RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

Sep, 18, 2019

Government-funded NGOs come under RTI ambit: SC

News

  • Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) “substantially” financed by the government fall within the ambit of the Right to Information Act, the Supreme Court held in a judgment.

About the judgment

  • NGOs which receive considerable finances from the government or are essentially dependent on the government fall under the category of “public authority” defined in Section 2(h) of the RTI Act of 2005.
  • This means that they have to disclose vital information, ranging from finances to hierarchy to decisions to functioning, to citizens who apply under RTI.
  • An NGO, the court said, may also include societies which are neither owned or controlled by the government, but if they are significantly funded by the government, directly or indirectly, they come under the RTI Act.

Why such move?

  • RTI Act was enacted with the purpose of bringing transparency in public dealings and probity in public life.
  • If NGOs or other bodies get substantial finance from the government we find no reason why any citizen cannot ask for information.
  • With the judgment citizens can find out whether his/her money which has been given to an NGO is being used for the requisite purpose.

‘Substantial’ means how much?

  • The court defined “substantial” as a “large portion.”
  • It does not necessarily have to mean a major portion or more than 50%.
  • No hard and fast rule can be laid down in this regard. Substantial financing can be both direct or indirect.
  • If government gives land in a city free of cost or on heavy discount to hospitals, educational institutions or any such body, this in itself could also be substantial financing, the judgment explained.

Back2Basics

[Burning Issue] RTI amendment Bill

Sep, 14, 2019

[op-ed snap] A milestone in greater transparency, accountability

CONTEXT

The Jan Soochna Portal launched by the government of Rajasthan is a remarkable achievement in furtherance of RTI, especially Section 4 of the RTI Act that deals with proactive disclosure of information. 

Importance of Transparency and Accountability –  A case study

  • Transparency must be accompanied by accountability
  • JSP places the power of making the State government accountable to everyone who accesses the information made available on the portal.
  • A National Judicial Data Grid was launched keeping transparency in the justice delivery system in mind. This gave information about all pending cases across the country. 
  • A year-wise break up of pending cases was given on the grid and it was found that more than 70,000 cases were pending for over 30 years. 
  • The justice delivery system was asked to account for the enormous delay in such a large number of cases. 
  • Chief Justices and Registrars in many courts appreciated the fact that they needed to answer questions relating to such enormous delays.
  • Many courts have begun to concentrate on the disposal of old cases with considerable success. 
  • This is a good example of transparency accompanied by accountability brought about by civil society.

JSP

  • Details of every activity of the government such as availability of food grains and ration shops and their distribution, implementation of various schemes and their beneficiaries and a variety of other information are available on a real-time basis.
  • It is a virtual Janta Information System. 
  • The portal has been arrived at through a regular and rigorous consultative process between government officials, IT professionals and civil society. 
  • Since the information is available on the Internet, every citizen, right down to the municipal ward and panchayat, has access to the information. 
  • For example, if identified persons in a particular area had not availed themselves of any rations, they can be easily contacted. 
  • The portal gives the details of every farmer in every bank branch whose loans have been waived, along with the amounts. 
  • Another significant piece of information is about mining leases. 
    • This portal gives the list of mines in every district, provides geographical coordinates, and the area where mining has been permitted, including the land deed identifiers. 
    • It also provides details about pollution and environment clearances.
    • It provides details of production and royalties and taxes paid. 
  • This kind of information can facilitate a progressive partnership between the government and citizens for a cleaner society.
  • With the use of technology and digitisation of records and information, this information is made freely available on the JSP.
  • There is no need for anyone to take recourse to the RTI Act and await a response.

Challenges remain

  • Maintenance issues to ensure that there is no let-up in the availability of information. 

System in place

  • Various line departments of the government of Rajasthan have been given a set of obligations that they are expected to fulfill. For example, they are expected to ensure digitisation of records. 
  • The Department of Information Technology will serve as the nodal department for the development, operationalisation, and maintenance of the JSP.
  • Its obligations include adherence to the norms and standards laid down by a digital dialogue advisory group. 
  • The advisory group will be the monitoring agency. 
  • Grievance redressal officers will be appointed so that citizens can make the State government truly accountable.
  • The government of Rajasthan has also taken steps to train citizens so that they are aware of the facilities available.
  • It has been decided to host the JSP in decentralised locations, right down to the municipal ward and panchayat levels. 
  • They will have access to welfare schemes, revenue activities such as mining, and other service delivery issues such as health and education.

CONCLUSION

It would be wonderful if all other State governments follow the Rajasthan government’s initiative, which aims to make people, including the marginalised sections, a part of the governance process.

Aug, 10, 2019

[op-ed snap] Incisive interventions that blunt the RTI’s edge

CONTEXT

The RTI Act, 2005 proved transformative to India’s democracy; it revolutionized the citizen’s ability to engage with the state, arming people with a mechanism to ferret out some of the truth from the government’s otherwise secretive operations.

Amendments to the act

  1. Amendments have been passed without scrutiny by a parliamentary committee.
  2. It changes the term in office of the information commissioners (ICs) and the manner of determination of their salaries.
  3. In place of the existing five-year term, it grants to the Union government the power to notify their terms through executive regulations.
  4. It deletes the RTI Act’s mandate that the salary paid to the CIC and the ICs should be equivalent to that of Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners.
  5. Now, the salary, allowances, and terms and conditions of service of the CIC and the ICs will be determined by executive guidelines.

Challenges it poses

  1. Supreme Court has affirmed RTI’s position as intrinsic to the right to freedom of expression (for example, in PUCL v. Union of India, 2004)
  2. For democracy to be valuable, citizens must possess a right to freely express themselves and have a right to know what the state is up to.
  3. When a plea for information goes unheeded, CIC and the ICs play an especially vital role. 
  4. These amendments subvert the independence of the information commission.
  5. The delegation of the power to fix the tenure and the salaries of the CIC and the ICs to the political executive places the information commission’s autonomy in a state of peril. 

Efficacy of RTI

  1. Through a response to an RTI request, it was discovered that between 2006 and 2010 more than ₹700 crore had been diverted from Delhi’s special component plan for the development of Scheduled Caste communities to projects related to the Commonwealth Games.
  2. An exposé into the horrifying processes of the “Foreigners Tribunal” in Assam was made by securing information through the RTI Act.
Jul, 22, 2019

[op-ed snap] The tremor of unwelcome amendments to the RTI Act

CONTEXT

  • “Amendments” have haunted the Right to Information (RTI) community ever since the RTI Act came into effect almost 14 years ago.
  • Rarely has a law been so stoutly defended by activists. It is not possible to pass a perfect law.
  • But it was a popular opinion strongly held by most RTI activists that a demand for progressive amendments could be used as a smokescreen by the establishment to usher in regressive changes.

