The real Swaraj will come not by the acquisition of authority by a few but by
the acquisition of capacity by all to resist authority when abused
The enactment of the Right to Information Act 2005 has been viewed by many
political commentators and activists as a pathbreaking event in the annals of
Independent Indian history. The law was passed by the parliament on 15th June,
2005 and it came into force on 12th October, 2005. The act in a way
revolutionised the way in which common Indians viewed democracy. It came with a
hope to usher in an era of transparency in the governance systems which would
chase away the demons of corruption, inefficiency and misuse of power that had
plagued our systems.
Governments anywhere around the world generally tend to be secretive in its
operations. They love opaqueness and secrecy (in governance), and despise
transparency and vigilance. Their dislike for these ideals stems from the fact
that these ideals envisage to promote a culture of accountability. Arbitrary
acts of power, corruption and other misuses of power would not be able to take
place in such a culture.
On the other hand citizens demand that governance
should always be transparent and the governments should be accountable for their
actions. Theses polar opposite beliefs that the people in government and the
citizens possess make a conflict regarding the functioning of the government
Legislations like the RTI act of 2005 act a judge of these views and tires to
empower the voices of the citizens and bring in accountability, transparency and
vigilance in the functioning of the government.
Background To The Problems
The aims as well as the provisions of the act are very idealistic, if
implemented in its full letter and spirit these provisions can chase out most of
the inefficiencies that continue to plague our governance systems. Despite
having a laundry list of positives, the RTI Act does have some shortcomings and
The problems faced by the RTI Act are
Objectives Of The Project
- A vast number of authorities that ought to be enlisted under ‘Public
Authority’ do not come under the definition of the word specified in the
- There is a lack of a monitoring mechanism or an authority that monitors
the implementation of the provisions of the act.
- Section 4(2) of the act requires the public authorities to suo motu
provide as much information to the public at regular periods of time so that
public has minimum incentive to invoke the act. This provision is seldom found
to be followed by public authorities of the central and the state governments.
- There is always a large backlog of second appeals at the State
Information Commission level.
- Building public awareness of a law helps a lot to better to implement
it. Citizens have a primary role in implementation of the act but
governments do not take necessary measures to popularise it.
- The air of secretiveness that pervades the Indian bureaucracy acts as
the primary hinderance in the complete implementation of the act.
This project attempts to:
History Of The Enactment Of The Act
- To analyse how do the new amendments brought in the RTI Act 2005, affect
- To examine the position of Transparency historically as well as in
current times in India.
- To understand the problems as well as their causes that the RTI Act
The movement for securing the right to information to citizens throughout the
world has been very long. Indeed, there have been many incidents during the
course of history that have positively leveraged the movement towards the cause
of the citizens in their own way, but it is humbly contended that none of those
incidents could match the impetus that passing of the Charter of Human Rights
provided to the movement.
The passing of the Charter of Human Rights by the
United Nations which secured to everyone the right to seek and receive
information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers was
among the first enactments of its kind which empowered the cause of the
citizen’s right to get information.
The adoption of the U.N. charter was followed by the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights of 1966 proclaiming that everyone shall have the
right to hold opinion without interference. Everyone shall have the right to
freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and
impart information and ideas of all kinds regardless of frontiers, either
orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media
of his choice.
These enactments which provided a new emphasis to a citizen’s
right to information lead to the enactment of numerous legislations protecting
the said right in different countries. U.S.A led this trend of enacting laws
securing a citizen’s right to information by enacting the Freedom of Information
Act in 1966, which established a right to information held by the citizens of
the United States as against the federal government agencies. The Freedom of
Information Act became a model for all the other countries to emulate. Countries
like Australia, Canada and New Zealand adopted similar laws in the early 1980s.
The spate of enacting right to information laws was not limited to the 1980s, it
continued in the subsequent decade too. The enthusiasm of countries to enact
right to information related laws exploded in the subsequent century i.e., the
21st century. Every democratic country whether Japan or Mexico, committed to
democratic governance enacted such laws. India was no aberration to this trend.
The birth of this act in India can be attributed to the international trend of
enacting laws protecting the right to information, the judicial pronouncements
recognising the right and movements for demanding the right in India carried out
by common citizens.
