Right to Information Act, 2005
The work of a small activist group in Rajasthan MKSS- Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan was an association for the empowerment of workers and farmers started a campaign to secure the right of ordinary people to gain access to information held by government officials. MKSS is a grassroots organization and is a “non-party political formation”. It relies on small formal membership of local people. They are supported by few committed activists from other parts of India. Thus MKSS emphasized that citizens have a right both to know how they are governed and to participate actively in the process of auditing the civil servants and their representatives. They started campaigning at the grassroots level and lead to a larger movement at the state and center level.
The activities of MKSS initially were on livelihood issues, such as the failure of the state government to enforce minimum-wage regulations on drought-relief works, to ensure availability of subsidized food and other essential commodities through the Public Distribution System (PDS), inflated estimates of bills in public works projects, etc, highlighting the role of corruption and mal practices in local authorities. They had no way to cross check the accounts without the official documents and thus access to information became very essential. While the nexus between local politicians, local government officials, and local contractors was well known, it continued to thrive under a pretext of secrecy. Thus the resistance of MKSS was against secrecy. One of the MKSS’s most important innovations has been jan sunwais – or “public hearings” in which all members of administration i.e. government officials , politicians, local villagers, outsiders etc were invited to verify the official documents obtained by MKSS by photocopying and thus the whole community took collective verification or auditing of the official documents1. Thus this exposed of the mechanics of forms of corruption through access to government documents and cross-checking them in public hearings.
Although MKSS was successful in exposing corruption in a number of localities, the public hearings were a relatively rare because of the difficulty in obtaining certified copies of government accounts from reluctant officials. This exposed the transparency of the government officials since they were reluctant to provide official documents and the role of information was very important which can be used was weapon against government accountability2.
Central values and the objectives this policy is built on is
The Act focuses on corruption, accountability and transparency in the system all leading to good governance. The reason of corruption is asymmetry in information and this asymmetry leads to poor public service delivery and corruption in the system of governance and ultimately it leads to ineffective and inefficient service delivery system. This act focuses more on creating a system of accountability and transparency in the administration machinery thus leading to better governance.
Accountability – “an obligation to accept responsibilities or to account for ones actions.”3. Accountability is defined as the application and/or responsibility of anyone handling resources, public office, power of administration or any position of trust to report on the way it has been exercised (World Bank Institute) The most important issue of efforts of governments to move from traditional compliance based accountability towards performance based accountability.
Accountability has three main components4:
Transparency is introduced as a means of holding public servants accountable and to help fight corruption.
Responsiveness concerns the responsibility of the organization for its acts. It thus shows the result of decision making process.
Compliance is an act or process of complying to a desire, demand, proposal, or regimen or to coercion, and conformity in fulfilling official requirements 5
Therefore accountability means where one party is accountable to another party for any action, process, output or outcome. If the information of accounter is given to a person, who can evaluate it and then judge that person.
But this information given should be
a) Reliable and correct b) understandable c) a complete part of information should be given and not just the part.
One of the main aims of Right to Information Act is to create transparency in administration machinery. Transparency is a means of holding public servants accountable and thus fights against corruption. When the transactions of government office i.e. its statements on decision making, muster rolls etc are open to public discussion and scrutiny , then only we can term it as transparent. Thus eliminates opportunity for the public servants to misuse or abuse the public system as they are appointed to serve the public. Transparency concerns the duty to account to those with legitimate interest in organization. It creates fairness and clarity in functions and operations of governance, thus puts a check on officials from exercising their discretionary powers and put a check on malpractices and thus reduces corruption.
Corruption is multi-dimensional concept. Dictionary defines it as moral decay and subject of unconditional condemnation. It is rightly said that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”6. Definition of corruption is both legal and economic terms. Legally, corruption is an act against the laid laws and liable for punishment. Economic view indicates that public servants who use public office for private gains and thus behaves like a market driven by demand and supply6.
