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Role of Legislation and Importance of Right to Information Act

The paper aims to study the role of legislation in the evolution and impact of the Right to Information Act 2005 in India. The right to information act has become integral legislation in the history of India because of various reasons primarily because it was supposed to check the corruption prevailing in our country and maintain transparency in various governmental organization's modus operandi. Some people also believe that the evolution of the RTI act in India is related to freedom of speech and expression as well because to criticize government decisions one needs to have information and that information can be availed by using this act.

This paper shall be studying the various aspects of the RTI ACT,2005, and the RTI Amendment act,2019 contrasting the new amendments added in 2019 concerning original legislation.
In this paper, we also aim to study what is legislation and what are the different roles of legislation in the working of government machinery as a whole. The RTI ACT 2005 was aimed to provide an efficient method of providing relevant information so that you can use freedom of speech and expression provided by the Indian Constitution. Once you can get information regarding various government machinery it will give you the feel of living your life with dignity (article 21 of Constitution).

Scope
This paper aims to analyze the evolution of RTI ACT 2005 in our country primarily in the case of scrutinizing the government functioning and provisions of this act. It aims to analyze what additional provisions have been added by the amendment of 2019 and how these amendments enhanced the importance of the RTI ACT.

Objective
The objective of the research paper is:
  1. To ascertain the role of legislation for working on government machinery and lawmaking.
  2. To analyze and compare the current provisions of RTI AMENDMENT ACT,2019 about original RTI ACT,2005.
     
Research Questions
  1. Whether legislation plays an important role in the law-making process or not?
  2. Whether the RTI act has evolved over the years or not?
  3. What are the challenges faced by RTI ACT in India?

Research Methodology
Doctrinal research has been carried during the making of this project. Secondary and library-based resources including various online articles have been utilized and no empirical data has been collected in this project.

What Is Legislation:
The term legislation is derived from two Latin words, where Legis meaning Law and Latum meaning to make. Etymologically legislation means making or setting of the law. Various jurists defined law according to their own beliefs:
  • According to Salmond, legislation is that source of law that consists within the declaration of legal rules by a competent authority
  • According to Grey, the formal utterance of the legislative organs of society. The term legislation is sometimes used in a wider sense to include all the methods of lawmaking.
  • According to Henry Maine, the ultimate agency of improving the development of the science of Jurisprudence and bringing social reforms is legislation after equality and fiction.
  • Legislation can refer to laws or the process by which they are enacted in certain countries. Many countries have some sort of legislature, which may be a body dedicated primarily to passing and amending laws. In the US, the federal legislature is known as Congress and is made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Other countries have similar bodies, such as Parliament in the United Kingdom. Numerous nations additionally have nearby administrative bodies, for example, the US state councils that are fit for ordering their legal laws.
  • When a piece of legislation is enacted, it is often referred to as statutory law. This can appear differently about case law, which is normally gotten from legal decisions. Before a law is enacted, it is often called a bill. Bills are commonly proposed or supported by at least one administrator and experience a specific procedure under the steady gaze of they become law.
The legislation is that the law that has been promulgated or enacted by the legislature or other government body or the method making it. Before an item of legislation becomes law, it is known as Bill and once it gets the assent of the president it is known as The Law of Land. There are various steps involved in the law-making process in our parliament. The basic function of the parliament to enact new laws and make amendments and repeal pre-existing laws as per the need of the situation.

The law-making process in parliament starts with the introduction of the bill. A bill can be introduced by any member of the house or minister, the bill introduced by the minister is known as a government bill whereas any bill raised by a member of the parliament (other than a ruling party member) is known as a private member's bill. Before introducing any bill, a notice has to be given with the prior stipulated time and it comes under the ambit of the speaker's power to allow the motion introduced in the shorter notice.

Once the bill has been introduced the copies of the bill have to make available to every member of the house and the bill be read three times before it becomes law (in case government/ private member succeeds in passing the bill).

