CAN RTI ERADICATE CORRUPTION?
Corruption is a global issue that causes a lack of transparency, accountability, institutional machinery, and intelligence, among other things. It is the abuse of power and resources by governments and individuals for personal gain, such as lobbying or diverting funds intended for public health into private sectors. Corruption is an issue that, like a weed in a crop, undermines government integrity and citizen accountability. But, where there is a problem, there is also a solution: RTI.
RTI stands for the Right to Information Act of 2005. The RTI Act of 2005 was passed by Parliament on June 15, 2005, and went into effect on October 13, 2005. RTI stands for Right to Information, which is a fundamental right guaranteed by our Indian constitution under Article 19(a) of freedom of speech and expression, which also includes the right to know. The Right to Information Act of 2005 was enacted to address flaws in the Freedom of Information Act of 2002 and to boost the law's effectiveness by making it more available and affordable to all Indian citizens seeking information. It grants the right to request information from any Indian government agency. NRIs and foreigners do not have access to the 2005 Right to Information Act. Its aim is to promote openness, accountability, and active citizen engagement in democracy by providing information to information seekers. It only contains data that is in the public interest and is owned or available by a government agency.
How RTI Impacts the Roots of Corruption?
Accessibility: Only parliament members have the right to request some details from the government prior to the ratification of RTI. It allows citizens to demand information from the government. RTI makes it simple for knowledge seekers to get access to information. Those who want to know more about a government provision can submit a written request or request information through the internet. For illiterate or mentally disabled persons, the Public Information Officer is obligated to help the person who makes the request orally to put it in writing. If everything is forbidden by this act, no one may obtain information.
Transparency: Transparency refers to the disruption caused in government institutions as a result of withholding basic knowledge about the public interest from the public, which contributes to corruption. Information on the budget, regulations, surveys, and various schemes announced by the government. It should be open to the general public. This Act also imposes certain fair restrictions, such as requiring people to keep all documents in such a way that they are easy to access within a reasonable period under this act by making them computerised and making them available on the internet. Within one hundred and twenty days of the enactment of this act, all information that is relevant and related to the public authority should be released. The details should be made available to the public so that they can access it.
Affordability: If a resident is wealthy or impoverished, RTI has made access to knowledge very affordable. No public authority may charge more than 50 Rs. under this act's provisions.
Less time consuming: Members of the government are obligated to provide information to anyone who requests it. There are no general citizens who can seek and obtain information, and they will be given the information. However, details will be given within thirty days of the act's enactment. No one may argue that they are required by statute to provide knowledge to those who request it. RTI and government accountability are especially relevant in the fight against corruption. Right to Information is the product of a collaborative effort between a number of non-profit organisations and activists.
Following the passage of this act, it became much easier for Social Activists and Civil Society Organizations to eliminate corruption in the public interest and encourage government openness and accountability. RTI promotes citizens' active engagement in democracy by providing information to information seekers.
Let's look at how this strong law resulted in the uncovering of some of India's biggest scams.
Adarsh Society scam
For the heroes of the 1999 Kargil war and the widows of the war's martyrs, a six-story building was to be built. It eventually became a thirty-one-story high-rise building in Mumbai's Colaba neighbourhood. The land was rightfully owned by the Ministry of Defence. There were several problems in this case, including severe security concerns because the 100 m building was too close to a proposed helipad and military installations, and no NOC was received from the Ministry of Environment and Forests. Thirty-three benami transactions were found, and anyone who assisted in the file's passing was given a flat. Simpreet Singh and Yogacharya Anandji filed an RTI, which resulted in the discovery of a crooked network of politicians, bureaucrats, and military officials working together for personal gain.
The 2G controversy relates to the improper and irregular sale of 2G spectrum to benefit a few corporations. It occurred in the year 2008, when A. Raja was India's Telecom Minister. The corporations were undercharged, and the exchequer had to bear a loss of rupees 1.76 lakh crore due to irregularities, according to the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. Subhash Chandra Agrawal, an activist, filed an RTI in 2011, and the court then framed charges under the IPC and the Prevention of Corruption Act. Kanimozhi, a DMK MP, was also charged in this case.
Commonwealth Games scam
India was given the opportunity to host the Commonwealth Games in 2010. Suresh Kalmadi, the then-chairman of the organising committee, used the services of companies that over-quoted rates and excluded companies that provided better prices for inexplicable reasons. This deception not only cost the country a lot of money, but it also gave us foreign shame and embarrassment. The money set aside for Dalit welfare schemes was redirected to the Commonwealth Games. This information was obtained via an RTI request submitted by the Housing and Land Rights Network, a non-profit organisation.
We'd all heard tales of corruption, but RTI was the tool that revealed how the so-called custodians of the law violate the same law and use it to their advantage. Activism has played a crucial role in exposing the methods used in such scandals.
IMPACT ON INSTITUTIONS
RTI has had a major effect on a number of organisations and industries, as well as our country's overall structure.
The Supreme Court of India recently ruled in Reserve Bank of India v. Jayantilal Mistry [] that the RBI should behave transparently and not conceal information that could embarrass individual banks. RTI has been extremely useful in informing us about the activities of the Indian Banking System's regulator. According to an RTI response from the RBI in 2018, banks have registered over 23.000 cases of fraud in the previous five years. A total of Rs. 1 lakh crore is at stake in these cases. The Reserve Bank of India recently disclosed that banks have written off loans worth Rs 68,600 crores in response to an RTI request.