Background of amendments

  • Nevertheless, the sword of Damocles of regressive amendments has hung over the RTI with successive governments.
  • Amendments have been proposed since 2006, just six months after the law was implemented and many times thereafter.
  • Peoples’ campaigns, through reasoned protest and popular appeal, have managed to have them withdrawn.

The proposed amendments

  1.Challenging Autonomy

In the form of the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019, they seek to amend Sections 13, 16, and 27 of the RTI Act which carefully links, and thereby equates, the status of the Central Information Commissioners (CICs) with the Election Commissioners and the State Information Commissioners with the Chief Secretary in the States, so that they can function in an independent and effective manner.

2. Giving central overarching power – The deliberate dismantling of this architecture empowers the Central government to unilaterally decide the tenure, salary, allowances and other terms of service of Information Commissioners, both at the Centre and the States.

Why is there a need of change?

Some feel that it is because the RTI helped with the cross-verification of the affidavits of powerful electoral candidates with official documents and certain Information Commissioners having ruled in favour of disclosure.

Challenge to the misuse of power – It is unlikely to be a set of instances but more the fact that the RTI is a constant challenge to the misuse of power.

Empowering a citizen’s access to power and decision-making –

  • In a country where the rule of law hangs by a slender thread and corruption and the arbitrary use of power is a daily norm, the RTI has resulted in a fundamental shift — empowering a citizen’s access to power and decision-making.
  • It has been a lifeline for many of the 40 to 60 lakh ordinary users, many of them for survival.
  • It has also been a threat to arbitrariness, privilege, and corrupt governance.
  • More than 80 RTI users have been murdered because their courage and determination using the RTI was a challenge to unaccountable power.

Impact of RTI

  • The RTI has been used brilliantly and persistently to ask a million questions across the spectrum — from the village ration shop, the Reserve Bank of India, the Finance Ministry, on demonetisation, non-performing assets, the Rafale fighter aircraft deal, electoral bonds, unemployment figures, the appointment of the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), Election Commissioners, and the (non)-appointment of the Information Commissioners themselves.
  • The information related to decision-making at the highest level has in most cases eventually been accessed because of the independence and high status of the Information Commission.

RTI 

  • The RTI movement has struggled to access information and through it, a share of governance and democratic power.
  • The Indian RTI law has been a breakthrough in creating mechanisms and platforms for the practice of continual public vigilance that are fundamental to democratic citizenship.
  • The mostly unequal struggle to extract information from vested interests in government needed an institutional and legal mechanism which would not only be independent but also function with a transparency mandate and be empowered to over-ride the traditional structures of secrecy and exclusive control.
  • An independent Information Commission which is the highest authority on information along with the powers to penalise errant officials has been a cornerstone of India’s celebrated RTI legislation.

Part of checks and balances

  • The task of the Information Commission is therefore different but no less important than that of the Election Commission of India.
  • Independent structures set up to regulate and monitor the government are vital to a democratic state committed to deliver justice and constitutional guarantees.
  • The separation of powers is a concept which underscores this independence and is vital to our democratic checks and balances.
  • When power is centralised and the freedom of expression threatened no matter what the context, democracy is definitely in peril.
  • Sections being amended – Apart from Section 13 which deals with the terms and conditions for the Central information Commission, in amending Section 16, the Central government will also control through rules, the terms and conditions of appointment of Commissioners in the States. This is an assault on the idea of federalism.

Opaque moves

Checks by committee –

  • All the provisions related to appointment were carefully examined by a parliamentary standing committee and the law was passed unanimously.
  • It has been acknowledged that one of the most important structural constituents of any independent oversight institution, i.e. the CVC, the Chief Election Commission (CEC), the Lokpal, and the CIC is a basic guarantee of tenure. In the case of the Information Commissioners they are appointed for five years subject to the age limit of 65 years.
  • It was on the recommendation of the parliamentary standing committee that the Information Commissioner and CIC were made on a par with the Election Commissioner and the CEC, respectively.

Challenges in the manner of amendment being pursued

1.Bypassing examination by the standing committee – The manner in which the amendments are being pushed through without any citizen consultation, bypassing examination by the standing committee demonstrates the desperation to pass the amendments without even proper parliamentary scrutiny.

2.Pre-legislative consultative policy – The mandatory pre-legislative consultative policy of the government has been ignored.

Previous governments eventually introduced a measure of public consultation before proceeding with the amendments.

2.Violation of Constitutional Values –

  • If the amendments are discussed by citizens and RTI activists in the public domain, it would be apparent that these amendments fundamentally weaken an important part of the RTI architecture.
  • They violate the constitutional principles of federalism, undermine the independence of Information Commissions, and thereby significantly dilute the widely used framework for transparency in India.

Conclusion

The RTI has unshackled millions of users who will continue to use this democratic right creatively and to dismantle exclusive power. The RTI has been and will be used to withstand attacks on itself and strengthen the movement for transparency and accountability in India. Eventually, the Narendra Modi government will realise that while it might be able to amend a law, it cannot stop a movement.

Apr, 15, 2019

[op-ed snap] Secrets and agents

CONTEXT

The arrest of Julian Assange, the head of the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, has renewed a global debate on balancing freedom of expression (or the right to information) with considerations towards the national security of a country.

Background

  • After nearly seven years of eluding authorities in the U.S. and the U.K., facing charges related to theft of classified information from government computers, he was dragged out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on April 11 following Ecuador President Lenín Moreno’s withdrawal of his country’s grant of asylum to Mr. Assange, for “repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life protocols”.
  • Ecuador had earlier limited Mr. Assange’s Internet access.
  • As he sits in jail for up to a year on bail-jumping charges from 2012 in a now-closed case relating to sexual assault allegations by a complainant from Sweden, he will find out whether he will ultimately face the prospect of extradition to the U.S.
  • Conspiracy charges, rather than those under the Espionage Act, are what he will likely face, given concerns in the U.K. that he should not be extradited to any country where the death penalty is applicable in his case.

Concerns

  • Assange as Journalist – At the heart of the drama is the question whether Mr. Assange is a “journalist” in the traditional sense of the word and whether, following that line of reasoning, freedom of expression is endangered or constrained by the action taken in this case.
  • Wikileaks link to Trump’s win – There is some irony in this debate given that the voices of liberal America are clamouring the loudest for his interrogation for the alleged crime of conspiracy, not so much in the case of the U.S. diplomatic cables or the dissemination of related top-secret U.S. government information — but owing to WikiLeaks being linked to rogue actors in Russia who allegedly purloined Democratic Party documents and handed them over to Mr. Assange for use on his website, thereby tipping the scales in Donald Trump’s favour in the 2016 election.
  • Wikileaks as mainstream Media Organisation – Nevertheless, can WikiLeaks be considered a mainstream media organisation? Perhaps not.

