Anugra Anna Shaju, National University of Advanced Legal Studies, Kochi
DEMOCRACY AND PEOPLE'S People’s RIGHT TO INFORMATION: SNEAK INTO RTI AMENDMENT ACT
Right to Information Act:
the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act), public authorities are required
to disclose their organisation, functions and structure, powers and duties of
its officers and employees and financial information suo moto. If such information is not provided,
the citizens have the right to request for it. The Act has been a great stride
towards ensuring accountability and transparency in the government and public
institutions and to ensure access to information to every citizen. The Act basically deals with
the right of the people to have access to information and the corresponding
duty of the government to provide access to information.
Act allows people to ask pertinent questions and receive information easily and
in a systematic manner and the authorities are obliged to reply in a timely
manner. The Act specifies a fine for the authorities if they don’t reply within
the stipulated time i.e., thirty days from the date of receiving such an
application or forty-eight hours in case the matter affects a petitioner’s life
the Act any Indian citizen can request information under the ambit of public
knowledge from the state and central government departments and offices. The
information may be in any form. They can ask about the
government projects, accounts of spending, relief funds etc. The Act also
allows students to get copies of their answers sheets from their universities. However information related
to defence, internal security, relations with foreign nations, intellectual
property rights, cabinet discussions and personal details do not come under the
certain flaws like half answers for information requests, pending cases,
uncertain time limits to dispose second appeals and grievances and delay in
appointing Information Commissioners, the Act has been widely used to collect
information and is popular among people, it guaranteed transparency and
accountability without executive meddling. However the recent amendments have
gone overboard and have resulted in government interference in the RTI’s
of the Act:
1994, a mass based organization called Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) in
Rajasthan demanded records of famine relief work and labourers payrolls. A few labourers were refused
their wages on the construction projects of schools, dispensaries, small dams
and community centres. So the villagers of Bhim Tehsil village in Rajasthan
asserted their right to information and asked for copies of bills and vouchers
and names of people paid wages for the construction projects. The records
showed gross misappropriation of funds and brought to light the corruption
among the officials. This led the MKSS to protest for Right to
Information. The movement was able to
bring an amendment in the Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Act to allow the public to
procure certified copies of documents with the Panchayats. In order to make
this a national campaign, the MKSS in 1996 formed the National Council for
People’s Right to Information in Delhi. In 2002, a weak Freedom of
Information Act was legislated. Finally in 2005, the Freedom
of Information Act, 2002 was replaced with the RTI Act.
the RTI Act, disclosure of information was largely restricted by the Official
Secrets Act and other special laws. The RTI act was able to bring relaxations
in these laws. Also the RTI Act necessitated computerization of records so that
information can be easily processed and relayed when asked by the people.
and Process of Enforcing the Act:
can request for information from the public authorities. The public authorities
designate certain officers as Public Information Officers (PIOs). When an
application is filed, it first goes to the Central/State Assistant Public
Information Officer and Central/State Public Information Officer designated by
the public authorities. They are required to reply to the request within thirty
days. After which appeals on the information or reply provided goes to the
Appellate authority. Appeals from the appellate authority go to the State
Information Commission or the Central Information Commission which consists of
a Chief Information Commissioner and up to ten Information Commissioners.
an RTI is a hassle-free process and can be done either online or offline.
However, some states do not have online RTI application facilities. Online application
for RTI can be submitted through the official website of RTI
(https://rtionline.gov.in). Different states and departments may have different
procedures and the rules for filing may differ.
the website, click on the submit request option and the applicant will be
redirected to the “Guidelines for use of RTI online portal” screen. This page
will contain the guidelines for using the RTI online portal. After reading
these, the user will have to tick the option “I have read and understood the
above guidelines” and click the submit button. An Online RTI Request Form
screen will be displayed where the applicant will have to carefully select the
Ministry/Department/Apex body and the Public Authority with whom they wish to
file an RTI with. The user will have to provide certain personal details and
contact information. They will also have to select whether they belong to the
BPL category or not. The applicant will have to pay Rs. 10 as prescribed in RTI
Rules, 2012 to file an application however BPL category people are exempted
from making this payment. They will have to upload their BPL card to avail this
exemption. The application need to be made in the “Text for RTI request
application” field and should not exceed 3000 characters. Applications of more
than 3000 characters can be filed by uploading it as a pdf in the supporting
document field. After filling in all information, payment needs to be made by
clicking on the “Make Payment” option. Once application is submitted, the
applicant will get an email and SMS (if phone number was provided). The alert
would contain a unique registration number that can be used to check the status
of the application.
is the rule of the people. People are central in a democracy and they have the
right to know the affairs of the state. They are the rulers of the government
and thus the owners of all public records. Access to information is necessary
to have empowered citizens and create an inclusive society. The RTI Act bridges
the communication gap between the ordinary citizen and the government and
allows the citizens to participate and know the affairs of the state. To keep
the activities and businesses of the government hidden is not in the interests
of the public and is not desired.
