Daily Editorial Analysis for 19th December 2019

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A duty to publish: On RTI

Paper:  GS II

Topic: Important Aspects of Governance, Transparency and Accountability

For Prelims: Public Authority, CJI, RTI, etc

For Mains: RTI, Significant Amendments & Their Provisions, and issues associated with

Why in News: A month after the Supreme Court declared the office of the CJI a public authority under the ambit of the RTI. A look at the Supreme Court’s observations over the years, at times stressing the right to know, and at other times critical of the way RTI is being used.

About Right to Information Act 2005– Bringing Information to the Citizens 

  • Right to Information Act 2005 mandates timely response to citizen requests for government information.
  • It is an initiative taken by Department of Personnel and Training, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions to provide an RTI Portal Gateway to the citizens for quick search of information on the details of first Appellate Authorities, PIOs etc.
  • Amongst others, besides access to RTI related information/disclosures published on the web by various Public Authorities under the government of India as well as the State Governments.

Objective of the Right to Information Act : 

  • The basic object of the Right to Information Act is to empower the citizens, promote transparency and accountability in the working of the Government, contain corruption, and make democracy work for the people in real sense.
  • It goes without saying that an informed citizen is better equipped to keep necessary vigil on the instruments of governance and make the government more accountable to the governed.
  • The Act is a big step towards making the citizens informed about the activities of the Government.

Genesis of the law

  • It was the Supreme Court that had sown the seeds of the RTI Act when, in 1975, in State of Uttar Pradesh vs Raj Narain, Justice K K Mathew observed,
    • The people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in a public way by their public functionaries. They are entitled to know the particulars of every public transaction in all its bearing.
    • Their right to know, which is derived from the concept of freedom of speech, though not absolute, is a factor which should make one wary when secrecy is claimed for transactions which can, at any rate, have no repercussion on public security.
    • Since that remark, the country saw many demands for an RTI Act;
    • 12 states had enacted their own transparency laws before it was passed as a central legislation and implemented in 2005.
  • Before the RTI Act, the Supreme Court advocated for the people’s right to know in Union of India Vs Association for Democratic Reforms in 2002.
    • It observed, “Voters’ (little man-citizens’) right to know antecedents including criminal past of his candidate contesting election for MP or MLA is much more fundamental and basic for survival of democracy. The little man may think over before making his choice of electing lawbreakers as lawmakers.”
    • This judgment was to make provision for declarations of assets, liabilities and criminal cases against electoral candidates, but for government officials the information is often denied by several public authorities, using the Supreme Court observation of October 2012.

Issues associated with the proper functioning of RTI

The Right to Information Act’s role in fostering a more informed citizenry and an accountable government has never been in doubt ever since its implementation in 2005. But there have been persistent and growing misgivings.

  • Only a few have opted for voluntary dissemination of information: Section 4 of the Act calls for pro-active and voluntary dissemination of information, but only a few Central and State institutions have published relevant information; here, Rajasthan has taken a lead through its Jan Soochna portal.
  • Persisting vacancies in the State and Central Information Commissions: The other problem has been persisting vacancies in the State and Central Information Commissions, the CIC has four vacancies and 33,000 pending cases.
  • Paralysis of action: The CJI also curiously observed that officials were sensing fear leading to paralysis of actiondue to the working of the RTI.
  • Question of “Locus standi”:
    • The kind of queries that were sometimes being asked were not always in public spirit and were posed by people who had no “locus standi” in the matter regarding the queries.
    • The RTI Act explicitly rejects the need for locus standi in Section 6(2 )of the RTI Act says: “An applicant making request for information shall not be required to give any reason for requesting the information or any other personal details except those that may be necessary for contacting him.” Section 8(1)(j) says, “The information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person” under the RTI Act.
    • This clause is present for vital reasons seeking locus standi in order to respond to public requests that could result in a chilling effect as public authorities (PAs) could choose to deny information to general citizens on subjective grounds.
    • A change in the Act that seeks locus standi as a criterion could dramatically increase the yearly rejection rate number since 2005 show that the yearly rejection rate (requests rejected as a percentage of those received) has come down steadily to 4.7% in 2018-19.
    • Rather than focusing on locus standi, public authorities would be advised to provide for greater voluntary dissemination on government portals, which should ease their load.
  • A flaw in Public Authorities: A Transparency Audit report submitted to the Central Information Commission (CIC) in November 2018 sought feedback from 2,092 PAs under the CIC to evaluate the implementation of Section 4 of the Act. Only 838 (40%) responded and even here, 35% of the PAs fared poorly with little transparency in parameters such as organization and functions, budget and programme, e-governance, and other information disclosures.
  • Time consumed in replying: According to estimates, nearly 60-70 lakh RTI applications are filed in India every year, and activists have questioned whether addressing these would require 75% of the time of government staff. Several public authorities have used this observation while denying information, ignoring the fact in the same case, the Supreme Court had ordered disclosure of the requisite information.
  • Abuse of RTI: Many times information has not been disseminated as they have the authority to reject the plea.