Though any bill can be introduced in either house of the parliament there are some exceptions regarding the money bill, a money bill can only be introduced in Lok Sabha, and the power to decide whether a bill is a money bill or not is vested on the Speaker of the Lok Sabha.

It's worth mentioning here any bill introduced by the member of the house or minister in charge can withdraw the bill at any stage on the various grounds-
  1. the legislative proposal contained within the Bill is to be dropped; or
  2. the Bill is to get replaced subsequently by a new Bill which substantially alters the provisions contained therein; or
  3. a Bill is to get replaced subsequently by another Bill that incorporates all or any of its provision in addition to any other provisions.

Type Of Legislation:

The legislation is that source of law that consists of a declaration of legal rules by the competent authority. SALMOND

The legislation can be classified into the following categories:
  1. Supreme legislation
  2. Subordinate legislation
  3. Colonial legislation
  4. Executive legislation
  5. Judicial legislation
  6. Municipal legislation
  7. Autonomous legislation
  8. Delegated legislation

What is the Right to Information Act:

Asking questions has been a human tendency in past as well, people are inclined towards asking various questions related to many related fields which vary from sports, politics, as well as policy-making and they, have every right to get their answers. Regardless of many democratic provisions enshrined in our Indian constitution most of the policymaking process has been almost opaque in the past with the government maintain all that secret information with them and the government continues to operate secretly.

The major factor which influences the free flow of the information from government officials to the public is well established bureaucratic culture, illiteracy, and absence of communication tools available to the public at large. Though it is highly desirable to maintain administrative secrecy in certain cases concerning national security and foreign policies.

But at the same time, every citizen is entitled to get informed about how the government is taking decisions of public importance and the Right to Information provides such an essential tool to the general public. Some provisions of the Right to Information Act empowers citizens to officially inspect any government work or to take a sample of any material which has been used in any government work.

Right to Information act 2005 provides effective access to information for citizens of India, which is under the control of public authorities by filling an application addressed to the concerned authority. The objective of this act was to provide an effective method to provide the relevant information so that any individual can use his freedom of speech and expression in criticizing or endorsing any decision taken by the government.

Any individual can not use his freedom of speech and expression till he is provided with adequate information hence there exist a nexus between the Right to Information Act and freedom of Speech and Expression. The RTI act overrides “The official secret acts” and “freedom of information act” and similar laws and regulations.

The right to information act primarily envisages setting out a protocol regime of securing information for citizens under the control of public authorities which is aimed to promote transparency and accountability in the functioning of government at various levels.

Under the Right to information act, any individual can access any information which is held by any public authority and it includes the right to:
  1. Inspection of any work done by the government asks for any document and government records.
  2. Taking notes, certified copies of any government record or extract.
  3. Obtaining any information in the form of floppy, pen drive videos(E-Information).

What is accessible under the law:
Information means any material in any form including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advice press release, circular, orders, logbooks, contracts, data material held in any electronic or written form relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any law for the times being in force[1].

Process of RTI information form:

To get the required information, any citizen is expected to submit the application form with the prescribed fees (which is waived off many times) to the public information officer of any department. the application can be sent via post, personally, or by electronic media in either Hindi or English or any other official language of the concerned area along with the fees of 10rupees. It is strictly prohibited that any information officer can not seek the reason for such information by the applicant.[2]

It is worth mentioning here that there is no prescribed format of the application form, it can be made in plain paper. Though the application should have a full name and the postal address of the applicant.

The applicant is supposed to retain a copy of the application for RTI given to the public information officer with duly signed by the PIO.

The information has to be provided within the 30days and 48 hours where the information involves anything that is subjected to the life and liberty of anyone. Incase any PIO could not provide the information he will be made liable to pay 250 rupees/day up to 25k at max.

There are certain cases where any PIO can be made liable to pay:

  • Intentionally delaying the information
  • Destroying the required information
  • Obstructing furnishing any required information.
In case the individual is seeking any information, which is subjected to any copyright of any person other than the state or is covered by the exemption from disclosure. It will be a ground for rejection of the application under the RTI.