MKSS demand for regulating the entire system provides a valuable new perspective to fight corruption. Corruption is one of the greatest obstacles to efficient delivery of development resources to the people. The focus of these grassroots people on Right to information, offers a constructive practical approach to fight against corruption which directly affects these people. Many women participated in these struggles and they directly confronted the government officials which helped in bringing dignity to their life and enhance their quality of life and translates into good livelihood of their life. Thus this Right to information has lead to pursuit of change of governance framework and a need for good governance. Corruption has critical ill effects of relationship of poor with state, market and civil & political society6. Ability of poor to achieve market gains is hampered by corruption because of lack of access to good education and healthcare systems, food etc. If the policing of market is not effective then whatever small benefits poorer people get for their productive activities will be very less.
Governance is interplay of society, state and administration. It depends on efficient functioning of legislature, executive, judiciary, civil societies, NGO’s etc. The end result of administrative systems is to ensure accountability, transparency, participation, upholding human rights of society, procedural fairness equity, inclusiveness, etc. even though each society and state has different cultures, tradition, economic differences etc. Good governance would include making administration ethical, making each civil servant accountable and each service result oriented, responsive administration, citizen friendly system of administration.
MKSS asked for the information that was denied to people so that all the services delivered by state are implemented and accounted properly. So they attacked the base of the problem, which was one of the basic rights which state should have given long time back. In India, where most of the villagers are illiterate and can’t make much use of information especially about financial transaction and accounts, but MKSS stuck to its stand and demanded for Right to Information7. If even basic procedural rights such as Right to Information are beyond the grasp of ordinary people, they are none the less very important because it concerns their socio-economic, cultural rights which are relevant to immediate needs of poorer sections of society for their sustainable livelihood3. The nature and utility of rights of people are linked to process by which they are obtained and the meaning established in democratic concepts can be transformed through political process. The key point is that, MKSS efforts to use Right to Information as something which can be used even by ordinary people and also in collective manner has made a marked distinction in its importance. Right to Information within Indian constitution provisions relates to Right to life and livelihood. Citizen’s right to know who governs them and how, can also be derived from citizens Right to liberty in article 21 and Right to equality by article 14 of constitution7.
MKSS work had a distinct characteristic that it worked collectively at the grassroots participation in exercise of rights, even though Right to Information was partially recognized by entire society through public hearing or Jan Sunmais. Thus MKSS targeted the people at bottom of pyramid unlike the many development programmes. If more people participate in decision making process, better will be information sharing and better use of resources and services. Thus it was a bottom up approach. MKSS approach was called “participatory auditing” “participatory monitoring and evaluation”. This highlights the gaps between peoples expressed needs and projects outcomes and its impact on people. Their approach was different in the sense that people had to directly confront with the government officials by demanding access to detailed expenditure records and verifying these collectively and then to demand an explanation from officials for apparent discrepancies7. This has changed the elite’s culture of bureaucracy since people are organized by training and inculcation of new pro-poor values. Therefore people’s knowledge was translated into power and thus exposing the corrupt practices, transparency of bureaucracy. MKSS approach of participatory method is different because people are mobilized, organized to fight against corruption, injustice etc and thus their approach is radical1.
Justice is the concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, fairness, or equity, along with the punishment of the breach of said ethics. Justice concerns itself with the proper ordering of things and people within a society (Wikipedia). Justice is one of the central values of RTI Act so that people can be given right based on fairness, equity etc.
Contradictions in the way in which the policy has been operationalised
For this act to be operationalised on the terms mentioned above, accountability and performance measure have to be unambiguously defined, else it is highly probable that RTI Act will not be implemented in true spirit.
Some key issues in the act are8,9
The role and ownership of State Information Commissioner and State Nodal Department are not defined clearly, even though their role is defined in sections 19, 26, 27, 28. Specific responsibilities of State Information Commissioner and State Nodal Department should be made and thus make them accountable for implementation of the RTI Act.
There is inadequate planning at Public Authority level regarding ownership for the implementation and to proactively identify and address constraints so that citizens are provided with the information as requested in totality.
There is inadequate infrastructure and resources at all levels, so that measurement of number of RTI applications, files disposed or rejected on real time basis can’t be achieved. This greatly delays the process and thus hampers accountability.