The Indian Constitution through Article 19(1)(a) guarantees
to all the citizens the freedom of speech and expression. The enjoyment of this
right is only possible if the citizens intending to exercise the right are aware
of the authentic facts related to the issue which they would talk about.
role of authentic information or facts and figures becomes essential, so much so
that the exercise of Article 19(1)(a) is futile without it being strongly backed
by authentic information. Authentic information is a must. Therefore, the right
to information becomes a constitutional right being an aspect of right to free
speech and expression. The Supreme court in Mr. Kulwal v. Jaipur Municipal
 has held that the right to information is implicit in the right to
freedom of speech and expression provided under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian
Through this judgement we can observe that the apex court has also given
approval to the fact that since the exercise of Article19(1)(a) is premised upon
authentic information therefore the right to information is an inherent
component or an inalienable component of the right to freedom of speech and
expression. The Supreme Court in subsequent judgements has reiterated its
belief. In the landmark judgement of the Maneka Gandhi V. U.O.I
. case the
court held that:
the freedom of speech and expression has no geographical
limitations and it carries with it the right of a citizen to gather information
and to exchange thought with others not only in India, but abroad too.
The first movement raising the citizen’s cause of protecting the right to
information in India was led by the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghathan (MKSS). The
MKSS initiated their efforts to leverage governments so that they enact a law
like the RTI Act 2005 in Rajasthan during the 1990s.
Due to the tireless efforts
by the members of the MKSS, the movement gained popular support. Respecting the
popular sentiment many state governments enacted RTI like laws pertaining to
their respective states. Tamil Nadu became the first state to enact a right to
information law, in 1997. Subsequently many states emulated the Tamil Nadu model
and enacted laws protecting a citizen’s right to information- Goa in 1997,
Rajasthan in 2000, Karnataka in 2000, Delhi in 2001 and Maharashtra in 2002 are
some of the examples.
So, the enactment of the RTI Act can be attributed to all the events that have
been mentioned in the preceding discussions right from the adoption of the UN
Charter of Human Rights to the various judicial pronouncements and the popular
movements in favour of enacting a law protecting a citizen’s right to
The Aims Of The RTI Act 2005
The Brief Provisions Of The Act
- To promote transparency and accountability in the functioning of all
‘Public Authorities’ as has been specified under the act
- To set up a workable system which can provide citizens access to
information under the control of ‘Public Authorities’.
- To enhance the participation of common citizens in the functioning of
- To provide citizens with a tool through which they are empowered and
which in turn helps them to make governments accountable.
- To contain the menace of corruption, inefficiency in governance systems
and misuse of power so that public authorities function for the welfare of
citizens rather than for a few corrupt people.
- The act binds the public authorities to provide every citizen access to
the information under their control
- The information that comes under the purview of the act has a very large
scope. It includes- documents, records, circulars, press releases, contracts
etc. This liberty to demand information granted to the citizens is not
absolute, it comes with a few caveats.
- The Act applies to all the public authorities whether controlled by the
State or Central Government.
- Private bodies also come under the purview of the act. The right to
information can be invoked against private bodies so far as the information
related to such bodies can be accessed by a Public Authority.
- The information which has been demanded by a citizen from a public
authority has to be provided within thirty days.
- The act provides redressal mechanisms to citizens. If a public authority
does not provide the required information demanded by a citizen, he/she has the
power to head to the appellate authority to demand justice.
- The citizen can file a second appeal under the central information
commission or state information commission. These commissions act as a
supervising authority to whom every public authority under its jurisdiction
is bound to submit an annual report of information sought and furnished.
- The second schedule of the act excludes some organizations from its
jurisdiction, they are- Central Economic Intelligence Bureau, Intelligence
Any person may use the act to demand information by submitting a written request
to the Public Information Officer. It is the duty of the PIO to provide
information to the citizens of India who invoke the RTI Act. Section 26 of the
act requires the central as well as the state government of the republic of
India to initiate measures to:
- Conduct educational programmes to increase the level of awareness about
the act in the general public especially in the disadvantaged groups
- Encourage all the public authorities to organise such programmes.
