Right to Information- Freedom of Information Bill, 2019

Introduction

RTI Act is one of the apparatus which has entitled the citizens of India. It is one of the most victorious laws of independent India in empowering the customary citizens and bringing in the conviction amongst the citizens to question the governmental authorities and machinery. This act aims at the responsibility and citizen-centric viewpoint of the government. It also acts as a disincentive factor for the government attendants and bureaucrats that they cannot act and work haphazardly and thus keeping in place the doctrine of checks and balances. Good administration has four basic elements- transparency, responsibility, monotony, and participation. Right to Information encourages transparency and responsibility in accessing the government institutions, which makes these organizations function more objectively. Further, giving citizens information from the government enables them to participate in the parliamentary process. The Right to Information, thus, aided in good governance.

Before the Right to Information Act, 2005, there was Freedom of Information Act, 2002 in existence. In October 2005 Right to Information Act replaced it. This act gives the right to citizens of India to have access to information belonging to public authorities with regard to their functioning and the right to information authorities are bound to reply within 30 days. In India, the RTI Act, 2005, which came fully into results in 2005 is one of the most notable legislation enacted by the Parliament of India. The Act strives to bring about informed citizenship, transparency, and responsibility in the government at all levels, which is vital to the functioning of a democracy. It seeks to establish a revelation of the information, the standard, and confidentiality. RTI Amendment Act, 2019 is beyond the powers of Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution of India as it takes away the sovereignty and independence of the Central Information Commissioner and State information commissioner.

This act also gives excessive rule-making power to the central executive over the states, thereby amounting to unrestrained delegation of law-making power by Parliament and therefore is against the rule of law and constitutional morality. This Act also annihilates the federal character of the RTI Act. The Right to Information Bill, 2019 was passed with the help of 218 members voting in its approval and 79 against it after a reply by Minister of State for labour force, public offences and pensions, Jitendra Singh.

RTI Amendment Act, 2019- Proposed Amendments

The RTI Amendment Act, 2019 has amended Section 13, 16, and 27 of the RTI Act, 2005. Section 13 and Section 16 of the native act sets the term of Central Chief Information Commissioner, State Level Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners of centre and states at 65 years or 5 years of age, whichever is earlier. Section 13 and Section 16 of the indigenous act also states that salaries, remittances and other terms of service of the Central Chief Information Commissioner shall be same as that of Chief Election Commissioner and those of Information Commissioners shall be same as that of Election Commissioner. But the RTI Amendment Act, 2019 has stated that the appointments, salaries, remittances and other terms of services of Central Chief Information Commissioner, Information Commissioners, State Chief Information Commissioner and State Information Commissioners shall be as prescribed by the central government.

Before the amendment, under Section 27 the states that the rule making power with regard to the fee payable, salaries and allowances. After the amendment, this rule making power has been taken away from states.

Issues with regard to RTI amendment Act, 2019

  • There was no public discussion before passing of the RTI (Amendment) Bill, 2019.
  • Shattering of the federal character of the RTI Act, 2005.
  • RTI Amendment Act, 2019 is the ultimatum to the autonomy of the Independent Information Commission.
  • Immoderate Delegation of powers to the Central government by Parliament.

Salient features of the 2019 Right to information rules

1.    Tenure-

The tenure for all Information Commissioners including Chiefs at Central and State level has been decreased down to 3 years from 5 which was in the indigenous RTI Act accepted by Parliament in 2005.

2.    Salaries and allowance-

The next person to be appointed as a State Chief Information Commissioner anywhere in the country and the further batch of Information Commissioners at the CIC and all the State Information Commissions will draw a salary of only INR 225,000 per month each- a depletion of INR 25,000/-.

3.    Other service conditions-

In all other situations relating to dearness responsibility, leave, accommodation, leave travel concession, encashment of unused leave at the time of the retirals that the Chief and the SICs have been identified by helping babus who are placed in the same pay grade.

4.    Discretionary power to relax applicability of Rules-

Rule number 22 allows the Central Government the discretionary power to modify any of the Rules with consideration to any class of persons in the future.

5.    Discretionary powers to decide other matters-

Rule 21 gives complete power to the Central Government to deliberate on any other responsibility or service conditions not exactly covered by the 2019 Rules and its decision will be binding.

Constitutional development of the right to information

It is necessary to stress at the very entrance that the movement of right to information in India had never set a sight to merely ensure an approach to the public information. The dream is created in such a manner of praising conditions so that the right to information can be effectively practiced. It is for sure that the Indian Constitution does not hold any specific and clear right to information or even the right to freedom of the press. The Chapter on Fundamental Rights when Interferes broadly assures the right to information as a part of freedom of speech and expression. Corruption and favoritism have been guided to the flagrant abuse of power by the administration, which abuse has increased to light partly as a result of inspecting journalism and partly as a result of litigation in the Courts. It is said that the provisions of the two constitutions (US and Indian) as to freedom of speech and expression are essentially different.

