Right To Information: A Key To Vibrant Democracy

Informed citizenry guarantees the functioning of a vibrant democracy. Right to information in this regard is a stepping stone to ensure the continuance of that guarantee by opening up government’s records to public scrutiny, thereby arming citizens to keep necessary vigil on the instruments of governance and make the government more accountable to the governed. RTI Act as a piece of legislation has empowered citizens and helped break the hold of vested interests over the administration. The key objectives which Right to Information is meant to achieve in a democratic society are:

1. To empower the citizens
2. To promote transparency and accountability
3. To contain corruption and
4. To enhance people’s participation in democratic process.

The foundation of functioning democracy in a given Nation State basically rests on three pillars namely; Elected government, Informed citizens and Rule of law. In which the first two secures the participation of citizens and are inherently interlinked with each other while the third one (i.e, Rule of law) provides a protective cover to safeguard the interest of citizens.  

Timeline of RTI legislation in India.

It is usually a misconception that legislative enactment regarding Right to Information is the brainchild of the Congress government. But, if we try to assemble the chronology of events in correct order the timeline of right to information initiative dates back to “Emergency Era”. And the correct chronology of events actually reads as follows:

Constitutional framework

The Constitutional legitimacy of Right to information flows from Article 19 of the Constitution. In Kulwal Vs. Jaipur Municipal Corporation case, 1986, the hon’ble Supreme Court of India has categorically stated that freedom of speech and expression provided under Article 19 of the Constitution clearly implies Right to Information, as without information the freedom of speech and expression cannot be fully used by the citizens.

Challenges in the implementation of Right to information.

Right to information is a two edged sword, it can be used for public benefit at large but at the same time it is prone to misuse also, for instance :

1. RTI filed to attain publicity.
2. RTI filed as vindictive tool to harass or pressurize the public authority

However it is also noteworthy here that due to lack of awareness and illiteracy majority of population in the country cannot be able to avail the benefit of RTI legislation.

There are some other issues also that poses challenges to the application of RTI legislation, they are:

1. Information commissioners do not have adequate authorities to enforce the RTI Act.
2. In case of award of compensation to the applicant by public authority as ordered by commision, compliance cannot be secured.
3. Poor record-keeping practices
4. Lack of adequate infrastructure and staff for running information commissions
5. Dilution of supplementary laws like the whistleblowers protection Act.

RTI is necessary but not sufficient.

There is no denial in the fact that with each passing day the outreach of Right to information keeps on expanding. Infact, if we go by the current stats then as per the annual report tabled in Parliament by the ministry during the reporting year 2018-19, 13.70 lakh RTI applications were received by the registered Central Public Authorities (PAs). This is higher by 1,36,922 or 11 per cent than what was reported during 2017-18. The report said that the Central PAs rejected 4.70 per cent (64,344) of the RTI applications processed during 2018-19 showing a downward trend in rejections which have come down by 0.43 percent from the 5.13 per cent reported in 2017-18. So the desired goals for which RTI Legislation came into picture is gradually becoming a living reality, but nevertheless this piece of legislation has not achieved its full objectives due to some impediments created due to systematic failures. It is well recognized that right to information is necessary, but not sufficient, to improve governance. A lot more needs to be done to usher in accountability in governance, including protection of whistleblowers, decentralization of power and fusion of authority with accountability at all levels. This law provides us a priceless opportunity to redesign the processes of governance, particularly at the grass roots level where the citizens’ interface is maximum.