For a stronger RTI what measures that can be adopted

  • Reduce the denial of information:  On December 16, 2015, in Jayantilal N Mistry vs Reserve Bank of India, Justice M Y Eqbal and Justice C Nagappan observed: “It had long since come to our attention that the Public Information Officers under the guise of one of the exceptions given under Section 8 of RTI Act have evaded the general public from getting their hands on the rightful information that they are entitled to.
  • Faster recruiting process: A three-judge Bench led by the CJI allowed the request and asked the Centre and States to expedite filling up the vacancies. After the top court’s directions, this lacuna should be addressed by governments quickly.
  • Public authorities whether partially or fully financed should come under RTI: The spotlight falls of several NGOs that have been getting public money and were not covered under the RTI. There are societies directly controlled by politicians, but fighting cases that they are not covered under the transparency law. Substantial financing can be both direct or indirect, should come under RTI.
To give an example,

·         If a land in a city is given free of cost or on heavy discount to hospitals, educational institutions or such other body, this in itself could also be substantial financing. The very establishment of such an institution, if it is dependent on the largesse of the State in getting the land at a cheap price, would mean that it is substantially financed.

·         Merely because the financial contribution of the State comes down during the actual funding, will not by itself mean that the indirect finance given is not to be taken into consideration.

·         The value of the land will have to be evaluated not only on the date of allotment but even on the date when the question arises as to whether the said body or NGO is substantially financed.

·          Whether an NGO or body is substantially financed by the government is a question of fact which has to be determined on the facts of each case.


  • Personal and public:
    • Various public authorities have used public vs personal information to deny information on cases/inquiries going on against government officials. The disclosure of which would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy of that individual. Of course, in a given case, if the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer of the Appellate Authority is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information, appropriate orders could be passed but the petitioner cannot claim those details as a matter of right.

Way Forward

  • Limiting RTI responses based on locus standi of the applicants could create a chilling effect.
  • The ideal of ‘Government by the people’ makes it necessary that people have access to information on matters of public concern. The free flow of information about affairs of Government paves way for debate in public policy and fosters accountability in Government. It creates a condition for ‘open governance’ which is a foundation of democracy.”

Mains Question

Over the years, the Supreme Court has stressed the importance of transparency under RTI at times, and also remarked on its overuse at other times. Discuss.

Question Demand: To write about the importance of RTI in today’s context.

Introduction: Recent changes like bringing CJI office under the scanner of RTI.


  • Delay and abuse of power by Public authorities.
  • Changes that can be introduced.

Conclusion: The Right to Information Act’s role in fostering a more informed citizenry and an accountable government.

Additional Information:

As per RTI Act of 2005, the public authorities are required to make disclosures on

  • their organization, functions and structure
  • powers and duties of its officers and employees
  • financial information
  • If such information is not provided by the public authorities on their own, the citizens have the right to demand the same from them under the RTI Act.

Central Information Commission

  • The central information commission is headed by a chief information commissioner and 10 information commissioners.
  • Appointed by the President.
  • Term of Office is now 3 years.
  • The CIC an equivalent of the cabinet secretary, and central information commissioners as secretary to the government in terms of salary, yet to be approved.

State Information Commission

  • The State Information Commission is constituted by the State Government with one State Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC) and not more than 10 State Information Commissioners (SIC) to be
  • Appointed by the Governor.
  • The Commission and commissioners exercise its powers to any other authority under RTI act 2005.
  • The salary of the State Information Commissioner will be the same as that of the Chief Secretary of the State Government.

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