Convenience of filing requests
Many RTI applications were rejected saying that the applications were not in prescribed format. Officials took advantage of this and rejected many applications and thus many people lost hope in the RTI system
As per sections 4(1)(b) xv- xvi, 6(1) and 5(3), Public Authority should provide information on demand made in application of RTI9.
For filing RTI applications, a citizen has to pay cash and he should be physically presented, but Act doesn’t have any such mention in it. Citizens should submit their RTI application at PIO office which is usually located outside their village and sometimes villagers have to visit 3 or more times to PIO office to submit RTI application so that they have physically delivered their application and also sometimes the relevant officers will not be present.
Inadequate help was provided to applicant of RTI and even attitude of PIO was hostile, but sections 5(3) and 6(1) says otherwise (they should lend at information). Many applicants were dissatisfied with the quality of information provided.9
- Accounts and Accountability by Rob Jenkins and Anne Marie Goetz.
- Understanding the “Key Issues and Constraints” in implementing the RTI Act, June 2009, PWC
Encouraging accessibility to information is one of the major changes in the management issues among Government employees. For a Government servant, there has been a significant shift from the “Official Secrets Act” mindset to the “Right to Information Act” mindset.8
Absence of Independent Audit system
The MKSS approach in auditing by public hearing any information obtained from RTI Act and thus getting a collective opinion of public is missing in this Act. The absence of a strong review and auditing mechanism can cause some problems in implementation of the Act. Inadequate mechanism for monitoring proactive disclosure, thus has caused in low compliance to Section 4(1) of RTI Act. Officials don’t comply to respond to the RTI application within 30 days and thus causes delay. Even if the response is given, the officials are not held accountable to their misdeeds. Therefore an absence of independent audit system has not been operationalised in the RTI Act.
RTI Act emerged out of public participation. The Act should empower the citizens of India and thus creating awareness among people is necessary. Key issues are
Act mentions that it is the responsibility of Government to spread the awareness of this Act so that citizens can exercise their right as said in section 26(1) A of the Act. But this is not done. Many citizens are not aware of this Act leave alone the usability of the Act.
Also many government officials are not aware of this Act. The appellants were not aware of their rights during the hearing process. Mass awareness campaign of Government of India is missing.
Therefore to increase public knowledge and awareness, the citizens are to be involved in debates and not just few elites so as to increase betterment of the system.
Other issues in operationalisation
Sections 1(3) and 15 provide for initiating process of constituting Information Commission with the immediate effect, but it was not done in many states and thus implementation of Act was delayed from beginning.
Even information required to be displayed by suo moto in every office was missing.
RTI act is available in local language, but the User guide is not available in all the official languages , thus making it impossible for those sections of society who can’t read and write in their local languages Section 26 says that 18 months is the time duration for translation, but government is buying time to translate the Act and the User Guide. When translated it should be ensured that is gives precise meaning as said in original one8.
The Central and State Information commission has only about 10-12 officers who are involved in the implementation of this Act. This has resulted in more centralization, but instead in the participatory approach people were looking for decentralization.
In case if any private company is associated in implementing a part of government projects like in PPP, then there is no provision in the Act to get information about this private company.
Bureaucracy: Sometimes provides improper, incomplete, incorrect and ambiguous information. Most of PIO & AA consider RTI Act as biggest curse upon them & openly defy knowing well that information furnished by them shall expose illegalities & criminalities committed by their colleagues & theirs. Bureaucracy is taking advantage of certain loop holes in the act.
PIO: Both central and state Governments have a rule which says that public servants have to submit annual declaration of moveable and immoveable properties. RTI was files to request this, but PIO rejected it saying that Account General will have it and document sought for, if given will invade into privacy of officer10.
States Government: Even though RTI Act was passed and the Act also says that all the state governments have to setup State Information Commission within 6 months. 12 States didn’t do it. An appeal from PIO goes to 1st appellate authority and then to State Information Commissioner (SIC). Now if the SIC is not present then the applicant had no choice but to go to court. State government instead of acting according to the rules laid down in the Act is taking opportunity to delay the implementation process.