Conclusion

  • However, the arrest highlights troubling facts, including that the indictment against Mr. Assange, revealed only this month, appears to be flimsy, for it relates to a conversation he is alleged to have had nine years ago with Ms. Manning on a computer break-in attempt that ultimately failed.
  • At a time when strongmen-led governments and resurgent nationalism are at the forefront of domestic politics in many countries, the arrest of a prominent anti-secrecy advocate is likely to have a chilling effect on whistle-blowers everywhere.
  • That could ultimately weaken democracy itself.

 

Apr, 10, 2019

Centre denies RTI plea on CIC appointments

News

  • The Centre has denied a RTI request for details of the ongoing recruitment process for four vacancies in the Central Information Commission (CIC), despite a recent Supreme Court order mandating that such information be made public.

CIC in limelight

  • The Centre is planning to setup bureaucrat-led committees to hear and decide on complaints against the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information Commissioners (ICs).
  • This move has evoked sharp criticism from RTI activists and former Information Commissioners.
  • The proposed change would be in contravention to the current RTI law and therefore is being seen by the CIC as an attempt to erode its independence and undermine its role.
  • The SC had directed the Centre and States to pro-actively disclose all information regarding the recruitment, selection and appointment of candidates.

Back2Basics

Central Information Commission (CIC)

  • The Central Information Commission (CIC) set up under the Right to Information Act is the authorized quasi judicial body, established in 2005.
  • It acts upon complaints from those individuals who have not been able to submit information requests due to either the officer not having been appointed, or because the respective Officer refused to receive the application for information under the RTI Act.
  • The Commission includes 1 Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and not more than 10 Information Commissioners (IC) who are appointed by the President of India.
  • CIC and members are appointed by the President of India on the recommendation of a committee consisting of—Prime Minister as Chairperson, the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha; a Union Cabinet Minister to be nominated by the Prime Minister.
Apr, 09, 2019

[op-ed snap]Open up the Supreme Court

CONTEXT

The basic question, i.e. whether or not the Office of the CJI is subject to the RTI Act, has been on the forefront for some time due to an ongoing case.

Background

  • Almost 10 years ago, on September 2, 2009, the High Court of Delhi handed down a landmark judgment dealing with the fledgling Right to Information (RTI) Act. It held that the Office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) was a “public authority”, and therefore, subject to the provisions of the Act.
  • Information held by the CJI — including, in the context of the case, information about judges’ assets — could be requested by the public through an RTI application.
  • In ringing words, Justice Ravindra Bhat declared that the RTI was a “powerful beacon, which illuminates unlit corners of state activity, and those of public authorities which impact citizens’ daily lives, to which they previously had no access”.
  • Earlier this month, however, a five-judge Bench of the court finally heard the case on merits, and reserved judgment.

Arguments Supporting that CJI should be under RTI

  • The basic question, i.e. whether or not the Office of the CJI is subject to the RTI Act, has an easy answer: yes.
  • As Justice Bhat correctly observed in the High Court judgment, “all power — judicial power being no exception — is held accountable in a modern Constitution”.
  • A blanket judicial exemption from the RTI Act would defeat the basic idea of “open justice”: t
  • the workings of the courts, as powerful organs of state, have to be as transparent and open to public scrutiny as any other body.
  • Nor would bringing the judiciary under the RTI Act destroy the personal privacy of judges: as the High Court judgment noted, the RTI Act itself has an inbuilt privacy-oriented protection, which authorises withholding the disclosure of personal information unless there is an overriding public interest.
  • While disclosure of assets is arguably justified by an overriding public interest, medical details or information about marital status, for example, are clearly not.

Issue of collegium

  • The Collegium includes the five senior-most judges of the Supreme Court, who collectively constitute the selection panel for judicial appointments to the Supreme Court (and the three senior-most judges when it comes to the High Courts). I
  • India is one of the few countries where judges have the last word on judicial appointments, through the mechanism of the Collegium.
  • The Collegium itself is not mentioned in the text of the Constitution: it arose out of a judgment of the Supreme Court, and in response to increased executive interference in judicial appointments, particularly during Indira Gandhi’s regime.

Criticism of Collegium

  • A major point of critique was its opacity: it was increasingly being perceived that judicial appointments were too often made in an ad hoc and arbitrary manner.
  • The nomination process is secret, the deliberations are secret, the reasons for elevation or non-elevation are secret.
  • Indeed, the Supreme Court’s own NJAC judgment acknowledged this critique, and vowed to evolve a system where concerns of transparency were addressed.
  • A small step towards this was made during Dipak Misra’s tenure as CJI, when the resolutions of the Collegium began to be published online.

Arguments fo attorney general regarding Collegium’s secrecy

The AG argued that disclosing the correspondence of the Collegium would “destroy” judicial independence.

Examples elsewhere

  • Indeed, a look at judicial appointments elsewhere suggests that transparency in appointments is integral to the process.
  • In the United States, for example, candidates for judicial appointments in the federal judiciary are subjected to public confirmation hearings by the Senate.
  • In Kenya and South Africa, the interviews of candidates taken by judicial appointments commissions are broadcast live.
  • The public, thus, is in a position to judge for itself the selection process. This is crucial to maintaining public faith in the impartiality of the institution.

Way Forward

  • “Sunlight is the best disinfectant” is a trite and overused phrase.
  • In the context of public scrutiny of the Supreme Court, however, it is an apt one.
  • The Collegium’s recent decisions to recommend a set of names for elevation, and then hastily backtrack on them without any publicly stated reasons, dealt a serious blow to its reputation for impartiality and independence.
  • The only way to salvage this is to open up the court.
  • A judiciary that is confident of itself and of its place in the democratic republic should not be worried about subjecting judicial appointments to public scrutiny.
  • The occasional discomfort that might come from the harsh public glare is more than outweighed by the cleansing value of transparency.
Apr, 06, 2019

[op-ed snap]Privacy in the age of sunshine laws

CONTEXT

A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court has finally concluded hearing a crucial appeal (after being nine years in cold storage) under the Right to Information Act (RTI), 2005.

Important questions

  • One of the three crucial questions raised in this case pertains to
  • Whether judges are required to publicly disclose their assets under the RTI Act in light of Section 8(1)(j).
    • This provision prohibits the sharing of personal information that has no nexus to public activity or which amounts to an unwarranted invasion of privacy unless the larger public interest justifies such a disclosure.
    • Any attempt by them to assert the fundamental right to privacy as the basis for not disclosing assets to the public would necessarily require an implied overruling of landmark judgments in PUCL (2003) and Lok Prahari v. Union of India (2018), in which smaller benches of the court rubbished the privacy claims of the political class while forcing them to publicly disclose not just their assets but also the sources of their income.
    • The final ruling of the Constitution Bench will also impact the contentious Section 44 of the Lokpal Act, 2013, which requires all public servants (this includes judges) to disclose their assets but is silent on whether the disclosure should be to the competent authority or the general public.

