A Decade of the RTI Act: It’s Impact on Public Empowerment

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 “Democracy must be built through open societies that share information. When there is information, there is enlightenment. When there is debate, there are solutions. When there is no sharing of power, no rule of law, no accountability, there is abuse, corruption, subjugation and indignation.”- Atifete Jahjaga

In today’s era, the new source of power is not money in the hands of few but information in the hands of many. In a democratic society, information is like oxygen which helps in survival and smooth functioning of democracy. Information is the key for knowledge which gives the shape to thoughts and without thoughts there is no expression. The struggle to get information led to the formation of Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act). This act was first of its kind which came into existence not because of the government but because of the demands of the people. This paper assesses the journey of the RTI Act in India in a decade. The paper further analyses the advancement of the RTI Act in the past years and how it has proven itself to be beneficiary for the people of our country.

Information is the key for knowledge which gives a shape to thoughts and expression. Article 19 of the Indian Constitution has provided us with right to freedom of speech and expression. This fundamental right also inculcate it in itself ‘right to know’. It started in 2004 when a small town in Rajasthan named Bewar where the workers of MKSS started a mass movement on their right to know. Finally, RTI act was passed in 2005. RTI is also a part of a person’s fundamental right to life (article 21). RTI is a right of a person to demand information from a government and getting it promptly and there is no requirement to give reasons for getting information as it is a person’s fundamental right. Right to Information is the right of all the citizens regardless of their age, sex, economic status and it is not important that the information directly affects a person’s private affair. This right to get information is very important for an individual in India as our country has a democratic government which belongs to the people and therefore the information which is shared by government should also be known to the people regarding what government does and also to make them answerable to people for their actions, eventually reducing corruption.

Democracy should not be only considered a form of government where the participation of people is nearly restricted to periodical exercise of right to franchise. It should also involve people’s participation in its functioning and accountability. The RTI act has crossed a journey of a decade and it has helped significantly to promote transparency and accountability of public authority and has set up a practical regime for giving citizens access to information that is under the public authority which was the very objective of the RTI act.

The statue of RTI has given people enormous rights to know about whatever is happening in the government. It has not only given a duty to furnish but also a duty to disclose or publish information. RTI should not be only considered as piece of legislation but it is also an aspect of the society which has helped sufficiently to bring social changes. It provides people with a mechanism to access information which can be used by them to hold the government to account or to seek explanation as to why decisions have been taken by whom ,with what consequences and outcome. It has been mandated that every public authority is required to provide reasons for its administrative and quasi-judicial decisions to persons seeking information under section 4(1) (d) of the act therefore there is no scope for any arbitrary decision.

Its impact on public has been so deep that it has successfully proved to be a threat to the government and has forced to be behaved and had changed their attitude a lot. There are strict and stringent rules of giving information to people and not doing the same amounts to fine or punishment. RTI is harnessed as a tool for promoting participatory development, strengthening democratic government and facilitating effective delivery of social economic services. Promotion of citizen-government partnership is another important aspect of RTI which has helped in designing and implementation of development programmes for improving quality of life, which calls for increasing people’s option for higher earnings, better education and health care and a cleaner environment with a richer cultural life.

The principal of partnership is derived from the fact that people are not only the ultimate beneficiaries to development but also agents of change. The stakeholder’s participation leads to better projects and more dynamic developments.

The success of landmark legislation is often given to the people who are harnessing information relentlessly for the public good- may it be to expose public scandals, or to compel authorities to be more accountable, or to redress public grievances.

In the tenth year of implementation a report published by CHRI shows that only 0.3% of the people are using RTI, which is a very less number, but there is always a hope of getting that number to better.
In recent years poor people from different parts in the country have started filling Rti to know about the privileges government have made for them and which is not provided to them.

Corruption is one of the biggest challenge in India till date and is the biggest hindrance in the development of the country. Corruption in India is deep rooted and people are concerned in corruption at the “cutting edge level of administration”. Rti has proved to be a weapon to fight against corruption, arbitration and misuse of power.
Social activist Aruna Roy has described India’s RTI Act as “the most fundamental law this country has seen as it can be used from the local panchayat (a unit of local government) to parliament, from a nondescript village to posh Delhi, and from ration shops to the 2G scam.”[1]

  On one hand Rti has proved to be an object of public empowerment but on the other hand simultaneously under section 8 of the act it has made certain exceptions to the rule of disclosing information, which has also proved to be a major development factor in a positive way otherwise it would have lead to the deterioration of the country.

There have been some of the major success stories in the last 10 years which gives us the very good example of public empowerment.
Adarsh Society Scam is one of the biggest example of the impact of Rti on people. The  housing complex which was to be made for the war widows and veterans were not given the same. The Rti filled by the activists were instrumental in bringing to light the link between the politician and the bureaucrats and the scandal done by them.
No doubt Rti has been one success in the country still it lacks at some points in the enactment.
The hierarchical system followed by in the act of filling an application first to the public authority who is to give the information within 30 days, if that doesn’t happen than filling the first appeal and then second appeal has also provided an edge to the smooth functioning.
Also, writing an application is a very easy deal which does not require some specific qualification.

Finally citizens are highly empowered with the revolutionary act of Rti by giving them power to seek transparency, accountability. Rti has lead people in the last ten years to get the power in their hands and also given them an opportunity to participate in the functioning of the government.

[1] http://asiafoundation.org/in asia/2011/09/28/right to information in india an effective tool to tackle corruption

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