The objective of the RTI Act:
This legislation was aimed to provide a legal framework that empowers citizen's democratic right to access information under the control of the public authority.
it includes the following main objectives:
  • Accountability
  • Realization of human rights
  • Reduce corruption
  • Increase transparency
  • Better record-keeping and proper decision making.

Definition of Public Authority:

It means any authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted by:
  • 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 anybody owned controlled or substantially financed by the government
  • Non-government organizations are substantially financed or controlled by the government[3].

Who is the public information officer:

PIOs are the officers designated by the general public authorities altogether administrative units or officers thereunder to supply information to the citizens requesting for the knowledge under the Right to information act. Every public shall have one PIO irrespective of the size of the office/ administrative unit which ultimately means that any public authority can't have deviated from appointing a public authority officer just by excusing that their office is very small in size and it is insignificant to have any public officer in their unit. The PIO mandatory rule is even applicable for the offices coming under the ambit of panchayats and municipalities.

The primary duty of any public information officer is to deal with the request from the person seeking any information. Every public information officer is free to seek any assistance from any other officer for the proper discharge of his duty.

It is worth mentioning here any information that is subjected to the life or liberty of any citizen the same shall be provided within 48hrs of the receipt of such application. When any public information officer fails to provide information within the stipulated time it shall be deemed to have refused such request.

Exemption from disclosure:
It is very pertinent to note that like other fundamental rights guaranteed by our constitution it is not an absolute right as well there are certain restrictions attached to it in larger public and national interest which ultimately means any citizen cannot have access to every information.

Such information of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the country, strategic, scientific, or economic interests of the state, diplomatic relations are subject to exemption from the disclosure.

Any information which is subject to a breach of parliament privilege or state legislature cannot be sought under the RTI. In case any information is available to any person under the fiduciary relationship (based on mutual trust) same cannot be made available to any person unless and until the competent authority has to reason to disclose it for a larger public interest. The information which is received from any foreign government in confidence shall also come under the ambit of exemption disclosure.

Hence it noteworthy to understand that the objective of this act is to maintain the utmost transparency in government and other state machinery at the same some privacy has to be maintained in the larger public interest.

Penalty for refusal of request:

The right to information act was enacted to maintain transparency and counterbalance the corrupt practices that were prevailing in government machinery hence it was really important to put some sort of penalty if any Public information officer deliberately hides some information or he tries to delay the process.

In case any public official who deliberately delays or obstructs an application for information provides incorrect or misleading information are often punished under the RTI laws.

Comparison of Provisions of Right to information act 2005 and Right to information (amendment) act 2019:

In the year 2019 NDA government led by Narendra Modi amended the RTI act because of many reasons, they gave the reason that when the legislation was enacted it was done in hurry and some of the provisions need to be changed accordingly to maintain maximum transparency and efficiency of the legislation.

The government mainly amended section 13 and section 16 of the RTI act 2019. The original act quantified the tenure and salary allowances of the CIC and State information commissioners according to the previous benchmarks. Opposition leaders argued making changes in preexisting sections would destroy the transparency and will take away the independence of the act as the ruling government will have a direct influence on various information commissioners. Some information commissioners to balance good equations with the ruling government may not work with 100% efficiency.
 
Provisions Right to information, act 2005 Right to information (amendment) Act, 2019
Term As per the original enactment of the Right to information legislation the tenure of chief information commissioners (CIC) and other state information commissioners was prescribed 5years or either the age of 65 years. The amendment act has revoked this preexisting provision of fixed tenure and make it subject to notification of central a state government.
Quantum of salary Salary of CIC and IC were equivalent to the salary paid to chief election commissioners and other election commissioners. The amendment gives power to the Central and state government to notify the salary according to their requirements.
Deduction in salary The original act had a provision that stated in case any CIC or IC is getting any pension from the government the same amount of pension was to be deducted from their respective salary. The new act removes this provision every CIC and IC is entitled to get full salary.