Central Information Commission (CIC):- It has ruled that all Government officials can refuse to give information, if the application form is not in prescribed format as given by Public Authority. So bureaucracy got loop holes in implementation of RTI Act. But the law only asks public to make written request and both PMO and Department of personnel & Training were involved in drafting this law.
In another case CIC pays compensation for delays as it didn’t give information to RTI applicant for more than 4 months. It acts as a neutral arbiter.
Opposition Party: – Opposition Party Congress in Rajasthan accused BJP that it has taken more than 5 months after deadline to implement RTI Act as it didn’t set up State Information Commission. The opposition party took an opportunity to launch an attack on the ruling party.
Civil Society and NGO’s:- They organized a mass campaign and mass drive to popularize the RTI Act in New Delhi. Many NGO initially didn’t support MKSS activities since they had challenges and problems in transparency in their own accounts. Few NGO’s were substantially funded by Government and they also came under scanner of RTI Act. Many NGO’s were reluctant to show information about of their accounts and other details. Many NGO’s even don’t have PIO. Information about how they get funds and their use it is not clear and many small NGO’s are the main defaulters10.
CBI: – CBI maintains a list of undesirable Contact Men (UCM) and all government officials are warned against these UCM list. RTI was filed by a person who suspected that his name was in the list, but CBI rejected this, citing that section 8(1 g) “Disclosure of info which would endanger life or physical safety of any person”. Thus this person faced a threat by CBI10.
Cabinet: – gave its approval for amending the RTI Act 2005 to exclude file noting’s in few areas except those related to social and development programs, UPSC, other government exams etc. Therefore Cabinet took an opportunity to make amendments to Act.
110 Lok Sabha members did not disclose assets even after eight months of their election to the Lok Sabha as against the mandatory provision to do so in 90 days.
Local People: Around 8000 people in Rajasthan participated in “Drive against Bribe” to get information and Suchana Evum Rozgar Ka Adhikar Abhiyan organized it to train these people in using RTI act and people were taught how to file applications for RTI.
RTI Activists: – Magsaysay Award winner Aruna Roy of MKSS has played a major role in bringing RTI to citizen so as to empower them. She said that it is “democratic privilege” as citizens could question public servants and fight against corruption.
Anna Hazare found irregularities in the functioning of “Council for Advancement of People’s Action & Rural Tech” (CA-PART) & threatened to go on fast unto death and also return Padmabhushan Award since CA-PART is not able to put in place effective monitoring & evaluation system. Of grants that were allocated to it for the betterment of poor people.
Similarly many well known activists rallied against amendments to exclude file notings and said that it would kill the Act and make Information Commission as a mere advisory bodies as it takes away independence of IC. Section (2) (f), (I), (j) of RTI set out “information” to include ‘opinion & advice’ and according to CIC this covers file notings10.
Murder of RTI activist: Upset by the brutal murder of RTI activist Satish Shetty in Pune on Wednesday, citizens using the Right To Information Act in Mumbai say the authorities need to answer some questions urgently. Recent cases have put a question mark on people’s security. In some cases government officials are even revealing the names of whistle-blowers. Instead of taking action when we bring irregularities to light, they claim there is no irregularity and leak our names. Activist Vihar Dhurve said that as more of the corrupt are exposed, those doing the exposing will be targeted13.
Supreme Court: SC says that RTI doesn’t apply to judges. “A judge speaks through his judgments and he is not answerable to anyone as to why he wrote a judgment in a particular manner,” the Bench said dismissing an appeal filed by one Khanapuram Gandaiah, who had filed for information under Section 6 of RTI Act. The District Judge had rejected his RTI plea. The Bench agreed with the rejection of his plea seeking information about the judgment under the RTI Act and said: “A judge can only speak through his judgments and he cannot be made to go on explaining why he took a particular view in a judgment.”
In another case The Madras High Court ordered TNPSC to give info under RTI Act and said that so long as information sought for under the RTI Act was available with the TNPSC and if it is not exempted under the Act, the Commission is duty bound to provide the information10.