19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 recognises the Right to
In India, the Right to Information has been recognised as a fundamental right
and that it comes under the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression in State
of U. P. v. Raj Narayan and in Bennett Coleman v.
Union of India. The Supreme Court had noted
the importance of the RTI Act in good governance, which is an integral part of
any vibrant democracy in Anjali Bhardwaj v. Union of India. It has also held that an
open and participatory democracy requires accountability and transparency about
the working of the government in S.P. Gupta v. the President of India. In Union of India v.
Association for Democratic Reforms the right of the electors to know about
the previous history including criminal records of the candidates was
These judgments show that the Right to Information is an integral part of
democracy and an important right of every citizen.
to information is of fundamental importance in a democracy and is the way to a
more open and responsive government. To enable constructive criticism of the
governments’ functioning and to ensure true rule of the people, the people need
to know about the government policies, developmental schemes and how these are implemented
or materialized. RTI serves this purpose and is a means to ensure transparency
and generate trust in the government. Secrecy in the functioning of the
government would make holding the government accountable difficult and would
gradually degenerate to arbitrariness and absolutism. For all the institutions
and departments of the government to work responsibly, information about their
actions and decisions need to be available to the people. There exists a strong
connection between people’s right to information and an efficient,
corruption-free government. Only if citizens have information about the
functioning of the government will they be able to keep the government on their
toes to formulate better policies and work towards betterment of the country. So
the RTI Act plays a huge role in ensuring good governance and in the
development of the nation.
RTI Amendment Act 2019:
amendment Act has made changes in the term of office and the quantum of salary
of the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information Commissioners (ICs)
in the central as well as the state levels. It has made changes to Sections 13
and 16 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005. According to the amendment,
the term of office as well as salaries, allowances and other terms and
conditions of service will be determined by the central government. Earlier,
the term of the CIC and ICs both at the central and state level was five years
or until the age of 65, whichever is earlier. In terms of salary, it was
supposed to be the same as that of the Chief Election Commissioner for the
central and state level CICs, same as that of an Election Commissioner for the central
ICs and same as that of the Chief Secretary to the state government for the
The Election Commission (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners) Act
refers to the Act and Rules Governing the Service Conditions of Supreme Court
problem with these amendments is that it affects the independence of the CICs
and the ICs. The amendment allows the central government to decide the tenure
and salary on a case-to-case basis. Shashi Tharoor very rightly called the amendment
Bill an “RTI elimination Bill”.
the government argued that the mandate of Election Commission of India and
Central and State Information Commissions are different because of which it was
necessary to rationalise their status and service conditions accordingly. In
the affidavit filed before the Supreme Court, the government held that the
amendment was to formalize the otherwise dependent provisions and provide a
separate unique procedure and conditions for the independence of the
institutions under the RTI Act. The centre also argued that
they have not touched upon the powers and functions of the institutions and
that the RTI Act was enacted under the Union List, so it is competent to
legislate on it.
government has failed to give a credible rationale for such an amendment that
will definitely hamper the independent functioning of the RTI institutions. The
amendment is a way of cuffing the independence and impartiality of the RTI, to
curb the powers exercised by the RTI institutions. The government may have,
like MP Jairam Ramesh’s petition states, felt threatened by the RTI authorities
who are not answerable to them and who have passed several decisions
unpalatable to the central government fearlessly both at the state and central
levels. The amendment would affect
the free flow of unbiased information and shows the wariness of the government
in making information about its functioning available to the people. It also
shows that the government feels threatened by the free flow of information made
available to the people and the power exercised by the RTI institutions. This
in itself shows how important a role the RTI plays in the country.
amendment is problematic because first of all it threatens the independence of
the CIC, SCIC and ICs. When their salaries and tenure are decide by the
government, their functioning will be such that they are ultimately answerable
to the central government. They will be forced to act as employees of the government,
be loyal to the government and withhold information that might be deleterious
for the government. This would grant the government power and say in the
functioning of these institutions. So the amendment can be viewed as an effort
to bring the Information Commission under the central government’s belt.
amendment can be seen as lowering their powers and status as the reason cited
for the amendment was that they don’t have the same mandate as the Election
Commission or the Supreme Court judge. However they were given the same status
as the Election Commission or the Supreme Court judge to ensure that they were
not mere government agents and could question anyone of any rank. The amendment
failed to notice this rationale.