- Disseminate authentic information in the public in general at a regular
Causes Of The Problems That The RTI Act Faces
The organisations that are not under the definition of Public Authority
There is a dissatisfaction among the RTI activists and enthusiasts that the act
does not cover many originations that should be considered under the definition
of public authority like- the CBI, the NIA, the IB etc. The former Vice
President of India Mr. Hamid Ansari also believes in this contention. While
presenting the valedictorian address at the 4th Annual Convention of the Central
Information Commission on 13th October, 2009 the former Vice President stated a
vast number of organizations that should have been covered under the definition
of public authority for being owned, controlled or substantially financed,
directly or indirectly, by funds provided by the appropriate government, have
not come forward proactively to be covered by the Act. They await a case-by-case
ruling by the Central or State Information Commissions to be so considered and
hence covered by the Act. Currently, neither the Information Commissions nor the
governments have ensured that all bodies that are covered by the definition of
‘public authority’ undertake action as listed in Chapter II of the Act.
This inertia on the part of the government to grant these originations the
status of public authority could be attributed to it being intimidated by the
provisions of the act. The primary aim of the act is to promote transparency and
vigilance; these ideals are seldom appreciated by governments. The originations
under question are frequently reported to be misused by governments. If these
authorities come under the purview of the act it would make their misuse a very
tough job. Hence these authorities lie outside the definition of public
Absence of a monitoring authority:
The absence of a monitoring authority or mechanism that monitors the
implementation of the act does not bind the public authorities to stand good on
the provisions of the act. It is the primary reason for the public authorities
to not implement the provisions provided in section 4(2) of the act. The
creation of such an authority with powers to penalise inaction could help in
better implementation of the provisions of the act. This problem could also be
attributed to the attitude of governments against transparency and vigilance.
Lack of public awareness:
Section 26 of the Act envisages that the central as well as the state government
should conduct educational programmes to increase the level of awareness about
the act in the general public especially in the disadvantaged groups. The
utility of the act is premised upon the usage of it by the citizens. If the
citizens due to some reason discontinue the usage of the act it would become
obsolete. The best way to ensure that the act is being invoked and utilized by
the common public is to find ways to educate people about the act. Educational
programmes should be designed and shared with the public at large so that they
become aware about their rights and try to have it enforced when violated.
The funding provided by the government for carrying out this exercise is
considered to be very meagre. The awareness about the act has definitely gone up
since its enactment in 2005 but it has still not reached the optimal levels
befitting of a vibrant democracy that India is. Lack of funds, and governments’
distaste for transparency and vigilance are the primary causes of it.
Culture in the bureaucracy
It seems that the Indian bureaucracy has still to come to terms with the fact
that India is no longer a colony of Britain. This is contended due to the fact
that though being an organisation functioning under a democracy the attitude of
the Indian bureaucracy mirrors the attitude of a bureaucracy functioning under a
tyrannical government. The culture of imperiousness and secretiveness which were
the hallmark of the colonial period still plague our bureaucracy.
There are many
reported instances where the invoking of the RTI Act by a citizen was met with
hostility by the bureaucrats under question. Many RTI activists who try to
demand access to information which exposes the corruption in the bureaucracy
frequently receive threats of serious injury to life and property. These
attitudes need to change so that the RTI Act could fulfil its aims and
objectives in its entirety.
The Right to Information Amendment Bill 2019 was introduced in the Lok Sabha
on 19th July 2019, it was passed by the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha on
22nd July 2019 and 25th July 2019 respectively. The amendments brought to the
act change sections 13 and 16 of the Right to Information 2005.
The amendments are:
- The section 13 of the RTI Act 2005 sets the terms of the CICs and ICs at
five years or until the age of 65 years. The amendment states that the term of
office of these officials will be for such term as may be prescribed by the
Central Government. The section also concerns itself with the salaries of the CICs and the ICs. It states that the salaries, allowances and other terms of
service of the CICs as well as the ICs shall be same as that of the Chief
Election Commissioner. The amendment states that the salaries, allowances
and other terms of service of these officials shall be such as may be
prescribed by the Central Government
- The section 16 of the RTI Act 2005 sets the terms for state-level CICs
and ICs at five years or until the age of 65 years. The amendment states that
the term of office of these officials will be for such term as may be
prescribed by the Central Government. The section also concerns itself with the
salaries of the state-level CICs and the ICs. It states that the salaries,
allowances and other terms of service of the CICs as the same as that of an
Election Commissioner and that of state-level ICs shall be same as that of the
Chief Secretary of the State Government. The amendment states that the salaries
and other terms of service of these officials shall be such as may be
prescribed by the Central Government.