High Court: The Bombay High Court today sought all the information which social activist Satish Shetty — who was killed and had obtained through Right to Information Act. High Court took suo motu notice of Shetty’s murder, which was preceded by attack on social activist Naina Kathpalia’s house in Mumbai. His younger brother Sandeep Shetty has told the Bombay high court that now he too is being threatened by some unknown persons and he didn’t trust the police, and therefore would like to submit the documents directly to the court. Court also questioned the state government on the progress in the investigation10.
|STAKE HOLDER’s role related to RTI Act 2005||De–facto interest ( Their actual interests)||Power of position in relation to RTI Act 2005||Threats and opportunities|
(legislative and executive)
|To bring out formation of RTI Act so as to improve accountability,
transparency and responsiveness in
government functioning (bureaucracy) and thus to check corruption
|To control information and use it arbitrarily||To make laws and
Rules for the RTI Act
To appoint central
|The PMO and Ministry of Personnel and Training drafted the law and as stated above, it has taken opportunity to leave some loop holes in RTI Act.|
|State Government (legislative and executive)
|To enforce the Act as laid out by central government||To control information and use it arbitrarily||To make laws and
Rules for the RTI Act
To appoint state Information commissioners.
|Instead of acting according to the rules laid down in the Act is taking opportunity to delay the implementation process.|
|Local urban bodies
|To apply the Act in all the departments||Not to provide information or not to provide it as desired||Has access to all the information of government departments in local bodies||Is taking opportunity to delay the implementation process.|
|Civil society organizations
|To make this act functional and operative as per their demands and interests.
Creating awareness of the Act for mass participation
|To mobilize people and thus negotiate with
|Awareness campaign||Have taken opportunity to expose irregularities in bureaucracy.|
|To get information as
and when desired
|To get information by filing RTI application so that administration is
|Legal right to get
Information under the Act
To go to higher authorities if information is denied
|Citizens are mainly threatened if they voice against bureaucracy|
|To publish and broadcast success and failures of various stakeholders||Sometimes misusing and establishing their nuisance value.||Opinion building Popularizing this act through print and electronic medium.||They have taken opportunity to advance their own interests.|
|To use this act to help citizens||To use it in propaganda and for vote politics.||To amend and to add or delete certain or whole provisions of the act.||They have taken opportunity for vote bank politics|
|To prove their accountability,
|Very less interest in information access Manipulation of
Information to hide their mistakes
|Initial and key source of information.||Is taking advantage of certain loop holes in the act.|
|To make this act
|To make a commanding position over government
|To hear second appeals and deliver judgments
To impose fine
To recommend government
|It acts as a neutral arbiter.|
|Courts(High court and Supreme court) (Secondary Stakeholders)||To watch the legal interpretation of Act||Establish judicial authority above all.||To pass judgments in writ jurisdiction. To issue directions even to the information commissions||It acts as a neutral arbiter to enforce the law as laid out the RTI Act|
Complete access to
|To promote their own agenda.||Funding and other
|Have taken opportunity to advance their own demands and of good governance.|
Suggestion for improvement11, 12
To ensure co-ordination between the appropriate Government and the Information Commission in discharging the duties mandated under the RTI Act, it is recommended that there should be an RTI Implementation Cell. And this cell should be supported by the Nodal Department for all administrative support.
Due to current low level of implementation of section 4(1) b and delays in providing information, there is a need for capacity building within Public Authority. Suggest having a Public Authority’s RTI cell to proactively address RTI applications. Size of the RTI cell can vary depending on the number of RTI applications received. Some its functions will be to capture no. of application filed, information provided, and appeals at First Appellate Authority, fines imposed by SIC and SIC orders and instruction.
Composition of Information Commissions: As per the Section 12(5) and 15(5), the composition should be such that it should have people with wide knowledge and experience in law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media or administration and governance. To implement these sections in spirit, it is recommended that the people who have worked in Government should be restricted to 50% (if not less) as recommended in the ARC report.
