Information is referred to as that stimuli that attributes some sort of a
meaning in some context to its receiver[i]. This same information when stored in
a computer or a laptop or any other storage devices, changes name and becomes
data. It is this data that holds key in today's world.
Taking into account present society, there is a great and urgent need for access
and availability of information, for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it acts as
an aid to decision making and hence is one of the most essential tools of
decision makers at all levels. Secondly, correct information has a deep effect
on the human psyche, because a great deal of change can happen in the human mind
after perceiving a set of information.
Moreover, quality research is aided by
the availability of accurate and correct information. In the absence of the
same, research and development to identify loopholes and suggest corrective
action, takes a hit[ii]. Last but not the least, the right of access to correct
information is a right which has been put on the same pedestal as the
fundamental rights of citizens and hence at that juncture, the access to correct
information becomes all the more important.
What is essential to understand is that availability of accurate information in
the public domain is the most vital step to preventing corruption. When the
citizens have the required network to access key and correct government data and
facts, the abuse of power and the presence of widespread illegality in
government activities becomes a distant past.
This is primarily because when
citizens have the required access to information, they get to know each and
every activity that the government indulges itself in and that creates a check
for those people who otherwise would have blatantly abused power [iii]. Most
countries around the world acknowledge the right that the citizens have to
information. Nearly 120 countries around the world have some law or the other
that guarantees right to information to its citizens. We shall, through the
course of this article take a detailed look at two of the countries, India and
Right to Information: The Indian Approach
India, for long has had a history of corruption especially in the government
sector. Rampant abuse of power and use of resources for personal benefits has
been a routine in the government sector. In such times, it became increasingly
essential for the top brass of the government to come up with a legislation that
would curb this growing menace to some extent.
On 12th October 2005, The Right to Information Act came into effect in the
Indian Union[iv]. It was enabled mainly to ensure that Indian Citizens are made
capable to exercise their rights of asking pertinent questions to various
branches of the government. The main aim of the act was to curb the main
problem, the growing corruption in India.
This act makes it mandatory for any public or government authority to respond to
an Indian Citizens request for information regarding its working within a period
of 30 days. That means that the public authority[v], if it fails to respond to
the request for information, can be held liable in a court of law. What is
important to note here is that not everything comes under the umbrella of RTI.
Key sectors such as defence and national security has been kept outside the
purview of this act. Moreover, any information pertaining to the personal
details of any employee of such organizations also do not fall under the purview
of this act.
In the pre RTI era, there were a plethora of other legislations which governed
this area, the Official Secrets Act being the primary such Legislation. The
introduction of the RTI Act in 2005 has reduced the coverage of many such
legislations to a large extent.
The history of RTI is a long one but the event that led to its transpiration is
an interesting one. In the year 1987, a few labourers were refused wages on the
charges of inconsistent performance. The Mazdoor Kissan Shakti Sanghatan (MKSS)
demanded from the officials that proof be given of their inconsistent
performance, subsequent to which, a dearth of corruption in that department
surfaced. Keeping this in mind, The Freedom of Information Act 2002 was passed
which subsequently in the year 2005 became the Right to Information Act. A
police station in Pune is credited for having received the first ever RTI
application in the year 2005 itself[vi].
RTI in India: The touchstone of efficiency
As the country gears up to celebrate more than one and a half decades of the RTI
legislation, India still ranks 37 on the World Justice project for the
efficiency in the Act's enactment[vii]. In the state, at the moment, most of the
posts of information commissioners lie vacant even as a single chief information
commissioner struggles to deal with the entire department single headedly. Mr
Winson M Paul, the State Chief Information Commissioner in one of his interviews
had stated that thousands of such RTI applications (13200 to be specific) were
pending in the states due to due to acute under staffing in the department[viii]
According to former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, 54% of the
RTI's filed in the Union of India, pertain to information which the
government organizations are supposed to publish Suo moto without even an
application, something which critically highlights the callous attitude of the
authorities in the department[ix].
Abey George, state convenor of the NCPRI had
highlighted the egoistic approach of the authorities when a question was asked
to them. Instead of answering the question and making the information public,
they would make it a point to return the application citing flaws in the way the
question was asked, once again proving the point that transparency in the
government working is still a dream.