The amendments empower the central government to tweak the term of office and
salaries of CICs, SCICs and the ICs at its own sweet will. These changes that
have been brought in by the centre adversely affect the independence of these
officials. Since the government is at liberty to decide till what period should
a CIC or SCIC or IC serve as well as the salary that they receive it would
incentivise these officials to be stooges of the government rather than being
the foot soldiers for a citizen’s right to information.
They would be forced to withhold information against the political interests of
the powers that be, out of the fear of being penalised in terms of the salary
deduction or term of office deduction. The amendment also does not specify a
fixed salary or term of office for these officials. Due to the terms of the
amendment the position of CIC, SCIC and IC will assume a nominal nature where
people holding these positions will act on the whims and fancies of the
government of the day rather for the welfare of the citizens. The amendments
that have been brought in have serious implications on vigilance and sabotages
the foundation of the RTI Act 2005 i.e., transparency.
Instances Where Rti Played A Pivotal Role In Protecting Transparency
The Right to Information Act of 2005 has been one of the most influential acts
in terms of unearthing scams and acting as a sword of vigilance in the hands of
the citizens. It has been instrumental in unearthing some of the biggest scams
and misuses of power in the annals of Indian History like:
- Adarsh Society Scam
The scam was exposed by RTI activists Simarpreet Singh and Yogacharya Anandji.
The building located in the Mumbai’s posh residential area Colaba was initially
conceived to house the war heroes and widows of the 199 Kargil War. Misusing the
public authority, the building was converted to the Adarsh Housing Society
housing politicians, bureaucrats and top military officers. This expose led to
the resignation of the then chief minister of Maharashtra Ashok Chavan.
- 2G Scam
The 2G scam or the telecom sector scandal was exposed by RTI activist Subhash
Chandra Aggarwal. The scandal revolved around the auctioning of the 2G spectrum.
Top ministers of the UPA regime had conspired to undercharge some mobile phone
companies while allocating the frequencies in exchange for a bribe. The
estimated amount of the scandal was about Rs. 1.76 lakh crore.
- Demonetisation announced without the approval of the RBI
This misuse of power was exposed by the RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak.
Demonetisation was declared in the country on 8th November 2016 after a very
brief meeting. The government did not even bother to wait for the approval of
the core body of the RBI. The RTI revealed that the core body did not approve of
the centre’s plan of banning the use of 500- and 1000-rupee notes
The Status Of Transparency In India
The independent India willingly or unwillingly inherited many things that the
colonial rule had left behind like the railways, parliament building etc. The
culture of secrecy was one such colonial legacy which India carried till the
adoption of the RTI Act in 2005. The British Raj was established in India to
serve the interests of Britain. During that period a lot of injustices, inhuman
activities and flagrant misuse of power were carried out by the organisations
acting as the hands of the colonial government subservient to the British Crown.
The colonial government, to block the information about such activities enacted
information restricting laws. The Indian Official Secrets Act, 1889 which came
to be known as the Indian Official Secrets Act after a new version was
notified in 1923 was extended to all matters of secrecy and confidentiality in
governance of the country. Such laws blocked any form of transparency in the
functioning of the colonial government.
After independence the state of transparency saw a paradigm shift due the
enactment of the RTI Act of 2005. There were instances before the enactment of
the RTI Act where transparency and a citizen’s right to information were
recognised for example, the various court pronouncements.
The enactment of the
act gave the ideal of transparency a statutory support. Common citizens who were
oblivious about how the government functions, could now file a petition before a PIO and get the desired information with ease. Due to the provisions citizens
could expose corruption scams, misuse of power, inefficiencies in the governance
systems etc. Wielding the power granted by the act, the position of transparency
in India rose exponentially.
The position that transparency enjoyed (in India)
in the past is not even comparable to what it enjoys now. This rise in the
position of transparency reverberates with the improving rankings of India in
the various transparency indexes published around the world. India ranks 80th in
the corruption perception index among 180 countries; the index is published by
an organisation called transparency international.
- Pendency of appeals is a big hurdle in the complete implementation of the
RTI Act. In June 2019 around 31,00 appeals were pending before the CIC. There
should be an effort by the government to reduce the pending appeals
- The security of RTI activists is a big concern. Commonwealth Human Rights
Initiative an international Non-profit organisation reported that 84 RTI
activists have been murdered since 2005. The government should take measures
to ensure the safety of whistle blowers.
