History of Right to Information Essay Sample

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Introduction of TOPIC

Right to Information has given a platform to the people to know about the proper functioning and the administration of the government. Before the need for Right to Information emerged, there were other acts such as the Evidence Act and the Official Secrets Act which gave certain privileges to the government to prevent certain documents to be disclosed to the public. As a result the government started using these privileges to serve their own ends. Slowly as time passed, people started questioning the administration of the government. Thus came the need for right to information.

The need for the right to information first emerged when the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), an NGO located at Rajasthan started an organization against corruption by leading the people in asserting their Right to Information asking for copies of bills and vouchers and names of persons who have been paid wages mentioned in muster rolls(list of names of officers) on the construction of schools, dispensaries, small dams and community centres. Though all the projects were completed on paper, the villagers very well knew that the funds have been misappropriated because there were roofless school buildings, dispensaries without walls, dams left incomplete and community centres having no doors and windows. After many efforts the MKSS finally succeeded in getting photocopies of certain relevant documents which made the misappropriation of funds clearly obvious. . In some cases, the muster rolls contained names of persons who either did not exist at all or died years before. This incident is more than sufficient to show the importance of the ability of information for eradicating mal-practices. Later on MKSS organised a Jan Sunwai (People’s hearing), the first ever in the history of Rajasthan.

Politicians, administrators, landless labourers, private contractors were all invited to listen, respond and, if willing, to defend themselves. Popular response was phenomenal, but village officials and politicians stayed away and remained silent, and thereby weakened their position and darkened their image. With so many scandals emerging from time to time, it became vital for the proper management of public funds and survival of democracy. Thus in 1993 a draft for Right to Information was proposed by the Consumer Education Research Council (CERC). In 1996, Justice PB Sawant, the Chairman of the Press Council of India, presented a draft model law keeping in view the dire need of the day and the observations made by eminent persons that in a democracy, it is the people who are the masters and those utilizing public resources and exercising public power are their agents. The draft model was submitted to the Government of India on 1996. In 1997 the draft model law was updated and renamed as Freedom of Information Bill, 1997.

Meanwhile, the MKSS started a National Campaign on People’s Right to Information(NCPRI), 1997. Its founding members included social activists, journalists, lawyers, professionals, retired civil servants and academics. One of its primary objectives was to campaign for a national law facilitating the exercise of the fundamental right to information. Also in 1997 , a working group under the chairmanship of H.D. Shourie was set up and named as the Shourie Committee, for preparing a draft legislation on freedom of information. The Working Group on the ‘Right to Information and Promotion of Open and Transparent Government’ submitted its comprehensive and detailed report and the draft Bill on Free

dom of Information on 24 May 1997. The sailent features of the Bill were :- i. When enacted, it will

also apply to State governments over riding State legislations to the extent they clash with the Central legislation; ii. A fee would be paid by the citizen while seeking information from Government, and the officer or the department concerned can be held responsible and taken to a Consumer Court for not providing the information within the prescribed time limit of 30 days;

iii. Every Government department should appoint a Public Information Officer for this purpose; iv. Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act should be suitably amended to make it easier for a citizen to obtain official information, and information can be withheld only in respect of especially ‘exempted’ items; v. Clauses 123 and 124 of the Indian Evidence Act which inhibit public officials from submitting information to Courts, should be suitably amended, and vi. The basis and the procedure for classification of official documents (as ‘top Secret’, ‘Secret’ and ‘confidential’) should be suitably amended so that availability of information to the public becomes the rule rather than the exception. Not only the Central and the State Ministries, but also public sector undertakings, municipal bodies and panchayats and other bodies substantially funded by Government, would come within the purview of the Act. But the draft bill was never introduced in the parliament as it was highly criticized for not adopting a high standard of disclosure. FREEDOM OF INFORMATION BILL,2000:

In 1999, Ram Jethmalani, the then Union Minister for Urban Development issued administrative order enabling citizens to inspect and receive photocopies of files in his ministry. But Cabinet Secretary did not permit his order to come into effect. In 2000, the Shourie Committee draft law was reworked and reframed as Freedom of Information Bill,2000. The main objective of the bill was to have an access to information on a statutory basis. With a view to further this objective, clause (3) of the proposed Bill specifies that subject to the provisions of this Act, every citizen shall have the right to freedom of information. Obligation is cast upon every public authority under clause (4) to provide information and to maintain all records consistent with its operational requirements duly catalogued, indexed by the appropriate Government or the competent authority. The bill was sent to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs. The committee consulted civil society groups and submitted report in july 2001.

The civil society raised certain objections but the government discarded all the objections raised by the civil society and finally in 2002, the Freedom of Information Bill,2000 was introduced in the parliament and passed. It received President’s assent on January 2003 as Freedom of Information Act, 2002. But the said act was never notified and never came into operation. In may 2004, The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government came into power. The UPA government’s common minimum program promised-“the Right to Information Act will be made in a more progressive, participatory and meaningful manner”. This strengthened the National Campaign for Right to Information. The National Advisory Board was set up to oversee the implementation of the common minimum program and the NAC started taking close interest in the Right to Information. The NAC endorsed most of the suggested amendments and recommended them to the Prime Minister of India for further action. These formed the basis of the subsequent Right to Information Bill, introduced in Parliament on 22 December 2004. RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT,2005:

However, this bill, as introduced in Parliament, had many weaknesses. Most significantly, unlike the NCPRI suggestion, it did not apply to the whole country but only to the Union Government. The consequent outrage from civil society groups, including the NCPRI, forced the government to review the changes. The Bill was referred to a Standing Committee of the Parliament and to a Group of Ministers. The standing committee asked several of the NCPRI members to give evidence before it, and ultimately endorsed the stand taken by the NCPRI in most matters. . In the next session of Parliament, the bill was passed after over a hundred amendments introduced by the government to accommodate the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee and the Group of Ministers. Most important, the jurisdiction of the Bill was extended to cover the whole of India. The Right to Information act was then issued by the Ministry of Law and Justice of the Legislative Department. It was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 23rd December 2004, passed on 2005 by the Lok Sabha and on 12th may 2005 by the Rajya Sabha. It received the President’s Assent on 15th june 2005 and in the Gazette of India Extraordinary Part 11, New Delhi, Tuesday on 21st june 2005. The RTI Act then came into effect all over India, from 13 October 2005.

It is important that the people come to know about the Government-controlled information to bridge the knowledge gap between the rulers and the ruled, the managers and the beneficiaries and between the producers, distributors and the consumers. The inequality in knowledge is also responsible for social superiority and inferiority complexes reinforcing and perpetuating social and economic divides. To avoid this information gap right to information plays a key role. By revealing most of its information, the government becomes more transparent and open and the people’s trust on the functioning of the government is increased.

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