The Right to Information Act 2005 commonly known as RTI is an Act of the Parliament of India "to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority."
Whereas the Constitution of India has established democratic Republic, which means that RTI extends through the entire Country including both states and Union Territories except the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
Under the provisions of RTI Act, any citizen of India may request to seek out information from a "public authority" which is then required to reply within thirty days in response to RTI filed.
The Act also directs every public authority to take steps so as to provide enough information of its own to the public at regular intervals through various means of communications, including internet, so that the public have minimum resort to the use of this Act for obtaining information.
RTI was passed by Parliament on 15 June 2005 and came into force on 13 October 2005.
The genesis of RTI can be tracked down to early 1990s when Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathana(MKSS) initiated a movement in order to bring in transparency in village accounts. Initially, MKSS influenced the then government officials to seek out information such as employment and payment records and bills & vouchers relating to purchase and transportation of different materials. At the time of Jan Sunwai (public hearings) those information were then crosschecked against the actual testimonies of workers. These public hearings were very successful in dragging attention to corruption and exposing potholes in the system.
Several Activists throughout the country derived inspiration from the success of MKSS and led to a much broader discourse on the RTI in India. After a lot of hustling and juggling, Right to Information was enacted in few of the states of India. In 2000s a movement led by Anna Hazare in Maharashtra forced the state government to enact a stronger Maharashtra RTI Act. This Act was later considered as the base document for the Right to Information Act 2005, which was enacted by Union Government.
The RTI Act empowers Indians to do the following:
•Request any information from any public office
•Take copies of the documents
•Inspect those documents
•Inspect the progress of works and
•Take samples of materials used at work sites
Under the provisions of RTI Act, all authorities under its ambit must appoint their Public Information Officer (PIO) who shall be responsible for dealing with public regarding RTI. Any person may submit a request to the PIO for information in writing and it is the PIO's responsibility to provide information to citizens of India who request for the same under the RTI Act within the time constrains.
If the request pertains to another public authority whether in whole or part, it is the PIO's responsibility and not the applicant’s to forward the concerned request to a PIO of the other department within 5 working days.
In order to seek out the information an applicant need not disclose any information or reasons other than his/her name and contact particulars.
If in case the information is not provided within the specified time frame, it is treated as deemed refusal. Refusal with or without reasons may be a ground for further appeal or complaint regarding the same. Also, if the information is not provided within the time frame it is to be provided free of charge later.
For Central Departments, there is a fee of Rs 10 for filing the request, Rs 2 per page of information and Rs 5 for each hour of inspection after the first hour. However, if the applicant is a Below Poverty Card holder, then he/she need not pay any fee at all.
There is no doubt that RTI Act has empowered Indian citizens and has also brought transparency in the working of public offices. However, people must understand their responsibility while exercising RTI Act, as it makes pulls down the smooth and steady functioning of the public offices by overload of RTIs filed. Currently RTI is a media staple of news.
Recently at the 6th Annual Convention of Information Commissioners in New Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called out for a critical look at the RTI Act. He further added by saying that the law should not adversely affect the deliberative processes in the government.
Dr. Manmohan Singh said that the numbers of appeals or complaints before the commission were very large and public authorities must endeavor to voluntarily put information in the public domain without waiting for applications from information seekers.
Indeed, RTI has proved to be an effective tool for creating transparency and curbing the rampant corruption in the working of public offices. The society has developed due to it. However keeping all that in mind, it must also be ensured that it does not slow down the efficient working of various public offices and concerned measures must be taken regarding the same.
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