Origins of Case

  • This case has its origins in an RTI application filed in 2007 in which the Public Information Officer (PIO) of the Supreme Court was asked by Subash Agrawal whether the judges of the Supreme Court had complied with the terms of a resolution adopted in 1997, in which all judges had committed to disclosing information about their assets and liabilities to the Chief Justice of India (CJI).
  • The resolution had specifically mandated that the information would remain “confidential”. In 2005, Parliament passed the RTI Act, creating a legal right to demand information held by public authorities which arguably also includes the CJI.
  • the PIO sought to invoke, among other sections, Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act to deny him this information.
  • Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act – This provision of the RTI Act prevents public authorities from disclosing any “personal information” of citizens if such “disclosure had no relationship to any public activity or interest” or if such disclosure constitutes “an unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual” unless the PIO is “satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information”.
  • Court’s Judgement – When the matter reached the Delhi High Court, both the single judge and the Full Bench concluded that judges, like other public servants, had a fundamental right to privacy.
  • This right, it held, could only be curtailed if the RTI applicant demonstrated a showing of “larger public interest” as required by Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act.
  • In other words, public servants as a class of employees cannot be forced to disclose their personal assets to the public merely because they hold public posts.
  • However, in individual cases, if the person seeking such information could demonstrate a “larger public interest” such as wrongdoing or impropriety on the part of the public official, the information could be disclosed.

Implications of this case

  • It is likely that the Supreme Court will follow the Delhi High Court’s reasoning because of its own decision from 2012 in Girish Ramchandra Deshpande v. Central Information Commissioner.
  • A lot has happened on the privacy front since 2012. The litigation and the civil society campaign against Aadhaar resulted in a unanimous judgment from nine judges of the Supreme Court declaring informational privacy as a component of the fundamental right to privacy.
  • When the Constitution Bench decides on Mr. Agrawal’s appeal, it will most likely be viewing the privacy right enshrined in Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act through the lens of the Aadhaar judgment.
  • If the Bench decides that all Supreme Court and High Court judges have a fundamental right to privacy (only two of the five judges hearing the case have voluntarily disclosed their assets) and that judges cannot be forced to disclose their assets to the public, questions will be asked as to why the court forced politicians to publicly disclose their assets and sources of income.
  • It would then be only a matter of time before politicians and their spouses seek the overturning of the PUCL and Lok Prahari judgments, thereby turning back the clock on electoral transparency.
Mar, 15, 2019

RTI trumps Official Secrets Act, says SC

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Structure, organization & functioning of the Executive & the Judiciary

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: OSA, RTI

Mains level: Importance of RTI in enhancing transparency and accountability


News

  • An all-out effort by the government to claim privilege and push the Rafale jets’ pricing details back into the dark zone was rejected by the apex court.

RTI >> OSA

  • But Justice Joseph, one of the three judges on the Bench, asked the government to read out Sections of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005.
  • The judge said the information law has revolutionized governance and overpowered notions of secrecy protected under the Official Secrets Act, 1923.
  • The Section 22 of the RTI Act, which declared the RTI to have an “overriding effect” over OSA.
  • Then Section 24 mandates even security and intelligence organisations to disclose information on corruption and human rights violations.
  • Section 8(2) compels the government to disclose information “if public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to protected interests.

Govt. Stance

  • The government wants the court to refrain from examining the documents, which have already been published in the media on the purchase of the Rafale fighter aircraft.
  • It claimed the documents were illicitly photocopied from the originals kept in the Ministry of Defence and sneaked into the public domain.
  • The government said the leak was a “conspiracy” to jeopardize national security and friendly relations with France.

Assist this newscard with:

Explained: India’s Official Secrets Act, its history and use


Back2Basics

Right to Information

  • Right to Information (RTI) is an Act of the Parliament of India to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens.
  • It replaces the erstwhile Freedom of information Act, 2002.
  • Under the provisions of the Act, any citizen of India may request information from a “public authority” (a body of Government or “instrumentality of State”) which is required to reply expeditiously or within thirty days.
  • The Act also requires every public authority to computerize their records for wide dissemination and to proactively certain categories of information so that the citizens need minimum recourse to request for information formally.
  • Information disclosure in India was restricted by the Official Secrets Act 1923 and various other special laws, which the new RTI Act relaxes.
Mar, 13, 2019

[op-ed snap] To serve the governed: on Official Secrets Act

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models,

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Provisions and utility of the OSA Act,it’s  effcts on freedom of press.


NEWS

CONTEXT

Recently Official secret Act was in news regarding leak of documents with respect to Rafale deal.

Colonial Legacy

  • The constitutional freedom to use and publicise information is directly affected by the provisions of the Official Secrets Act, 1923, which as with most of British India enactments followed the Official Secrets Act, 1920, passed by the British Parliament.
  • It was strict enough then but after Independence in ‘free India’ it was amended  and made stricter in 1967, widening the scope of Section 5 (“Wrongful communication. etc., of information”) and enlarging the scope of Section 8 (“Duty of giving information as to commission of offences”).

Second Press Commission

  •  Janata government which came to power at the end of the Internal Emergency, and set up what was then known (and is now forgotten) as the Second Press Commission, it was chaired by a great and good judge, Justice Goswami of the Supreme Court of India, whose common sense approach to all subjects greatly attracted me to him.
  •  The Commission proceeded in great earnestness for months, and ultimately, when its report was ready in December 1979, a report that implored the government of the day to immediately repeal the Official Secrets Act, 1923, it never saw the light of day. 
  •  It was replaced by the now officially known Second Press Commission presided over by Justice K.K. Mathew.
  • The Official Second Press Commission (the Mathew Commission) did not recommend the repeal of the Official Secrets Act of 1923.

Freedon Of Press

  • Press (and no longer the electronic media) is regarded as the champion of Article 19(1)(a) freedoms.
  • In his famous Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln described good governance as “of the people, by the people and for the people”. 
  • Centuries later we do understand the “of”, and are willing to tolerate the “by” but unfortunately we keep forgetting the “for”. If government is indeed for the people, it has a solemn obligation to keep the people well informed.