Commission has before, asked the government to provide significant and relevant
information about issues like the 2G Spectrum sale, the 2008 Commonwealth
Games, the 2017 demonetisation and RBI, Non-Performing Assets etc. This would
not have been possible if the Commission didn’t have the authority or
independence. Independence of the
Commission becomes extremely important when they have to deal with vested
interests in the government. Now chances of them issuing directives to the
government have diminished.
the amendment, state governments used to establish the commissions, appoint
State Information Commissioners and assess the Information Commissioners
performance. So the amendment can be seen as an encroachment into the functions
of the state government, now the State Chief Information Commissioners and
State Information Commissioners would be controlled by the central government.
is very clear and evident that the amendment was brought without much scrutiny
or public consultation. The amendment was not referred to the Parliamentary
Standing Committees or the Information Commission and the citizens, the
principal stakeholders of RTI.
is true that all institutions under the RTI Act are statutory bodies however
the fact that independence is a pre-requisite for the smooth working of all
statutory bodies needs to be considered. Moreover given that the right to
information is a fundamental right, this amendment limiting the right to
information is an impediment in the effective enjoyment of a fundamental right.
Finally transparency in the system would be heavily affected when the government has a major say in the institution. Transparency and accountability are the pillars of democracy. The amendment has diluted the Act in such a way that it has once again become difficult for the general public to obtain information. Officers will have to act according to the whims of the central government and there are chances of access to certain information being restricted according to their wishes. The officers will be forced to provide filtered information in order to please the government. This will reduce transparency and is a blow on citizens’ right to information.
RTI Act is one of the most popular and successful laws in India. It instilled
confidence in the government and allowed people to obtain information and be
active participants in the affairs of the state. For democracy to thrive and
for the overall development of the country, it is important for the RTI system to
be independent. However the recent amendment affects the independence and
autonomy of the RTI institutions and can be viewed as involvement of the
central government in the RTI’s functioning. This will adversely affect
democracy and can be interpreted to be the government’s way of keeping its
businesses and administration behind closed doors.
 The Right to Information Act 2005.
 Namit Sharma v. Union of India, (2013)
1 SCC 745.
 The Right to Information Act 2005
§ 2(f): “information” means 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 and information relating to any private
body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the
time being in force.
 CBSE v. Aditya Bandopadhyay,
(2011) 8 SCC 497.
 About MKSS, Mazdoor
Kisan Shakti Sangathan
(Apr. 6, 2021, 3:34 PM), http://mkssindia.org/about/.
What Is the Right to Information
Act (RTI)?, Business Standard (Apr. 6, 2021, 3:34
 The Right to Information Act 2005
“public authority” means any authority or
body or institution of self-government established or constituted—
(a) by or under the Constitution;
(b) by any other law made by Parliament;
(c) by any other law made by State Legislature;
(d) by notification issued or order made by the
and includes any—
(i) body owned, controlled or substantially financed;
(ii) non-Government organisation substantially
financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate
 G.A. Res. 217 A (III), art. 19
(Dec. 10, 1948):
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and
expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference
and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and
regardless of frontiers.
 State of U. P. v. Raj Narayan, AIR
1975 SC 865.
 Bennett Coleman v. Union of India,
AIR 1973 SC 106.
 Anjali Bhardwaj v. Union of India,
2019 SCC OnLine SC 205: This Act is enacted not only to sub-serve and ensure
freedom of speech. On proper implementation, it has the potential to bring
about good governance which is an integral part of any vibrant democracy.
 S.P. Gupta v. the President of
India, AIR 1982 SC 149.
 Union of India v. Association for
Democratic Reforms, AIR 2002 SC 2112.
PIB Delhi, The Right to
Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019 introduced in Lok SabhaThe Right to
Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019 introduced in Lok Sabha, Press
Information Bureau, July 19, 2019, https://pib.gov.in/Pressreleaseshare.aspx?PRID=1579510.
 Shyamlal Yadav, Explained: What
has changed in RTI Act? Why are Opposition parties protesting?, The Indian Express, July 22, 2019, https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/what-changes-in-rti-rti-amendment-bill-2019-mean-5840814/.
 Express News Service, Right to
Information Act: Amendments don’t affect citizen’s right to information, Centre
to SC, The Indian Express, Mar.
9, 2019, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/right-to-information-act-amendments-dont-affect-citizens-right-to-information-centre-to-sc-7220193/.
Vinita Deshmukh, Govt Affidavit
Denies Dilution of Information Commissioners’ Autonomy in RTI Amendment Rules,
Money Life (Apr. 6, 2021, 3:34 PM),