. Under the provisions of the Act, any citizen may appeal information from a government authority which is obligatory to be replied expeditiously or within thirty days. One can seek information just by logging into RTI portal or filing an application to the concerned department.”

The demand for right to information commenced in a small village of Rajasthan in 1987, where a number of labourers called for the government’s role, to check the ‘performance records’ of the laborers as they were denied wages, on grounds of discrepancy in their performance. Massive ‘dharnas’ and protests were performed by labor unions, specifically by the ‘Mazdur Kisan Shakti Sangathan’, which finally resulted in government’s disclosure of specific files regarding the working of laborers. The files however showed rampant corruption on part of the Government and proved the innocence of laborers; this movement became a strong weapon to keep an eye on the government. After that period the demand for an essential right in the hands of the citizens to check the working of Government authority took pace, after the great agitation led by Anna Hazare in Maharashtra, or the crusade of Arvind Kejriwal in New Delhi, efforts of social activists like Aruna Roy and Shekhar Singh, this specific right was shown the rays of glooming sun, and in 2005, Right to Information Act was passed by the government, replacing the timeworn Freedom of Information Act, 2002.

International Right to Know Day falling on 28th September proved to be extra-sugary for India, 11 years have passed, India has already made its prominent place in the top-5 list of countries having the most effective access to the information held by the Government.

The Right to Information Act, 2005 has enabled citizens everywhere, to question and probe explanations from the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary, by post or by the use of the Internet which has done its part in exposing misdeeds and corruption of the Government. It has indeed become a ‘weapon of the weak’.

Although Manmohan Singh’s government passed and implemented the Act in 2005, it also claimed that the law is being used frivolously.

“The potential for good, constructive use of the RTI is perhaps far greater than what its current status would indicate. There are concerns about frivolous and vexatious use of the Act in demanding information which cannot possibly serve any public purpose.”

Studies, however beg to differ, affirming that the use of the act has done more good to the citizens. Around tens of millions of applications to further transparency and accountability in governance, challenging the politicians on exploitation of natural resources, corporates and the mafia, as well as to improve daily lives in ways such as accessing ration cards and retirement pensions to inspecting  land records and exam sheets. It helped many litigants to fight cases in the courts against government be it in the State or Centre, it has further facilitated to exhume the scams which were concealed from the commoner’s eye.

Adarsh Housing Scam-Links between Military officials and Politicians were enlightened in 2008 when two RTI activists, Yogachandra Anandji and Simpreet Singh filed an RTI application questioning the approved floors of a 31 story building which had permit for just 6 floors. It was also revealed that the flats in the apartments were given to politicians, bureaucrats and their relatives, while the flats were originally meant to house war widows and veterans. The name in the scam contained big names including Ashok Chavan and two reputed IAS officers.

IIM Admission Rules-A visually impaired student, Vaishnavi Kasturi, in 2007 was denied a seat in the Indian Institute of Management of Bangalore despite having impressive score at the entrance examination. She filed an RTI application to know the reason for denial. She requested the disclosure of selection process. It was revealed that the country’s premier management institute’s home test Common Admission Test (CAT) mattered less compared to your percentage in 10th and 12th respectively.

Apart from revealing the major scams like the ones mentioned above, RTI has exposed some of the biggest scams India and the world, like 2G Spectrum Scam, Commonwealth Games Scam, Toilet Scam, Indian Rupee Symbol Scam, Pratibha Patil Land Controversy etc., there is mammoth list of the same. And it has been of assistance to the Indian citizens in finding out where their hard earned money goes and why no development comes into action. One activist described this Act as a ‘game changer’. It will in the future show the dishonest and corrupt public officials to oust the podium and honor of public service.

Some of other honorable mentions regarding, the exposure through RTI are- that Hockey is and never was the national game of India, or Mahatma Gandhi is not the father of the Nation (officially), no one is, as if it would have been there, it would be directly negated by the Constitution of India through Article 18, which states that, the constitution does not permit title of any kind except in Military and Educational Fields. Adding one more mention, enquiry of whether Indian government is ready to fight against in the situation of zombie outbreak or alien invasion. Although not sensible it definitely took the social media with buzz.

Though with passing time there has been a want of reforms for more efficient implementation on ground level, the Act has certainly proved to be a ‘Curtain-Raiser’ and has created a thrilling kind of transparency between Citizens and Government. It is a landmark legislation and has empowered ordinary citizens to question our Government which is habituated to function in secrecy. The Act has a long way to go and disentangle many decades of problems vis-à-vis concerns of a common man and with apt modifications and restructurings, it will gain new heights. It shall be a worthy instrument fashioning a ‘Utopia’ in India.

This essay was submitted by Varun Srivastav.

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