Conclusion

  • Fortunately, the modern trend in today’s world is towards less secrecy and more information. 
  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations way back in 1966, specifically includes the right to freedom of expression, defined as “the freedom to seek, receive and impart the information and ideas of all kinds”.
  • The Janata government signed and ratified this Covenant in 1979, but none of the later Governments has lived up to its ideals.
  • We have enacted Article 19(1)(a) in our 1950 Constitution with extremely limited restrictions — in Article 19(2) — but again only paid lip service to freedom of speech and expression.

 

Mar, 08, 2019

[op-ed snap]Probing the press

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models,

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Provisions and utility of the OSA Act,it’s  effcts on freedom of press.


NEWS

CONTEXT

Attorney General. K.K. Venugopal’s claimed that documents pertaining to the purchase of Rafale jets published by the media, have been “stolen”.

Background

  • The documentary evidence published so far indicates that “parallel parleys” held at the behest of the Prime Minister’s Office undermined the Indian Negotiating Team’s discussions with the French side.
  •  Internal questions had been raised about the absence of bank guarantees to hedge against possible default by the vendor; and that this had an adverse effect on the pricing of the 36 jets to be bought in fly-away condition.

The conflict between National Security and public interest

  • These revelations advance the public interest, and have no impact on national security.
  • The publication of the documents and news reports based on them constitute the legitimate exercise of the freedom of the press.
  • The threat of a criminal investigation under the Official Secrets Act, 1923 (OSA) is disappointing, if not downright perverse.
  • The government is also on weak legal ground when it claims the court should not rely on “stolen” documents while hearing petitions seeking a review of its judgment declining a probe into the Rafale deal.

Court’s Point of view

  • As the Bench, headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, pointed out, the manner in which a document has been procured is immaterial, if it is relevant to an adjudication. As one of the judges asked, can the government seek shelter behind the notion of national security if a corrupt practice had indeed taken place?

Official Secret’s Act Usage in Past

  • It is to the credit of successive governments that the OSA has rarely been used against the press.
  • The law primarily targets officials entrusted with secret documents, codes and other material, but Section 5 criminalises voluntarily receiving and possessing such documents, if given to them in contravention of the Act.
  • The Law Commission observed in a 1971 report that its wording was quite wide.
  • However, it left it to the government to decide against prosecution, if the information leak did not materially affect the state’s interest.

Conclusion

  • There is undoubtedly a case for distinguishing between an act that helps the enemy or affects national security, and one that advances legitimate public interest.
  • In times when information freedom is seen as salutary for democracy, laws such as the OSA should yield to the moral imperative behind the Right to Information Act.
  • This reasoning is embedded in Section 8(2) of the RTI Act, which says that notwithstanding the provisions of the OSA, “a public authority may allow access to information, if public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interests.”
  • The government should refrain from using its secrecy laws to contend with embarrassing media revelations. It would do well instead to respond responsibly to questions thrown up by the revelations.
Feb, 26, 2019

EVM is ‘information’ under RTI Act

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Statutory, regulatory & various quasi-judicial bodies

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: CIC, SIC

Mains level: Issues surrounding EVMs


News

  • An Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) is “information” under the Right to Information Act, the Central Information Commission has ruled.

Defining Information

  • The CIC noted that the definition of information under Section 2(f) of the RTI Act includes “any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form.

What CIC Ruled?

  • The Chief Information Commissioner ruled that the EVM which is available with the respondent [ECI] in a material form and also as samples is an information under the RTI Act.
  • The Commission was hearing the appeal of an RTI applicant who had asked the Election Commission for an EVM but was denied.
  • The models/samples of EVM are available with the ECI, but the same are only kept for training purpose by the ECI, and not saleable to the general public.

Why such ruling?

  • EVMs have been in the spotlight recently as several Opposition leaders have raised doubts about the credibility of the machines.
  • They have also demanded that the ECI cross-check 50% of results with voter-verifiable paper audit trails (VVPAT) in the upcoming Lok Sabha poll.

Certain Exemptions

  • The information was exempted from disclosure under Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act as the software installed in the machines is an intellectual property of a third party.
  • The disclosure would harm the competitive position of the third party concerned.
  • The CIC noted this fresh argument, but did not rule on it.
  • Instead, he directed the ECI to file an appropriate response to the appellant, as it had erroneously denied the information sought, using Section 6(1) of the RTI Act, which does not deal with grounds for exemption.

Back2Basics

Central Information Commission (CIC)

  1. The Central Information Commission (CIC) set up under the Right to Information Act is the authorized quasi judicial body, established in 2005.
  2. It acts upon complaints from those individuals who have not been able to submit information requests due to either the officer not having been appointed, or because the respective Officer refused to receive the application for information under the RTI Act.
  3. The Commission includes 1 Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and not more than 10 Information Commissioners (IC) who are appointed by the President of India.
  4. CIC and members are appointed by the President of India on the recommendation of a committee consisting of—Prime Minister as Chairperson, the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha; a Union Cabinet Minister to be nominated by the Prime Minister.
Feb, 16, 2019

Why only bureaucrats on information panels, asks SC

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Statutory, regulatory & various quasi-judicial bodies

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: CIC, SIC

Mains level: Implementation of the RTI Act


News

  • The Central Information Commission (CIC) and State Information Commissions, the country’s apex bodies entrusted to uphold the citizen’s right to information, have been bastions of government employees and their retired counterparts.
  • The apex court has found that “official bias” in favour of bureaucrats and government employees was evident from the very beginning of the process for their appointment.

Getting ‘Eminent Persons’ onboard

  1. The court raised concerns over how government employees or retired ones had consistently been found “more competent and more suitable” than eminent persons from other walks of life.
  2. The Right to Information Act of 2005 law was enacted to ensure accountability in governance.
  3. The act itself requires people from varied domains to man the Commissions.
  4. The apex court directed the government to look beyond bureaucrats and appoint professionals from “all walks of life,” including eminent persons with wide knowledge and experience in law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism as Information Commissioners.

Preventing Official bias

  1. Parliament intended that persons of eminence in public life should be taken as Chief Information Commissioner as well Information Commissioners.
  2. Many persons who fit the criteria have been applying for these posts.
  3. However, a strange phenomenon which we observe is that all those persons who have been selected belong to only one category, namely, public service, i.e., they are the government employees.
  4. In fact, the selection committee, which shortlists candidates for appointment, is itself composed of government employees.
  5. Official bias in favour of its own class is writ large in the selection process.

Other issues with RTI Mechanism

  1. The Supreme Court concluded that the entire RTI mechanism has been choked by rising pendency and growing number of vacancies of Information Commissioners.
  2. Now, the Supreme Court has, for the first time, put the government on a deadline as far as filling vacancies in the Commissions.
  3. The court directed that the process of appointment should commence at least one or two months before the retirement is due.

