Time to rejoice over the Right to Information Act

By: Parmanand Pandey

Right to Information Act, no doubt, is one of the most revolutionary acts passed by Indian Parliament since inception after 1952. This Act was passed in 2005 after a great deal of efforts by Right Activists across the country. This Act has virtually overshadowed the much-hated Official Secret Act 1923.The Official Secret Act was brought in by the English Government to perpetuate its illegal rule in India. The demand to scrap the Official Secret Act, 1923, therefore, has been going on for quite long time.

This Official Secret Act is anachronistic with freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed by the Constitution of India. This act provides for imprisonment to a person from three years to fourteen years to those found violating the Act. This Act vests with enormous empowers to those in possessions of authority. Under the official Secret Act, warrants may be issued at any time if the Magistrate feels that there is a danger to the security of the state. This provides extraordinary and arbitrary powers to the authorities. Even media persons were not spared from this draconian act. It may sound strange, but it is a fact that at a time when the satellite photographs can be taken of any place all over the world we often find the ridiculous instructions written by the senseless authorities on many palaces  saying that the ‘photography of this bridge/place/area is strictly prohibited violators will be prosecuted’. It is amazing that why the photography of a bridge should fall in the category of the official secret. This is in total contrast to the openness of the society. At a time when everything is available on the internet, the map of any place can be found through satellite on the Google map. A person sitting at the far away place from his/her house in the remote village can see and locate on the Google map. Yet if the foolish restrictions of photography are applicable on the citizens of the country, it exposes not only the insanity of the authorities but also there colossal ignorance about the march of the science and technology that has take place in the latter half of the 20th century.

I have the satisfaction of being one of the campaigners for the Right to Information Act. I have had participated in numerous of seminars and workshops organized by the Right Activists and have expressed my feelings in those occasions. When I was the member of the Press Council of India from 1991 to 1997 I had advocated for the introduction of to Right to Information Act in the debates of the Press Council. A draft prepared by the Press Council was also sent to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Although, the draft was not comprehensive and needed to be amended but it was a good beginning of the Press Council of India.

The Right to Information Act is path-breaking Act in many ways. It has brought about tectonic change in the outlook and functioning of the Government apparatus. As the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Louis Brandies has said that ‘sunlight is the best disinfectant’ and he said it in the context of openness and transparency. This Act has worked as deterrent to the corrupt and irresponsible government officials. He had also said that ‘we should not only accept criticism but we should also embrace them’.

The Right to Information Act has been serving hugely for strengthening the democracy and the empowerment to the people of India. Most of us have still not forgotten that five members of Parliament were caught taking bribes for asking questions in Parliament. They were ultimately expelled on public outcry. Now there is a no need to go to any MP and MLA for asking the questions thanks only due to this epoch-making RTI Act. Every citizen has been empowered by the RTI to ask any relevant question seeking any information from any official and the official is a duty bound to provide reply to the question asked. If anybody, responsible for furnishing the reply avoids or failed to do so, will be punished and he or she may have to pay hefty penalty for withholding the information.

There has been a demand from the Right Activists for including the political parties within the ambit of the Right to Information Act. This proposal scared all political parties. There was an attempt by the Government of India to amend the Right to Information Act for keeping the political parties beyond the purview of the Right to Information Act. The amendment to keep the political parties out was even introduced in the Lok Sabha, which has happily expired today because it could not be taken up for debate and discussion in the stipulated period of six months. This is a big victory for every freedom-loving citizens of India. It is in fact a cause for good celebration. Let us rejoice it on two counts that the Right to Information Act has been left un-tinkered and that it is playing a very important role in empowerment of the people of India.