According to RTI Users, the first major hurdle in most of the cases are the
information officers, who resort to either not providing the information or
giving half information. Earlier these people were taken strict action against
if found not catering to the public's demand for information but now, having
successfully realised that action against them is a long-drawn process, the fear
The applicant would be first required to file an appeal with the
first appellate authority who should be an officer senior in rank to the person
against whom the complaint has been filed. This appeal would need to be decided
before a further appeal can be filed in the information commission. By the time,
the information commission successfully decides on the appeal anywhere between
two to five years would have passed, and in most cases, the information officer transferred[x].
A major problem lies in the commissions itself. An accumulation of 10 years of
fines collected by the commission till the year 2016-17, has been only Rs 1.29
crore. Add to that the fact that a state like Andhra Pradesh has no information
commission since 2014 when Telangana was carved out as a separate state. The
Gujarat and Nagaland states have been headless in terms of their information
commission for a long period of time and there are huge vacancies in the
commissions of Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab[xi], we see that the
situation in India is pretty grim.
Seeking Government Information in the United States
In America, seeking government information from various government agencies
falls under the ambit of The Freedom of Information Act 2005[xii]. It allows any
person, individual or corporate, citizen or not to request and obtain, without
any explanation or justification, existing, unpublished records of the agency on
any topic whatsoever. It was signed by the then President Lyndon B Johnson on
July 4th 1966.
Like the Indian RTI, it isn't an all-inclusive act. It exempts nine specific
categories of information which includes National Security, law enforcement,
trade secrets among others, which essentially means that information of these
specific matters even though pubic, can't be asked for under the Freedom of
The Legislation had been amended in the year 1974 after the Watergate scandal to
ensure greater agency compliance. Subsequently in the year 1986, it was amended
to provide wider exemption protection for law enforcement information and in
1996 to allow the public to have greater access to electronic information.
Another legislation, the Open Government Act of 2007 implemented a few
provisions in the aforementioned legislation. It now became the prerogative of
the agency to send misrouted requests to the appropriate office within 10
working days. Further the clock could be stopped only once for non-fee related
matters whereas it could be stopped as many times as need be for fee related
Not only is the law pretty stringent in this regard, the process of filing is
streamlined as well. Alongside this, provision has been made to make it
mandatory to submit an annual report to the Attorney General on or before the
first of February every year which should have the following:
- The number of such applications received
- The result of every appeal
- Median number of days required to process a single request [xiv].
As is pretty evident from the nuances of the law, the process of obtaining
information in the United States is pretty efficacious to say the least.
Stringent measures to ensure that certain government data is not kept out of the
reach of the public, ensures that the general public is kept into confidence.
This essentially is the key factor in the working of a well-oiled democracy. As
far as India is concerned, certain changes have to be incorporated in the Right
to Information Act, and more stringent checks have to be implemented to ensure
that the common man is not kept out of the workings of the government. It is
their votes which ensures that the government stays in power and hence it is the
governments responsibility to ensure that all the information reaches to the
public in a hassle-free manner.
Written By: Mr. Saikat Mukherjee
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browsed on 18/06/2020 at 11:14 am
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on 18/06/2020 at 11:40 am
- Government Records, The Official Gazette, GOI 2005.
- Inter-alia "State" under Article 12 of the Indian Constitution
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browsed on 19/06/2020 at 09:59 am.
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on 19/06/2020 at 10:51 am.
- Available at https://www.thehindu.com/news/states/clear-pendency-of-cases-improve-training-quality-rti-activists-appeal-to-government/article30133219.ece browsed
on 19/06/2020 at 11:04 am.
- Available at https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/how-rti-is-dying-a-slow-death-in-india/story-sTpdC63K7s42vxgV1bxwTI.html#:~:text=There%20are%20also%20many%20positives,improved%20transparency%20in%20the%20government. Browsed
on 19/06/2020 at 11:27 am
- Refer to footnote no 10.
- FOIA; 5 U.S.C. �552
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on 19/06/2020 at 13:01 hrs.
- Refer to footnote no 13
, A 3rd year BA LLB student at Symbiosis Law
Email: [email protected]