Branding and promotion of RTI as done for many similar pro poor schemes such as MNREGA etc so as to increase public knowledge and awareness and to encourage citizen to involve in public discussions and thus increase transparency. This can be done by designing posters, pamphlets, audio, video message to create awareness and give punch line as done by say Family Planning department.
The filing of RTI application is not convenient. Service Centers can be established to ease the process of RTI filing. Department of Posts (GOI) is already a designated APIO under the Section 5(2) for Central Government. It is suggested that the State Governments also accord the status of APIO to post offices and designate staff to assist citizens in drafting and forwarding the applications or appeals. RTI Call Centers: these have already been implemented in some states such as Bihar, Haryana. This is a convenient channel wherein the RTI application is taken by the call centre and payment of fee is included in the telephone bill. RTI Portal and other e-governance programs can be created so that all the RTI applications can be filed online and thus enables faster delivery of information.
Re-organization of record management system to promote information management. Software applications should be developed so that they are installed in all the offices of government so that real time service can be provided. This application should assist in improving productivity in disposal of cases, drafting of orders and ease administration burden on many officers.
In all Information Commissions at state level, central level and at district level video conferencing infrastructure should be installed so that State/Central Information Commissioners can hear the cases from this office and any person can go to district level instead of going all the way to state and central level to hear his cases. This reduces cost and saves time.
Training should be imparted to all Pas, Appropriate governments and the ICs and by conducting separate training courses for PIOs/FAAs and other officers, a module on RTI should be incorporated all training programmes, considering every government employee is subject to the RTI.
Since each State has its own set of rules while implementing in different departments, there is a need to have uniformity in the rules of all departments of all the states so that RTI applicant can apply using same form format in all the places.
If any RTI applicant is threatened then his complaint must be passed on to police officials and there should be amendments made in Act accordingly.
To ensure better service delivery by authorities and officials, third party audits should be institutionalized to support the Information Commission in carrying out responsibilities under Section 19(8)(a), 25(1), 25(2), 25(3f), 25(3g) and 25(5). Institutionalising regular audits would facilitate the Public Authorities’ compliance with the RTI Act (through the audit findings made available by Information Commission). In this context it is recommended to have a third party audit (at least annually) to support the Information Commissions and RTI Implementation Cell to monitor the performance of Public Authorities and to take appropriate action in case of any deviation. • Moreover, it is also suggested that the SIC website should have a list of all the Public Authorities within the jurisdiction of the Information Commission. The website should have a feature for citizens to report noncompliance (through tick-mark options) for a Public Authority. The reports generated through this application, would be helpful for a Public Authority and the Information Commission to take appropriate actions.
In section 2 of RTI Act should remove the difficulty in ascertaining whether particular NGO should be treated as a public authority or not.
The sections 12 and 15 don’t have any provision about giving current change of the post of Chief Information Commissioner to any Commissioner and thus should be amended.
Section 29 A doesn’t have has power to empower the Commissions to make regulations and thus should be amended.
- Sowmya , “Right to know right to live”
- P Sampat, Nikhil DeY ,“Bare Acts and Collective Explorations ,The MKSS Experience with the Right to Information”,.
- “Bare Acts and Collective Explorations ,The MKSS Experience with the Right to Information”, P Sampat, Nikhil DeY.
- Institute of Social Sciences Implementing Right To Information Act, 2005 in Urban Governance A Case Study of Lucknow Municipal Corporation, Yogeshwar Ram Mishra
- Implementing Right To Information Act, 2005 In Urban Governance: A Case Study of Lucknow Municipal Corporation.
- Accounts and Accountability by Rob Jenkins and Anne Marie Goetz.
- Understanding the “Key Issues and Constraints” in implementing the RTI Act, June 2009, PWC
- RIGHT TO INFORMATION – 2006, Compiled By K. Samu, Human Rights Documentation.
- By RTI Assessment & Analysis Group (RaaG) and National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI). October 2009
- Beyond Information: Breaching the Wall of State Inaction by Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan
- SAFEGUARDING THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION, Report of the People’s RTI Assessment 2008.