Updated: Jul 31, 2020
Great things require a lot of struggle to convert them into reality particularly when it’s directly related to the common man. Well, it all started with a commitment in 1977 as the Janta Party in their election manifesto promised “an open government‘’. The struggle of RTI is almost thirty years long which involved lawyers, students and activists along with common people which resulted in the passage of Right to Information Act, 2005. The Preamble of RTI ACT, 2005 acknowledges information as an important tool for citizens, and guarantees access to information under the control of public authorities. India is a democratic Republic and democracy surely requires informed citizens to keep checks and balances on the Government. In fact, the Supreme Court in a landmark case of MR. Kulwal v/s Jaipur Municipal Corporation held that Right to Information comes under the ambit of Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19 of the Constitution.
Since then RTI became an important tool for citizens for acquiring information from public authorities and keeping an eye on public spending. Scams and corruption at a large scale in the system was in public including Adarsh and Commonwealth Games Scam due to application of a RTI. In June 2013, Central Information commission brought six political parties of India under the ambit of public authority to make the system more transparent. The following political parties didn’t accept the decision and brought a bill to amend this decision of the Information Commission, by stating the ongoing provisions in Representation of People’s Act, 1951 and Income Tax Act, 1961. Statement of Objects and Reasons of bill said the ongoing provision already dealt with financial aspects of political parties and their candidates. The bill was lapsed in the Parliament but till now, political parties don't comply with the ruling of the Central Information Commission. Now, analyze the scenario that if you could access the information related to the funding of political parties and other benefits that they get. But almost every political party was on the same line and declared themselves out of the definition of “political authority’’. This was a classic example of how government institutions are diluted and along with curtailing the right of citizens.
A similar successful attempt was made in 2019, by amending the RTI and questioning the independence of the Information Commission. To be more blunt, a classic example of centralization of power can be seen in the amendment. Now, the Central Government will decide the term, tenure and salaries of Information Commissioners both at the centre and state level. The amended Act has changed Sections 13 and 16 of the RTI ACT, 2005. Section 13 of the original Act sets the term of the Central Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners for five years (or until the age of 65, whichever is easier). It has been replaced now with “for such term’’ as may be prescribed by the Central government.
Hence, in my opinion many attempts have already been made to dilute such a progressive law which was formulated on the core principles of democracy. Democracy which requires informed citizens, so that they choose the right representatives to govern and represent them in the legislatures. For this, RTI has to be strengthened with some changes like the Information Commission should be granted Constitutional Status from the present Statutory Authority. Cooperative Federalism is an important element of democracy, so States should have a say on the formation of State Information Commissions. Political Parties should appoint Public Information Officers in order to grant information under right to information. Information Commissions should be treated as an independent institution so as to maintain the flow of information without any prejudice and pressure.
Lloyd Law College