Back2Basics

Central Information Commission (CIC)

  1. The Central Information Commission (CIC) set up under the Right to Information Act is the authorized quasi judicial body, established in 2005.
  2. It acts upon complaints from those individuals who have not been able to submit information requests due to either the officer not having been appointed, or because the respective Officer refused to receive the application for information under the RTI Act.
  3. The Commission includes 1 Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and not more than 10 Information Commissioners (IC) who are appointed by the President of India.
  4. CIC and members are appointed by the President of India on the recommendation of a committee consisting of—Prime Minister as Chairperson, the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha; a Union Cabinet Minister to be nominated by the Prime Minister.
Nov, 13, 2018

[op-ed snap] Terms of disclosure

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency & accountability

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Global RTI rankings by CLD

Mains level: Loopholes in RTI act and the urgent need to fix them


Context

India slips in RTI rankings

  1. In the recent global RTI ratings, India has slipped a rung further this year to the sixth position
  2. India has slipped from its second position (2011) to fourth, fifth and sixth in 2016, 2017 and 2018 respectively
  3. Ironically, India ranks lower than smaller nations like Afghanistan — which adopted the RTI later than India

About RTI rankings

  1. It is a programme founded by the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), a Canada-based non-governmental organisation, along with Access Info Europe
  2. According to CLD, the global RTI rating is a system for assessing the strength of the legal framework for guaranteeing the right to information in a given country
  3. It is, however, limited to measuring the legal framework only and does not gauge the quality of implementation

Where did India’s rating fall?

Out of the 61 indicators, there are nine indicator categories under which India’s points have been downgraded

  • The presumption for access subject to limited exceptions is indicator number two.
  1. Section 8(2) of Indian RTI Act specifically overrides Official Secrets Act 1923 and has made disclosure a rule and secrecy an exception
  2. Yet, India was given one instead of two points
  • The seventh indicator is the non-exclusion of executive and administrative units like ministries, local bodies, police, armed forces and bodies controlled or owned by the above
  1. Our public authority definition covered these aspects, but CLD says that jurisdiction exclusion of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and broad exemption to 18 bodies under Section 24 reduced India’s points
  • The 22nd indicator was of a clear maximum timeline for processing requests
  1. India got one out of two points
  2. Our Act states that information should be given as soon as possible, with a maximum limit of 30 days
  3. Two points were given to Afghanistan which also said the same — “as soon as possible” — without a maximum limit
  • India and Sri Lanka prescribe fees for information
  1. On this, the 24th indicator, India was given one while Sri Lanka got two points
  • No charges and limitations on the reuse of information obtained under RTI was the 27th criterion
  1. The Indian Act does not prohibit it, and the courts have said it can be used as evidence
  2. Still, India was given zero out of two
  • For the 30th criterion, pertaining to the “harm test”, India was given only one point while Afghanistan was awarded four points for equally applying the harm test to all clauses of exemption
  1. In India, Section 8(2) says that notwithstanding the Official Secrets Act 1923, nor any of the exemptions in Section 8(1), access to information cannot be denied if public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interest
  2. It is clear that the mandate of the International Agency for meeting this indicator is fully met by the Indian RTI Act
  • Criterion 51 deals with a system for redressing the problem of public authorities which systematically fail to disclose information or underperform
  1. India provides for sanction against officers and compensation against authorities, which is ignored
  2. Afghanistan gets two points here, though it does not mention anything in law, while India was given one
  • Legal protections against imposing sanctions on those who, in good faith, release information which discloses wrongdoing (whistleblowers) is criterion 53
  1. The rating agency maintains that in India there are no such protections, while Afghanistan and Serbia do have them
  2. Section 21 of the Indian RTI Act says, “No suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings shall lie against any person for anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done under this Act or any rule made thereunder”
  3. This gives immunity to all persons who give information under this Act. But this is ignored
  4. The agency overlooked the fact that the Whistleblowers Protection Act was actually passed by the Parliament in 2014

Effect of biased approach on India’s ranking

  1. It is evident that had the rating agency gone through the RTI Act and the legal framework of India more closely, India would have got 140 of 150 points
  2. It would have retained its position on the top, if not among the top three

Way forward

  1. The point which needs reconsideration at present is the blanket exemption of some organisations from furnishing information under Section 24 of the Act
  2. The preamble of the RTI aims at promoting accountability and minimising corruption
  3. Then how can a premier police agency like the CBI, which aims to fight corruption, be exempt from furnishing information on corruption?
  4. This is an anomaly which we must seriously seek to ponder on
Oct, 16, 2018

[op-ed snap] Hamstringing the RTI Act

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency & accountability

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: RTI Act, CIC (Appointment, removal, functions)

Mains level: Government’s proposed amendments to dilute the RTI act and associated harms


Context

Dilution of RTI Act

  1. The Right to Information (RTI) Act, operationalised in October 2005, was seen as a powerful tool for citizen empowerment
  2. It showed an early promise by exposing wrongdoings at high places and bringing to limelight various scams
  3. The act now faces multiple challenges

Lacunae in the act

  1. The Act did not give adequate authority to the Information Commissions to enforce their decisions
  2. Besides awarding compensation to an applicant for any loss suffered, the commissions can direct public authorities to take the steps necessary to comply with the Act but are helpless if such directions are ignored
  3. If an officer fails to fulfil his duty, the commission can either impose a maximum penalty of ₹25,000 or recommend disciplinary action against him
  4. This deterrent works only when the piece of information lies at the lower levels; it is ineffective in many cases where the information relates to higher levels of government
  5. Section 4 of the RTI Act requires Suo motu disclosure of a lot of information by each public authority. However, such disclosures have remained less than satisfactory

Proposed amendments to the Act

  1. The government proposes to do away with the equivalence of the Central Information Commissioners with the Election Commissioners on the ground that the two have different mandates
  2. The government also proposes to replace the existing fixed five-year tenure of the Information Commissioners with a tenure as may be prescribed by it
  3. The Act struck a balance between privacy and transparency by barring the disclosure of personal information if it has no relationship to any public activity or would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy
  4. The Justice Srikrishna Committee has proposed an amendment that would broaden the definition of ‘harm’, restricting disclosure of personal information even where it may be clearly linked to some public activity

Impact of proposed amendments

  1. The underlying assumption that transparency is less important for a democracy than the holding of free and fair elections is preposterous
  2. The proposal to alter tenure would make the tenure a largesse to be bestowed by the government. This would be detrimental to the independence and authority of the Information Commissions

Lack of staff due to delay in appointments

  1. The Central and State Information Commissions have been functioning with less than their prescribed maximum strength of eleven because governments have dragged their feet on appointing commissioners
  2. This leads to delay in disposal of cases, which is compounded by the backlog in the High Courts, where a number of decisions of the commission are challenged

