Definition.The type of information which may be obtained is defined under section 2 (f) of the Right to Information Act, 2005 (No 22 of 2005) as any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, log books, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force.
Historical Perspective. The need to communicate information was felt strongly on a global scale, and Sweden passed the first RTI statute in 1766, largely in response to the parliament's desire for access to information kept by the King. This was followed by United States of America and Norway who enacted their RTI Acts in 1966 and 1970 respectively. By 1990, thirteen countries had passed Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation. The European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights, which was adopted in 2000 and covered both freedom of expression and access to documents, was a significant step forward. RTI rules or regulations were in place in more than 85 countries by 2010. There was widespread public resentment over information suppression, press censorship and misuse of authority during the internal emergency of 1975-77. In 1977, the Janata Party, led by Morarji Desai, promised an open government and said that it would not exploit intelligence services or administrative authorities for personal or party advantage in its election programme. Morarji Desai convened a working committee in 1977 as a result of this vow to explore if the Official Secrets Act of 1923 might be changed to allow for a greater flow of information to the public. However, the working group issued a "no change" recommendation, thereby closing the door to transparency and openness. The other significant events which led to embracing this sacred right to information are tabulated below in chronological order
Author: Capt Hari K Nair
Suo Moto Disclosure of Information. The first aspect of RTI is to provide automatic disclosure of regularly updated information, by all public authorities, at any time through publically accessible forum like internet. Suo moto disclosure was added to the RTI Act in order to publish significant amounts of information in the public domain on a proactive basis, making government operations more open and reducing the need for individual RTI submissions. Suo moto disclosure, as defined in Section 4 of the Right to Information Act of 2005, requires public agencies to voluntarily provide information to the public at regular intervals rather than on demand. Cataloguing, indexing and computerization of records are all important responsibilities of public authorities under this provision, as are publishing certain basic information about each organisation within a specified timeframe. Publishing all relevant facts while making important policy decisions and ensuring that all information is widely disseminated and easily accessible to the public are basic tenets of citizen-centric governance.
Amendment of Right to Information Act. The Right to Information Act of 2005 was amended in July 2019 by the parliament, reducing its effectiveness. The revision adds to the long list of erosions that the Act has endured under previous administrations. The Lok Sabha passed the disputed Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019, on 25 July 2019, sparking outrage from the Opposition, who claimed the modifications weakened the essential transparency law. The bill will give the federal and state governments more control over the terms of Chief Information Commissioners (CICs) and Information Commissioners (ICs). The amendment bill sparked a heated debate, with the opposition clamouring for it to be submitted to a select committee. With 117 lawmakers voting against referring the bill to a select committee and 75 voting in favour, the bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha on 25 July 2019. Activists claim that the modified law undermines the RTI Act 2005's main goal of promoting transparency and accountability in the workings of all public authorities, as well as citizens' right to secure access to information. This is an attempt to stifle the free flow of unbiased information by putting filtered information from governmental authorities in front of the general public in order to appease the government. The administration has undermined the sunshine law without offering a convincing reason for doing so, which will obstruct the Information Commissioners' ability to act independently. They no longer have the independence, transparency, position, or authority that they once did, and will instead act as one of the departments reporting to the central government.
Writ Petiton No 436 of 2018. WP No 436 of 2018 was filed by Anjali Bhardwaj of Satark Nagrik Sanghatan (SNS) in the Hon’ble Supreme Court regarding filling vacancies in the various Information Commissions in a transparent and time bound manner. The SC in its judgment of 15 Feb 2019 had passed the following orders
(a) All states shall also follow the system of placing all necessary information including advertisement, details of applications received, particulars of the applicants, composition of Selection Committee etc. on their website as is being followed by Center.
(b) Terms and conditions on which such appointments are to be made are specifically stipulated in the advertisement and put on website as well.
(c) Search Committee to make the criteria for shortlisting the candidates public, so that it is ensured that shortlisting is done on the basis of objective and rational criteria.
(d) Information Commissioners are appointed from other streams, as mentioned in the Act and the selection is not limited only to the Government employee/exgovernment employee.
(e) Fill up vacancies, in future, without any delay. For this purpose, it would be appropriate that the process for filling up of a particular vacancy is initiated 1 to 2 months before the date on which the vacancy is likely to occur so that there is not much time lag between the occurrence of vacancy and filling up of the said vacancy.
Report Card of Information Commissions 2019-20. The report card for information commissions for 2019-20 was published by SNS and Centre for Equity Studies in October 2020. Despite the fact that the RTI Act allows Commissioners to be appointed from a variety of backgrounds and fields and the Supreme Court reiterated this in its February 2019 decision, the assessment found that the vast majority of information commissioners have been appointed from among retired government employees. As per the report 84% of CIC’s and 59% of IC’s are retired government servants. One explanation could be that these positions are sought after by retired and retiring bureaucrats, who often benefit from political patronage and are considered as more loyal by their political masters. The report also brings out that there is a vacancy of six information commissioners including the CIC in Central Information Commission. The vacancy of Information Commissioners ranges from 01 in Karnataka to 10 in Goa, Himachal Pradesh and Meghalaya. The Information Commissions of 8 states are headless with no CIC appointed at the time of report. This points out that even after 20 months of the SC judgment the state of vacancy on Information Commissions remains dismal.
Centralised Public Grievance Monitoring System. CPGRAMS is an online platform that individuals can use round the clock to file complaints with the government on any topic relating to service delivery. It is a single site that connects all of the Government of India ministries and departments, as well as state governments. This system has role-based access for every ministry and state. Citizens can also access CPGRAMS through a separate mobile application that can be downloaded from the Google Play store, as well as a mobile application that is integrated with UMANG. The unique registration ID issued at the time of the complainant's registration can be used to trace the status of the grievance lodged in CPGRAMS. If residents are dissatisfied with the Grievance Officer's resolution, they can file an appeal with CPGRAMS. If the complainant is not pleased with the settlement after the grievance has been closed, he or she might submit feedback. The option to file an appeal is enabled if the rating is 'Poor.' The petitioner can also check the status of the appeal using the grievance registration number. The following issues cannot be taken up for resolution through CPGRAMS
(a) Cases that are now pending in court or any other subject involving a court's decision.
(b) Personal and familial conflicts.
(c) Right to Information matters.
(d) Anything that has an impact on the country's territorial integrity or cordial relations with other countries.
Discussion on Seeking Information in the Context of a Civil Servant
“Moving from seeking information to providing information, the government should, on its own, move towards a culture of absolute transparency. Rather than people asking for information by making applications under the RTI Act, the government should make efforts to provide as much information to the people on its own.”
Arvind Kejriwal, Yojana, January 2006