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Open Government And Right To Information

An open government is guided by the principal of transparency, accountability, participation and collaboration. open government is a topic of growing importance in administrative law. The modern trend is towards more open government. Openness in government is bound to act as a powerful check on the abuse or misuse of power by the government.

Evolution of Right To Information (International)

Article 19 of universal declaration of Human Rights,1948 recognizes the Right to information.
Sweden (1766) : First country to guarantee RTI to its citizens. Constitution declares that citizens shall have free access to information subject to only some restriction.
Finland(1951): Law on the right to information on publicity of document.
France(1978): Commission on access to administrative documents.
United States: Foundation of openness and RTI lay in Constitutional fundamental right of free speech.
Canada: Freedom of information Act ,1986 .
Australia, New Zealand: Freedom of Information Act ,1982.
South Africa(1996): Constitution provides RTI as a fundamental right.

Great Britain: Freedom of Information Act ,2002 provides general right of public access to all types of recorded information by public authority with some exemptions.

Evolution of Right To Information In India

In Rajasthan the Right to Information movement was initiated by Aruna Roy in the early 1990’s. The Mazdoor Kisan Shakthi Sangathan (MKSS) succeeded Through Struggle and agitation, in accessing and using information to put an end to local corruption and exploitation. In 2005 the Parliament has enacted a new legislation – Right To Information Act 2005. This new Act replace the old Freedom of Information act, 2002, which was un notified and hence, not operational. It aims at promoting Transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority. It has the widest possible reach covering central government, state governments panchayat raj Institution, Local Bodies and recipients of government grants.

This right to information act is applicable to all the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Which has its own Right to Information Act 2009 Every citizen of India has the Right to seek information through this act. only an Individual can use this RTI facility. A group or company cannot request for any Information.

Information Commission
The Act provides for establishment of Central Information Commission and State Information Commission.The Information Commission acts as a redressal valve in ensuring that the authorities under the act carry out their duties and functions properly and the citizens right to information is safeguarded.

Every government office will have its own PIO (Public information officer) who is responsible to accept the request from the Public and provide the Information Within 30 days of their request A minimum fee is charged form The public people from BPL (Below Poverty Line) are exempted from paying any fee to seek any information . Also there are APIOS (Assistant Public Information officers) available in the post offices located in main cities and towns.

The officer is charged Rs.250 per day as penalty for the delay. He is likely to be charged Rs2500 for providing wrong Information for denial of Information and disciplinary action will be initiated against the officer who fails to provide Information and it his explanation is not duly justified.

Reasons For The Need For The Right To Information

Right to information is necessary due to the accountable to people.
It reduces the gap between administration and people.
Increases people participation in administration.
Makes people aware of administrative decision making.
Reduces the chance of abuse of authority by the public servants.

Right To Information As A Fundamental Right

Right to information has enacted from the freedom of speech and expression enshrined in article 19(1) (a) and right to life and personal liberty contained in article 21 of the constitution. The judiciary treats it as a part of the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by article 19(1) (a). It is also of equally paramount consideration that justice should not only be done but also be publicly recognized as having been done.

In bennet coleman v. union of India, the court held that the democracy means a government of the people, it is obvious that every citizen must be entitled to participate in the democratic persons. Their effective participation can be ensured only if they have sufficient information with them.

There are several aspects of open government
1.Presentation of documents by the government in the court in the course of some litigation.
2.official secrecy.
3.Access to information.

People’s right to know has two aspects:
1. How far government should use criminal sanction to deter free flow of information?
2. How far government is under a positive obligation to make available, on demand, information to the people not in the prohibited category?

In S.P.Gupta v. Union of India, bhagawathi.J., has observed that the open government is the new democratic culture of an open society towards which every libral democracy is moving and our country should be no exception.

Citizens ought to know what their government is doing. No democratic government can survive without accountability which implies that people should have information about the functioning of the government. Secrecy in functioning of the government promote operation, corruption, misuse and abuse of authority. Open government is a clean government.

In secretary of ministry of information and broadcasting, government of India v. Cricket association of west Bengal, the supreme court held that the freedom of speech and expression includes rights to acquire information and to disseminate it.

In Tata Press Ltd v. Mahanagar telephone Nigam Ltd., the court held that commercial speech is a part of freedom of speech and expression. So far as the economic needs of a citizen are concerned, their fulfilment has to be guided by the information disseminated through the advertisements.

In Dinesh trivedi v. Union of India, Supreme Court emphasized that right to know is axiomatic in modern constitutional democracies. Art 21 is meaningless without the right to information.

In Attorney General v. Time News Papers Ltd, it was held that the fundamental rights involved are the people’s right to know .Freedom of speech an expression should ,therefore, receive a generous support from all those who believe in the participation of people in the administration.

Indians file nearly 60 lakh RTIs every year, the highest number of such information requests in the world . A total number of 2,74,737 RTI applications were filed under standalone in different departments and agencies in Delhi.

Simpreet Singh RTI activist said , “It just takes 10 Rs to right a wrong the biggest achievement of RTI is that it tells the most powerful people that they are not beyond the reach of a common man”

Example:
Through an RTI starting from the electricity bill of your local commissioner to the amount spent by the government in training of an athlete. A young girl in her RTI asked who has gave the order for printing Mahatma Gandhi’s image on currency notes.

In another interesting RTI, a political activist in 2004 asked the election commission of india why election symbols used in electronic voting machines are black and white and not colourful.

State Level Laws
The RTI laws were first successfully enacted by the state governments – Tamilnadu(1997), Goa(1997), Rajasthan(2000), Karnataka(2000) , Delhi(2001), Maharastra(2002), Madhya Pradesh(2003), Assam(2002).

Exclusions
There is a restriction in seeking information according to the official Secret Act 1923 and such information will not be revealed or provided to the citizen of India in the interest of the country’s security. No information pertaining to offices and section dealing with security of the nation which will endanger the national security,security to the personnel,like the defence,CB,CID,BSI,Police etc,However any issues relating to malfunction or corruption in the department are excluded and can be sought through this RTI Act.

RTI And Administrative Reforms

RTI and Administrative Reforms have a mutually reinforcing symbiotic relation,
RTI ensures transparency,accountability and efficiency which are themselves goals of Administrative Reforms .
RTI helps in exposing the shortcomings of the system which leads to further Administrative Reforms.
RTI cannot succeed in its implementation until and unless supported by structural and procedural reforms. Thus Administrative Reforms are a necessity for RTI success.
Request of information under RTI can help make the civil servants aware of the problems and thus leads to corrective action.

Conclusion
The officer who is the head of all the information act is the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC). At the end of the year CIC is required to submit the reports which contains the number of requests, amount of charges collected by each public authority under the act etc, Bhopal Gas Tragedy could have been avoided if people had been provided complete information about the hazards of the plants and the protective measures.

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