Misuse of the act

  1. The clogging of the RTI system is also because a number of applicants, usually disgruntled employees of public institutions, ask frivolous queries
  2. Their applications have unfortunately continued to exist alongside those of numerous RTI activists who have done commendable work, often risking their life and limb

Way forward

  1. The RTI Act continues to render yeoman service in providing information to citizens.
  2. Though its aim is not to create a grievance redressal mechanism, the notices from Information Commissions often spur the public authorities to redress grievances
  3. If the issues listed above are not addressed, this sunshine law will lose its promise, particularly in terms of ensuring transparency at higher levels of governance
Jul, 20, 2018

[op-ed snap] Diluting a right

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency & accountability

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: RTI Act

Mains level: Proposed amendments in the RTI Act and its impact on legislation’s core cause


Context

Bid to tinker with salaries, tenures of information commissioners

  1. The bill to amend the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, that was to be introduced but was deferred in Rajya Sabha, ostensibly pertains only to the status of information commissioners (ICs) at the Centre and in the states
  2. It proposes that “The salaries and allowances payable to and other terms and conditions of service of the chief information commissioner and the information commissioners shall be such as may be prescribed by the central government”
  3. It also states that the ICs “shall hold office for such terms as may be prescribed by the Central government, instead of five years”

Government’s reasoning and its impact

  1. The government has argued that the legislation intends to correct an anomaly in the original Act, which placed ICs on par with election commissioners
  2. If the changes proposed in the bill are carried out, they will dilute the RTI Act considerably

Why is current structure of act important?

  1. The Act allows an Indian citizen to seek “information from any authority in the country on the payment of Rs 10”
  2. Its efficacy hinges on the independence of the commissioners who are the final appellate authority for those denied information
  3. The Act, therefore, stipulates that these officials exercise their powers “without being subject to directions under any other authority”
  4. Making them dependent on the government for their tenure, therefore, strikes at the core mandate of the Act
  5. In fact, the bill, in its original avatar, had a provision for deputy commissioners who would function as per the direction of the government but the Parliamentary Committee recommended the deletion of this clause because “it would curb the independence and autonomy of the commissioners”

Objective of RTI & Way Forward

  1. The fundamental objective of the RTI Act is to ensure transparency in the government’s functioning
  2. Currently, there are four vacancies in the Central Information Commission, even though more than 23,000 appeals are pending before the agency
  3.  In the first week of July, the Supreme Court termed the shortfall in ICs as “very serious” and asked the Centre and the states to fill up the vacant positions
  4. In drafting the new bill, the government also seems to have gone against the spirit of the deliberations in Parliament that led to the enactment of the RTI law
Jul, 18, 2018

[op-ed snap] Dark clouds over the RTI

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency & accountability

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: The Right to Information (RTI) Act

Mains level: Amendments being done in the RTI Act and its implications on the accountability revolution ushering in the country


Context

Proposed amendments to RTI Act

  1. The government has struck another blow against transparency and accountability
  2. The legislative agenda of the monsoon session of Parliament says: “To amend The Right to Information (RTI) Act 2005″
  3. The RTI Act has been under constant threat of amendments
  4. At least two major attempts to amend the Act have been met with such strong popular resistance that the government of the day has had to back off

No good intent

  1. Any amendment to the law should have been discussed before it went to the cabinet, as in the “pre-legislative consultation policy” of the government of India
  2. Bureaucratic jargon such as “consideration” is a euphemism for pushing the amendment through without due consideration of parliamentary processes
  3. There have been steps to steamroller legislative measures (in the garb of money Bills) that have destabilised access to information such as Aadhaar and electoral bonds
  4. Applications for information about amendments made under the RTI Act have been stonewalled and information denied

Retracting from disclosure

  1. Amendments to the RTI rules that were put up for public feedback have reportedly been withdrawn after objections
  2. There have been reports that the proposed amendments seek to change the status of the information commissions

RTI promotes transparency

  1. The spirit of the RTI law lies in not just the filing of an RTI application and getting an answer
  2. It actually mandates the replacement of a prevailing culture of secrecy with a culture of transparency
  3. Under Section 4(2) of the RTI Act, which has been poorly implemented, it says: “It shall be a constant endeavour of every public authority to provide as much information suomotu to the public at regular intervals so that the public have minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information”

Way forward

  1. Since 2005, the RTI Act has helped transform the relationship between the citizen and government, dismantle illegitimate concentrations of power, legitimise the demand for answers, and assist people in changing centuries of feudal and colonial relationships
  2. Secret amendments to a law fashioned and used extensively are deeply suspect
  3. Any move to amend the RTI Act must involve public consultation
Jul, 17, 2018

[pib] CIC bilingual Mobile app launched for complaints and appeals

Note4students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Chief Information Commissioner and Particulars of the App

Mains level: Not Much


 News

CIC App

The Central Information Commission (CIC) has launched a newly updated version of a mobile app in Hindi also, – “CIC App”, which is available in Google Play Store and Apple store with the following features:

  1. Applicant can submit his/her 2nd Appeal(s)/ Complaint(s) / link paper(s) in both the languages i.e. in Hindi and English
  2. The appellant can search and trace dak, 2nd Appeal/Complaint in both the languages.
  3. Real-time status is available in both the languages (Hindi & English)
  4. Appellant can download a copy of Hearing notice, Facilitation memo & decision.

Back2Basics

Central Information Commission

  1. The Central Information Commission (CIC) set up under the Right to Information Act is the authorised body, established in 2005 by the Government of India.
  2. It acts upon complaints from those individuals who have not been able to submit information requests to a Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer due to either the officer not have been appointed, or because the respective Central Assistant Public Information Officer or State Assistant Public Information Officer refused to receive the application for information under the RTI Act.
  3. The Commission includes 1 Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and not more than 10 Information Commissioners (IC) who are appointed by the President of India.
  4. CIC and members are appointed by the President of India on the recommendation of a committee consisting of—Prime Minister as Chairperson, the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha; a Union Cabinet Minister to be nominated by the Prime Minister.
May, 28, 2018

Political parties under RTI: Election Commission contradicts CIC directive

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency & accountability

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Election Commission, Central Information Commission, RTI Act

Mains level: Issues related to the implementation of RTI act


News

RTI not extended to political parties

  1. The Election Commission has said in an order that political parties are out of the purview of the RTI Act
  2. This is contrary to the Central Information Commission’s directive bringing six national parties under the transparency law

RTI act enforcement

  1. When it comes to the RTI Act, the Central Information Commission is the only appellate authority which may declare a body as a public authority if it is convinced that the organization fits into the criteria for being under the Right to Information Act
  2. The Central Information Commission has declared six national political parties as a public authority
  3. The Election Commission cannot take a position contrary to that unless the order of the CIC has been overturned by the Supreme Court or High Courts