- Since the RTI act protects a fundamental right i.e., the right to freedom
of speech and expression therefore CICs should be conferred a constitutional
- Political parties should be recognised as ‘Public Authority’ so that they
come under the purview of the RTI act.
- The recent amendments brought in the act seriously undermine the ideals
that the RTI act stands for. It does not serve any public interest hence these
amendments should be reconsidered and most desirably annulled.
In a Government of responsibility like ours where the agents of the public must
be responsible for their conduct there can be but a few secrets. The people of
this country have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in a
public way by their public functionaries. They are entitled to know the
particulars of every public transactions in all its bearings.
The Right to Information Act is a watershed piece of legislation which if
implemented in its true letter and spirit could bring a revolutionary shift
towards transparency and accountability. The intention of passing the
legislation was to achieve social justice, transparency and to make governments
accountable for their actions.
These high ideals that influenced the enactment
of this legislation do not stand full served. Throughout the length of the
project, we found a lot of impediments that stood in the way of implementation
of the RTI act in its entirety. These impediments have to be judiciously dealt
with failing which the public will lose faith and confidence in this sunshine
act as observed by the Delhi High Court.
The fight for transparency and
accountability cannot only be won by the use of the RTI act, it needs the
support of decentralization of power, awareness and participation of the
citizens in governance, and a vigilant media and civil society.
- Kamla, Role Of RTI Act In Making Governance Accountable And
Transparent, 73 The Indian Journal of Political Science 321-330 (2012
- Varsha Khanwalker, The Right To Information Act In India: Its
Connotations And Implementation, 72 The Indian Journal of Political
Science 387-393 (2011).
- Prabodh Saxena, Public Authority and the RTI, 44 Economic and
Political Weekly 13-16 (2009).
- Nancy Roberts and Alasdair Roberts, A Great and Revolutionary Law? The
First Four Years of India’s Right to Information Act, 70 Public
Administration Review 925-933 (2010).
- Ketki Tara Kumaiyan and Munni Padalia, Right To Information: The New
Age Social Software, 74 The Indian Journal of Political Science 61-74 (2013).
- S. Viswam, The Right to Information, 10 India International Centre
Quarterly 175-185 (1983).
- Anshu Jain, Good Governance And Right To Information: A Perspective,
54 Journal of Indian Law Institute 506-519 (2012).
- Right to Information Act, 43 Economic and Political Weekly 6 (2008).
Chinmay Harsh Karn
- What Swaraj Means to Me, available at: https://www.mkgandhi.org/momgandhi/chap65.htm (last
visited on January 19, 2021
- UN General Assembly, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, GA Res
271A, GAOR, UN Doc A/Res/271A (December 10, 1948).
- UN General Assembly, The United Nations International Covenant of Civil
and Political Rights, GA Res 2200A (XXI), GAOR, UN Doc A/Res/2200A (XXI)
(December 16, 1966).
- The Freedom of Information Act, 1966.
- Varsha Khanwalker, The Right To Information Act In India: Its
Connotations And Implementation 72 The Indian Journal of Political
Science 388 (2011).
- AIR 1988 Raj 2.
- 1978 AIR 597.
- Public Authority 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 notification issued or order made by the appropriate government, and
- body owned, controlled or substantially financed;
- non-government organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly
by funds provided by the appropriate government.
- Shri M. Hamid Ansari, Valedictory Address by the Honourable
Vice-President, 4th Annual Convention of the Central Information Commission on (DRDO
Bhavan, New Delhi 13th October 2009), available at: https://cic.gov.in/sites/default/files/2009/VP-Speech.pdf (last
visited on January 19, 2021).
- The Right to Information (Amendment) Act, 2019 (Act 24 of 2019).
- The Official Secrets Act, 1923 (Act 19 of 1923).
- Corruption Perception Index, India, available at: https://www.transparency.org/en/countries/india (last
visited on January 19, 2021).
- Attacks on RTI users in India: Hall of Shame statistics update
2016, available at: https://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/download/Attacks%20on%20RTI%20users%20in%20India.pdf (last
visited on January 19, 2021).
- State of U.P. v Raj Narain & Ors., 1975 AIR 856
- Alliance School of Law, Alliance University, Bangalore
Course Teacher- Mrs. Ekta Sawhney
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