It is a scheme that provides subsidised food grains and other basic goods to the poor on a daily basis. Many times, it has been observed that either such people had to pay a bribe in order to procure their food products, or that the items ended up on the open market with forged signatures on the documents. These corruption cases have a much greater impact on a significant proportion of the population than larger scandals. However, after years of helplessness, people began to use RTI as a method to combat systemic corruption. When they got their RTI answer, the shop owners or any other member of the supply chain were held liable by default, and the citizens were able to collect their food grains.
Our country's most overlooked field is education. In the towns and villages of Rajasthan, a campaign called "Shiksha ka Sawaal" had begun. [[number]] Students demonstrated against a shortage of teachers in public schools. During the 2015-16 school year, the initiative used RTI to track government schools and public education throughout the state. They began holding Abhibhavak Divas (parent-teacher meetings) and Shiksha Samvaad, a dialogue involving the media, schools, teachers, parents, and the education minister, as well as education secretaries. Aspirants for various competitive exams have often filed RTIs if they believe something went wrong or unfairly against them during the selection process.
The Supreme Court recently ruled in D.A.V. College Trust and Management Society v. Director of Public Instructions that non-governmental organisations that receive significant funding from the appropriate government come under Section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.
Payments of pension
RTI has become extremely useful in assisting retirees. They've been asking the government for details about delays or non-payment of their pensions. Citizens' grievances have been discussed by concerned agencies such as the Passport Office, public welfare funds, police in relation to FIRs, government colleges, and review boards on a variety of issues.
The procedure is also straightforward, and filing an RTI does not necessitate much effort. In 2018, the CIC ruled that pension payments could not be withheld due to a lack of an Aadhar Card. The 55 retirees were the subject of the lawsuit. The CIC referred to the Supreme Court's right to privacy ruling, which stated that people cannot be required to display their Aadhar numbers in order to profit from government programmes. “It is a matter of life and death for 55 pensioners who were fully reliant on the pitiful sum of pension,” the commission added in its judgement. Even if it is a small sum, even a day's delay in payment could cause all or some of them to miss work. As a result, information concerning the payment of pensions to elderly persons should be treated and classified as life-related information, and should have been referred to within 48 hours.
Such decisions emphasise the role of knowledge in citizens' exercising their Fundamental Rights. The CIC has also ruled that the FIR and material pertaining to judicial proceedings are public documents. Another intriguing case involves the issue of whether the office of the Chief Justice of the United States is subject to the RTI Act. Serious concerns have been posed repeatedly about the operation of the country's highest judicial office. It took fourteen years after the RTI Act was enacted for a court to rule that the Chief Justice of India's office is a public authority subject to RTI.
In the case of Public Information Officer v. V. Chaudhary, the Delhi High Court ruled that all information held by a public body must be made available to citizens unless it is excluded from disclosure under Section 8 of the RTI Act. The court also stated that Section 11 of the Act contains such protections but does not prohibit information disclosure.
RTI has had a positive impact on the functioning of these institutions, especially the Public Distribution System and the education sector, both of which have been plagued by the termite of corruption. It has aided in the de-mystification of these institutions and increased the transparency of those in charge.
Where the Fallacies Lie?
The public authorities have not fully applied Section 4 of the Act. Section 4 of the Act mandates that public bodies keep records and disseminate all information in the local language through the internet, notice boards, newspapers, public announcements, and other means. Internal procedures within public authorities are not established to ensure the enforcement of this suo-motu provision.
The Central Information Commission's order is enforceable under Section 19(7) of the Freedom of Information Act. However, as we have seen, political parties have not pursued it, and no action has been taken against them for their wilful non-compliance. There is a need to give this quasi-judicial body more teeth. The institution becomes ineffective if there is no threat of penalty if the order is not followed.
The Act has attracted a lot of flak for the broad exemptions it allows. Another major obstacle is the CIC's high level of pending cases. The condition is very serious as a result of the inefficient system for resolving appeals and grievances. The information from the PIO is often delayed for more than 30 days.
The RTI Amendment Bill, 2019, is a challenge to the Central Information Commission's independence and goes against the checks and balances doctrine. The bill aims to change Sections 13 and 16 of the Act, which deal with the Chief Information Commissioner's (CIC), State Information Commissioner's (SIC), and Information Commissioners' terms and salaries (ICs). Their term of service was set at 5 years or until they reached the age of 65, whichever came first. The amendment now specifies that the appointment would be for the length of time that the central government will specify. Previously, the CIC's salary was equal to that of the Chief Election Commissioner, and the SIC's salary was equal to that of the Chief Secretary of States. The amendments, on the other hand, propose that the wage be set by the federal government. The Amendment Bill also repeals the rule that, when CICs and ICs are named, their wages will be reduced by a sum equal to the pension or other retirement benefits they receive from previous government service. All of these reforms will have an effect on the CIC's autonomy and give the Centre more authority.
Name: Simran Reejwani
College: Institute of Law, Nirma University