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Amended RTI vs Participatory Democracy

Why is RTI in news?

1. The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill passed by Parliament recently undermines the institution of the Central Information Commission (CIC).

2. The manner in which it was introduced without following the pre-legislative consultation policy creates serious doubts.

What are the features of RTI Act, 2005?

1. The RTI Act, 2005 empowers the citizen to question the secrecy and abuse of power practiced in governance.

2. It is through the information commissions at the central and state levels that access to such information is provided.

3. This information can be regarded as a public good, for it is relevant to the interests of citizens and is a crucial pillar for the functioning of a transparent and vibrant democracy.

How does this amendment hinder the implementation of RTI Act?

1. The RTI (Amendment) Bill, 2019 amends Sections 13, 15 and 27 of the RTI Act, 2005 to empower the central government to prescribe through rules the tenure, salaries, allowances and other terms of service of the chief and other information commissioners at the central and state levels.

2. This would undermine the autonomy and independence of the institution of the information commissions.

3. This would have serious implications for the credibility of the institution of the information commissioner in the future, which is crucial for removing information asymmetries between the citizen and the state.

4. The degree of transparency in governance would serve multiple purposes and interests of the society.

Which reasons make people a crucial part of democracy?

1. The people are at the centre of politics, and not the rulers and leaders.

2. Vigilant citizens can actively access information so as to ensure the clean democratic functioning of public institutions.

3. The RTI offers them an opportunity to contribute to a robust democracy.

4. The access to information about policies, decisions and actions of the government that affect the lives of citizens is an instrument to ensure accountability.

5. The Supreme Court has, in several judgments, held that the RTI is a fundamental right flowing from Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution, which guarantee to citizens the freedom of speech and expression and the right to life, respectively.

6. Investigative journalism has used RTI as a tool to unearth the truth.

Where has RTI been beneficial?

1. Every year, around six million applications are filed under the RTI Act, making it the most extensively used sunshine legislation globally.

2. These applications seek information on a range of issues, from holding the government accountable for delivery of basic rights and entitlements to questioning the highest offices of the country.

3. Using the RTI Act, people have sought information to expose corruption, human rights violations, and wrongdoings by the state.

4. The RTI emerged through mass movement, and its continuance and deepening would also hinge on its use as a form of collective action to ensure accountability.

5. There have been several instances of the spontaneous use of the RTI by individual citizens (apart from social movements), which only goes to validate the spirit of the RTI.