Right To Information (RTI) is a fundamental right of Citizens and is derived from Article 19 which recognizes the Freedom of Expression of Citizens. RTI empowers the citizens – the individual sovereigns. The Right to Information Act is slowly transforming the balance of power and the nature of our Democracy. Shailesh Gandhi, who was a Central Information Commissioner and is an RTI activist, gave an introduction to this law and explained its potential at a Speaker Event organized by IAIP on March 14th in Mumbai. He took through the Preamble and various sections of the RTI act. These include application process, exemptions to RTI, and various examples Vinayak Thalkar, Lalsingh etc. The event was well received by the members. A copy of the presentation made is also uploaded on the India page of the CFA Institute website (http://www.cfasociety.org/india/Pages/ContinuingEducation-Presentations.aspx).
Sweden was the first country to introduce Freedom of Information Act on 2-Dec-1776. The first Indian Supreme Court judgment on RTI was delivered by Justice Mathew in Raj Narain Case. It was in 1992-93 when India’s grass-root movement took place under Aruna Roy’s leadership in rural Rajasthan by MKSS. From 1997 till 2004 nine states enacted RTI Acts Tamil Nadu being the first state. On 12-Oct-2005 Central RTI Act came to be implemented. Maharashtra and Delhi RTI acts are reasonably good according to Shailesh. The 97th amendment enacted by Maharashtra places cooperative societies too under the act.
Section 4 discusses about proactive disclosure. Developed countries like US would put all the information on proposed nuclear plant for example in the public domain before the construction of the project as it has safety implications to the citizens living in the area. Plants will be built after taking public in confidence. However, in India government refuses to give any information despite protest from citizens on the grounds that it will affect the security of the India.
Section 8 & 9 deal with the information, which could be denied under RTI Act. These include information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence. It also includes information which is forbidden by the court of law, or those that cause breach of Parliament & state legislature, or those of commercial confidence, trade secrets, intellectual property etc and so on.
Hence he questions what is more important safety of the citizens living in the area who may be affected from the radiation leakage or its possibilities due to Nuclear plant in the vicinity or unproven or vague grounds in the name “security of India” given as an excuse by the government to deny information to its citizens. In the financial markets RBI refused to share information on cooperative banks which were shut and closed on the grounds that it will affect the “economic interest of the country” again an excuse which he doesn’t agree.
The speaker is a strong proponent of computerization of the government system. This will make retrieval of information easy and reduce costs. The information becomes secured as it can’t be tempered easily; the name of the person who tries could be captured. He feels that corruption comes mainly out of the inefficient mode of working and the same could be reduced through the use of information technology. Since it is nobody’s – politician, bureaucrats or officials – agenda, citizen will have to push for a change. So he reminds us that the essence of democracy is “each individual citizen is a sovereign in her own right, who gives up part of her sovereignty to the State, in return for which she gets the rule of law”.
Contributions from: Chetan Shah, CFA and Jignesh Kamani, CFA
Photographs from: Santosh Samal