The distinction being accentuated by provisions in our Constitution for preventive detention which has no peer in the US Constitution. Different resolutions were given by the Supreme Court from time to time have been specifically responsible for the development of legal position with the aspect to the right to information in India. These decisions were not given specifically in the aspect of the right to information, but specifically in the situation of the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression. Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression has been said to be the opposite or of the Right to Know, and it is not feasible to exercise one without the other. The case of freedom of the press in India was Bennett Coleman & Co. v Union of India[1] in which the court walloped down the newsprint control order by saying that it’s directly influencing the Petitioner’s right to freely issue and circulate their paper. In that, it infringes on their right to liberty of speech and expression.

Case laws

Girish Ramchandra Deshpande v. Central Information Commissioner and Ors.[2] in this case, it was concerned with the question that whether the Central Information Commissioner representing itself under the Right to Information Act, 2005 was right in denying information regarding the third respondent’s individual matters concerning to his service career and also repudiating the brief of the individual strength and responsibilities, movable and immovable belongings on the condition that the information sought for was qualified to be personal information as defined in clause (j) of Section 8(1) of the RTI Act. The details reveal by a person in his income tax returns are “personal information” which stand spared from declaration under clause (j) of Section 8(1) of the RTI Act, unless necessitate a larger public interest and the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the court of appeal authority is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information. The view that the petitioner has not triumphed in establishing that the information sought for is for the larger public interest.

Central Board of Secondary Education and Anr. v. Aditya Bandhopadhyay and ors.[3], in this case, the most important point was whether a party is entitled to ingress his answer sheet for the purpose of rechecking and inspection under the Right to Information Act. The Supreme Court has held that the individual has the right to access those sheets provided that the request is made during a reasonable time in which the authorities are expected to retain the answer scripts. Answer script written by the applicant and submitted to examine the body for evaluation is a document or record and the evaluated answer book by the tester appointed for examining purpose is the opinion of the evaluator. The examined answer book is informed under the RTI Act. And this answer script also doesn’t come under any of the exceptions provided under (a) to (j) of subsection 1 of Section 8 of RTI Act. Thus, every examinee has a right to inspect the examined answer book and if needed can take ratified copies there under the RTI Act.

Conclusion

The Right to Information (Amendment) Act, 2019 takes away the independence and sovereignty of the Central Information Commission and State Information Commission by lowering their positions and lowering them to the rank of civil attendants. The fundamental rights of citizens to attain the information under Art. 19(1) (a) has been infringed indirectly as there is an ultimatum of obtaining information which is free from fear or favour. Entrustment of legislative power without laying down legislative policy in adding odds with the basic concept on which our constitutional scheme is recognized. The Right to Information (Amendment) Act, 2019 represents essential legislative functions to the Central executive and it is beyond the power of Article 14 and 19(1) (a) of the Constitution as the power entrusted to the central executive is unreasonable, erratic and it amounts to excessive delegation. Due to the excessive delegation, the restraining of powers of the state legislature which is against the principles of federalism. Therefore RTI (Amendment) Act 24 of 2019 should be declared unconstitutional.

References

  1. Right to Information (Amendment) Act, 2019, No. 24 of 2019.
  2. Municipal Corporation of Delhi Vs. Birla Cotton, Spinning and Weaving Mills and others, AIR 1968 SC 1232.
  3. Sathe, S.P., Administrative Law, 7th Edition, LexisNexis Butterworths, P. 54.
  4. Union Ministry of Law and Justice Legislative Department, http://www.legislative.gov.in/documents/pre-legislative-consultation-policy

Frequently asked questions:

  1. What does the Public information officer mean?

Public authorities have appointed some of its officers as Public Information officers. They are in charge of giving information to a person who seeks information under the RTI Act.

  • Is it necessary to give any grounds for seeking information?

The information seeker is not required to give cause for seeking information.

  • What does third party information mean?

Third party in connection to the Act means an individual other than the citizen who has made the request for information. The precision of third party involves public authority other than the public authority to whom the request has been made.

  • What does the public authority mean?

It is any authority or body of self

authority developed or constituted by or under the Constitution; or by any other law enforced by the Parliament or a State Legislature; or by order made by the Central Government or a State Government.

  • Is there any organization spared from providing information under the RTI act?

Yes, it’s true, there are definite intelligence and security organisations stated in the Second Schedule, are spared from giving information and anticipating that the information pertaining to the allegations of corruption and human rights violations.


[1]         https://indiankanoon.org/doc/125596/

[2]        https://indiankanoon.org/doc/160205361/

[3]       https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1519371/?type=print

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