The Right to Information Act,2005 was passed by the Parliament on 15th June, 2005 and came into being on the 13th of October, 2005. It extends to all states except Jammu and Kashmir.This Act ensures that information in the control of public authorities is available to the citizens of the country and thus guarantees transparency and accountability to the works of such authorities. It also requires these authorities to periodically computerise their records, hence making it easily available to public at large.There were several Acts that restricted disclosure of information in India, such as the Official Secrets Act, 1889, but the birthof RTI Act had an overriding effect on such Acts.
Under this Act, one may request for any information from any Public Authority (except that of Jammu and Kashmir) and will be provided with the information at the earliest possible. The information provided under this Act includes inspection of work, all kinds of documents, records, taking notes, taking certified samples of materials; taking extracts, certified copies of documents/records; floppies, tapes, diskettes, video cassettes, etc.According to this Act, Public Information Officers (PIO) are designated at every sub-divisional or sub-district level. All requests for information should be made to these officers and it is their obligation to make the information available. An Assistant Public Information Officer (APIO) is also to be appointed. A Central Information Commission has been set up at the national level and State Information Commissions should be set up in every state. It is their duty to receive and inquire into ay complaint given by any citizen regarding the services of a Public Information Office.
The time limit for providing the information has also been provided in the Act. If the request has been made to the PIO, the time limit is 30 days. And if it has been made to the APIO, within 35 days of receipt, information should be provided. If the PIO has to transfer the request to another public authority, then from the day of transfer the time allowed for reply is computed. Whereas, if the information concerns corruption and Human Rights violation, the time limit is 45 days. Most importantly, if the information involves the life or liberty of a person, such information shall be provided within 48 hours.
Right to Information comes under the Article 19(1) (Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression) of Constitution of India. This article guarantees the citizens right to receive and collect information and thus helps them carry out their duties under Article 51A. Right to know is also associated with right to education.
Going into the history of this Act, even before this Act was finally passed by the Parliament, it was successfully consented by many State Governments, which includes Tamil Nadu, Goa, Rajasthan, and Jammu and Kashmir etc. At the national level, first Freedom of Information Bill was enacted in 2000. However it was a grand failure because too many exemptions were allowed and also there was no restriction on the upper limit of the charges that could be made. This led to the formation of the first of the first draft of National RTI Bill, on 22nd of December, 2004.
At the International level, Article 19 of UN Standards states that information disclosure is the oxygen of a democracy as it helps citizens in decision making. There are 9 main principles to this Article the main of which are protecting whistle-blowers, conducting public body meetings in public, etc. The first RTI law was passed by Sweden in 1766, followed by US in 1960 and then Norway in 1970. Soon the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights was enacted in 2000. This provided freedom of expression and right of access to documents. Now around 85 countries have RTI laws or regulations. In Asia over 20 countries have adopted Freedom of Information Laws including Kazhakisthan, South Korea, Japan, China and Indonesia. In Africa, progress has been comparatively slower.
Keeping in mind the national interest, some exemptions have also been mentioned regarding the information that can be provided. This includes all information that has been unambiguously forbidden from publication by the court or any tribunal, or if such publication would lead to contempt of court, or information which would lead to breach of the privileges of the Parliament or State Legislatures. Lastly, information that would damage the competitive position of a third party such as trade secrets, intellectual property, etc.
An amendment bill, i.e,Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2013, was presented before the LokSabha on 12th August 2013.As per this bill, the term ‘political parties’ were removed from the definition of public authorities and thus from the RTI Act as a whole. The reason for this being that there are other provisions, such as, Income Tax Act, 1961and hence the transparency of the candidates is guaranteed.This bill hasn’t been passed yet and heated discussions are being held regarding the pros and cons of the same. India being a democratic nation, transparency of all works of public authority is a must. With the enactment of RTI Act, this has become possible.
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