Major challenges for the Right to Information Act:

In recent times, we have seen how people aiming to create hurdles in government functioning requested various baseless RTI applications this is one of the major challenges in front of the government to decide which application and request are justified or not. We also see sometimes PIOs aren't trained adequately regarding the different provisions of right to information act procedures and functioning that has to be followed while sharing the information with the general public many PIOs have the same old colonial mindset that their boss can't do anything wrong hence they try to protect and guard every information against their superiors and this mindset destroy the the objective of the legislation to promote transparency.

Sometimes we see people repeat the same questions in their application that ultimately create an extra burden in government machinery (PIOs) without any proper reason. It is worth mentioning here section-4 of the RTI act says Suo Moto declaration of information to date in most of the government office this procedure isn't followed.
Though the RTI act provides for penalty in case any PIO fails to provide the required information in a reasonable time still the extent of penalty isn't strict enough to create a sense of fear in the mind of any potential defaulter.

According to legal experts, the new amendments in the RTI act will dilute the importance and significance of the legislation as the government would have a direct role to play in deciding the tenure and salary of the CIC and other states ICs hence it the moral obligation of the government to justify these amendments and clear their stand over this controversy.

Attacks on the RTI activist have been a major deterrent in the RTI movement right from the very beginning. A separate penal provision is required to deal with this situation on an urgent basis for a better RTI implementation.

Recent developments and controversies regarding the RTI act:
In In recent times, the major two controversies regarding the right to information act are the office of the chief justice of India and the PM care fund. In the first case, RTI activist filed an application seeking information on whether the office of chief justice comes under the ambit of RTI or not. Initially, the secretary-general of the Supreme Court refused to provide any information regarding this but after a long decade of the legal fight last year, a five-judge constitution a bench headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi upheld the landmark judgment of the Delhi HC decision. [4]

On 29th March, the Prime minister of India formed a fund named PM care fund to combat the COVID 19 in our country and encouraged people to donate in the same. An application was filed seeking the information regarding the details of the same in response PMO said the Pm care fund doesn't come under the ambit of RTI and it's not a public authority through all the required information is available on the website. This response from PMO is controversial and a lot of criticism was observed from the legal expert.

Though it is worth mentioning here even PMNRF 1948 constituted by the then prime minister of India also doesn't come under the ambit of RTI and a case is pending for the same in Delhi high court since 2016.

Conclusion:
From the abovementioned research study, we can conclude that how the old provision of RTI act 2005 has been evolved according to the recent need for the current situation.
It is not the strongest or most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage the change taking place in their surrounding. Leon C. Megginson

Like any other legislation enforce in India RTI act also has some major challenges which have been already mentioned and for the maximum utilization of the legislation, it is the moral obligation of the government in power to ensure taking the required course of actions to handle those challenges else the objective of maximum transparency in government functioning can't be achieved.

At the same citizen of India should also understand this legislation was enforced to give them a proper way to seek required information and use their fundamental right (freedom of speech and expression) in case they anything controversial in government functioning. They should refrain from filling any politically motivated applications which ultimately creates unwarranted pressure on PIOs and the essential applications also get ignored.

The government should organize some awareness programs in rural areas to educate people regarding their rights to questioning any state-owned organization because a fruitful implementation is only possible with better coordination.

Bibliography:
  1. TK Viswanathan, (Legislative Drafting: Shaping the law for the new millennium) 2nd edition, 2007
  2. Roshni Sinha, Explainer: The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill,2019, (July 2019), htpp://www.prsindia.org/theprsblog//com
  3. The Right to information (amendment) bill, 2019
Referred cases:
  1. Chief information commissioner and ors. V State of Manipur and ors. MANU /SC/1484/2011
  2. Secretary-general, Supreme Court of India V Subhash Chandra Agarwal, MANU/DE/0013/2010.
End-Notes:
  1. Right to information (amendment) act 2019, section 2(F) (India)
  2. Right to information (amendment) act 2019, section 6(1) (India)
  3. Right to information (amendment) act,2019 , section 2(H) (India)
  4. Secretary general, supreme court of India Vs. Subhash Chandra Agarwal, MANU/DE/0013/2010

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