Clouds Over The Sunshine Legislation - Analysing The RTI Act of 2005

By Aditi Pattanik, Symbiosis Law School, Noida. 

“The purpose of the information is not knowledge,

It is being able to take the right action.”

– Peter F. Drucker

India is a living example of a democratic form of government. The foundation of a healthy democracy lies in the well-informed citizens of the country. The Right to Information is the natural Right that flows from the very concept of democracy. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in the year 1948 to provide everyone with the Right to receive information, and the Right to information gained power. In the case of Mr. Kulwal v/s Jaipur municipal corporation, wherein it was stated that under article 19 (freedom of free speech & expression), the Right to information is implied. The act provided the Right to access government-held information & the system ought to be transparent as well as accountable. Even there was even a partnership between the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) & Poorest Area Civil Society that conducted a series of training and capacity-building programs in the year 2007 in order to strengthen the implementation of the RTI act. 

The Grey Area In The Administration And Judiciary Sector

The Right to information is part of freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed under article 19 (1) (a) of the constitution of India.

There are certain lags that need to be covered for effective administration and delivery of justice. 

In the Judicial field, there is a backlog of 2nd appeals, lengthy times are taken for hearing purposes, there is hesitancy in imposing penalties, and there is increasing opacity in the functioning of the commission.

Also, in the sphere of administration, the seats of officials are unfilled with vacancies, there is a poor choice in appointment of commissioners, and the staff is not well trained. Even Public Information Officers (PIO) lack cooperation, experience, and professionalism. But in the end, the sufferers are the applicants. Some offices work without the chief of the commission. As of 30th June 2021, 2.56 lakhs appeals are pending in 26 information commissions in the country. 

The Apex court, in the case of DDA vs Skipper Construction (P) Ltd (1996) 4 SCC 622, held that the high courts must resist their temptation to exercise the writ jurisdiction to correct the errors made by the State information commissioner or central information commissioner.


The Overuse Of The RTI Act, 2005

RTI Act, 2005 was enacted with the view that there could be transparency in the functioning of the government and shall curb corruption in the country. At the same time, the purpose behind acquiring information is not just to dispense justice but also to use the information to own merit. There is no provision for knowing the reason behind the information being asked to RTI officials. This in turn infringes the Right to privacy of officials. Frivolous information which is not a matter of public interest is being asked. Even in litigation suits, people misuse the law for their interest. 

In the case of Phaeirembham Sudesh Singh v. The state of Manipur & Ors 2016 SCC 13, the high court cleared that the citizens have the Right to seek information from the central or state government as a matter of their Right. The objective behind it was to bring accountability & transparency to public institutions. To keep a check on the growth of corruption, the Right was vested to citizens of India. 

In order to ensure that there are no obstacles in working of the government machinery dealing with sensitive issues the Section 24(4) of the act gives power to the state government to exempt intelligence & security organisations from the ambit of the provisions. 

The 11th annual report of the State Information Commissioner was the first report that admitted the possible ‘misuse’ of the RTI act. This was possible after a single person filed multiple appeals at various tribunals.

The case of A.B Avadhanulu v South Central Railway, Vijayawada & Secundrabad CIC Digest (Vol. II) 1603 (420) is of harassing the officials because of their adverse action taken by the department against him and the appellant was seeking to put the public authority under pressure. When the hearing was going on the commission made it clear to the appellant that the RTI act cannot be used as a tool of vendetta against a person in a department where he is working. The commission in this case felt the need to include some provisions for punitive actions against the appellants.


Violation Of Fundamental Rights Of Indian citizens

According to a 2021 report by Sarthak Nagrik Sangathan (SNS)  “Various Information commissioners are releasing damning indictments stating that they are acting as a major bottleneck in effective implementation in RTI law”: 

In June 2022 a contractor was murdered in Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh for asking many questions concerning the public work department.

According to the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, in India, around 99 RTI activists lost their lives, 180 faced assault, and 187 were threatened since the enactment of the act. Even ensuring everyone’s Right & life is protected is recognized by the United Nations. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 provides everyone with the Right to freedom of speech & expression. Also, the Right includes the freedom to hold opinions without any interference.


Suggestions & Way Forward 

Many times, the PIOs from junior ranks attend the hearings and are often clueless due to a lack of experience. In this scenario, there should be intervention by the higher officials in the matter where the juniors find it difficult to deal with a certain type of case. Another concern is when few public commissioners act with political bias. To balance this, a code of conduct should be there so the officials can act without any influence. 

Presently, the key stakeholders seem to lose their enthusiasm for maintaining the RTI regime. So, players like the public media, civil society, media, courts of justice, and commissioners should try to maintain and even flourish the RTI regime in India. The ‘Right to Information Act,2005’ is regarded to be the sunshine legislation that was enacted with huge pomp. It is that bold legislation that needs to be secured. This can be done by raising awareness among the common mass, for example, by organising training sessions by and for government officials. Also, it should be kept in mind that for the effective administration of the RTI regime in India, a strong political system is a must. There ought to be a balance between the freedom of the press under Article 19 of the Indian constitution and keeping a check that the privacy of the officials is not served in the hands of the public. 


Views expressed are the author’s own, 

Law Daily neither endorses nor is responsible for them.

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