Back2Basics

Central Information Commission

  1. The Central Information Commission has been constituted under the Right to Information Act, 2005
  2. The jurisdiction of the Commission extends over all Central Public Authorities
  3. The Commission has certain powers and functions mentioned in sections 18, 19, 20 and 25 of the RTI Act, 2005
  4. These broadly relate to adjudication in the second appeal for giving information; direction for record keeping, suo moto disclosures receiving and enquiring into a complaint on the inability to file RTI etc; imposition of penalties and Monitoring and Reporting including preparation of an Annual Report
  5. The decisions of the Commission are final and binding
  6. The Commission includes 1 Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and not more than 10 Information Commissioners (IC) who are appointed by the President of India
  7. CIC and members are appointed by the President of India on the recommendation of a committee consisting of—Prime Minister as Chairperson, the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha; a Union Cabinet Minister to be nominated by the Prime Minister
Feb, 23, 2018

SC against disclosure of IAS prelims marks

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Citizens charters, transparency & accountability & institutional & other measures

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: RTI Act

Mains level: Provsions related to UPSC as well as state PSCs


News

No disclosure of marks under RTI

  1. The Supreme Court has held that details of marks — raw and scaled — scored in the Civil Services Exam cannot be “mechanically” disclosed under Right to Information
  2. The decision came on an appeal filed by the Union Public Service Commission against a Delhi High Court order to divulge the marks on the basis of a petition filed by unsuccessful candidates of the Civil Services (Preliminary) Examination, 2010 (CSP)

Court’s view

  1. The need for transparency and accountability championed by the Right to Information Act should be balanced by the requirement of confidentiality of sensitive information

Back2Basics

Right to Information

  1. Right to Information (RTI) is an Act of the Parliament of India to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens
  2. It replaces the erstwhile Freedom of information Act, 2002
  3. The act codifies a fundamental right of citizens
  4. Under the provisions of the Act, any citizen of India may request information from a “public authority” (a body of Government or “instrumentality of State”) which is required to reply expeditiously or within thirty days
  5. The Act also requires every public authority to computerize their records for wide dissemination and to proactively certain categories of information so that the citizens need minimum recourse to request for information formally
  6. Information disclosure in India was restricted by the Official Secrets Act 1923 and various other special laws, which the new RTI Act relaxes
Oct, 11, 2016

Govt aborts plan for grievance redressal law

  1. Govt has junked the idea of passing a grievance redressal law
  2. The law would have given citizens legal rights to secure proper and timely delivery of government services and benefits
  3. Instead, it is working on a scheme called the Delivery of Services and Grievances Redressal Scheme
  4. The scheme would provide for a recourse to more departmental procedures and actions
Feb, 25, 2016

Centre appoints 3 Information Commissioners

  1. News: Central government appointed 3 Commissioners at the Central Information Commission (CIC)
  2. Who? Amitava Bhattacharyya, 1980 batch IAS officer; Bimal Julka, 1979 batch IAS officer; and Divya Prakash Sinha, 1979 batch IPS officer
  3. Tenure: 5 years or till the appointees turn 65
  4. Background: Mr. Bhattacharyya was the SSC Chairman. Mr. Julka retired as Secretary, Information and Broadcasting Ministry.
  5. Mr. Sinha, who retired from the post of Secretary (Security) in the Cabinet Secretariat, was earlier a Special Director with the IB
Jan, 08, 2016

Panel proposes bringing elite clubs under RTI Act

The panel members said the clubs were behaving in an “extremely exclusive” manner despite getting grants, land and other concessions from the government.

  1. In yet another proposal by politicians that could control the functioning of elite clubs in the city.
  2. A Legislature committee has proposed to bring all clubs under the ambit of the government’s rules and the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
  3. A 7-member Legislative Assembly Committee headed by the Congress MLA, N.A. Harris, which visited clubs in the city.
  4. They found that most clubs in Bengaluru and other parts of the State charged exorbitant fees for membership and enforced dress codes.
Nov, 27, 2015

An adalat to clear RTI backlog

The Karnataka Information Commission is considering first-of-its-kind RTI adalats to clear the backlog.

  1. The State is staring at a backlog of close to 30,000 cases, which came before the commission after the 2-step appeal process.
  2. The two step includes hearing by the information officer and an appellate authority.
  3. If the larger picture is considered, there are a lot more cases in limbo across several govt. departments.
Oct, 29, 2015

Don’t cite national security to withhold info

  1. The CIC has told the BARC and the DRDO that they cannot withhold information in the guise of national security.
  2. The CIC’s order have raised hope of residents and environment activists to stall military, defence and research institutes from coming up on the land.
Oct, 28, 2015

Info panel turning down more RTI requests now

  1. The Central Information Commission has admitted fewer and fewer cases every month this year, under the RTI Act.
  2. RTI activists have asked for greater transparency in the process of turning down requests.

How do the cases reach Central Information Commission ?

  • If an applicant is not satisfied with the response to his request for information from a Central govt. authority, and with the verdict of the first appeal made to the authority concerned.
  • If a citizen has a complaint that his request was not taken or wrong information was given.
Oct, 27, 2015

Vacant posts in all SIC benches may render RTI Act toothless: Report

The Maharashtra SIC’s report takes note of the various administrative and functional lapses hindering the functioning of the Commissionerates.

  1. The Right to Information Act seems to have become a victim of govt. apathy.
  2. There is 35% vacancies in all benches of the State Information Commission (SIC) and reluctance from senior officers to take up role of Information Officers.
  3. As mandated by the RTI Act, the SIC benches hear the second appeals filed by the applicants and pass orders which are quasi-judiciary in nature.
  4. RTI activists said that lack of suo motu declaration of information, is one of the major reasons for more number of appeals.
Aug, 25, 2015

Can’t bring political parties under RTI, Centre tells SC

Union govt. has argued that political parties cannot disclose their internal functioning and financial information under the Right to Information Act.

  1. The disclosure will hamper their smooth functioning and create a weak spot for rivals with malicious intentions to take advantage of.
  2. SC had earlier issued notice to 6 national parties, asking their inability to come clean and explain their hesitation to disclose complete details.
  3. The details will include their income, expenditure, donations, funding, including donor details, to the public under the RTI Act.
Jul, 08, 2015

Why can’t we bring political parties under RTI, asks SC

  1. Bench said it is within the voter’s fundamental right to know the financial details of political parties.
  2. Under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 all political parties must affirm their allegiance to the Constitution of India.
  3. Therefore, political parties must furnish information to the public under the right of information under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.
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