Right to Information Act, 2005 in India, empowered citizens to access government information, exposing delays, flaws in welfare schemes, and decision-making insights for 13 years now. However, the Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023 puts a total prohibition on disclosure of personal information which can hinder the purpose of RTI.
What is Right to Information?
- Right to Information empowers every citizen to seek any information from the Government, inspect any Government documents and seek certified photocopies thereof.
- Right to Information also empowers citizens to official inspect any Government work or to take the sample of material used in any work.
Right to Information Act 2005:
- Right to Information Act 2005 mandates timely response to citizen requests for government information. It is an initiative taken by Department of Personnel and Training, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions to provide a– RTI Portal Gateway to the citizens for quick search of information on the details of first Appellate Authorities, PIOs etc.
- Objective: The basic object of the Right to Information Act is to empower the citizens, promote transparency and accountability in the working of the Government, contain corruption, and make our democracy work for the people in real sense.
- It goes without saying that an informed citizen is better equipped to keep necessary vigil on the instruments of governance and make the government more accountable to the governed.
- The Act is a big step towards making the citizens informed about the activities of the Government.
Constitutional Provisions related to RTI
- Article 19(1) (a): This article guarantees the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, which includes the right to seek and receive information. It forms the constitutional basis for the right to information.
- Article 21: The right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 has been interpreted by the courts to include the right to information. Access to information is seen as essential for the meaningful exercise of one's rights and liberties.
- Article 12: While not directly related to RTI, Article 12 defines the term "State" for the purposes of fundamental rights. Public authorities and government agencies are considered "State" under this article, and they are subject to the constitutional principles of transparency and accountability.
- Article 51A: Part of the Fundamental Duties, Article 51A (h) places a duty on every citizen to develop a scientific temper, humanism, and the spirit of inquiry and reform, which align with the objectives of the RTI Act in promoting informed citizenry.
Hurdles to implement RTI:
- Rising Appeals: The increasing number of first appeals being filed indicates growing dissatisfaction with the information provided by public officials.
- Institutional Challenges: Activists highlight that the RTI Act's effectiveness is compromised not only by changes in the law but also by institutional challenges. These include limited avenues for convenient information requests and understaffed appeal bodies.
- Implementation Issues: The RTI Act's implementation depends on subordinate rules set by the Union and State Governments.
- The payment methods for public authorities are subject to state-level decisions, impacting uniformity and effectiveness.
Challenges in Online RTIs:
- Limited State Portals: Many Indian states lack online RTI portals, creating barriers for citizens. Even when portals exist, some government bodies are not registered, hindering accessibility.
- Union Government Portal Issues: The Union Government's RTI portal, launched in 2013, faces usability issues.
- Account creation, which simplified the filing process, has been removed, requiring users to enter their details anew each time.
- Data Discrepancies: The portal has experienced data glitches, with past application data disappearing and slow site performance. These technical issues undermine the efficiency of the RTI filing process.
The Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023:
- Aim: To enhance data protection and accountability for internet companies, mobile apps, and businesses handling citizens’ data.
- It prioritizes the “Right to Privacy” and includes provisions for explicit consent, data fiduciaries’ responsibilities, cross-border data transfers, and individual rights.
- Formation of Data Protection Board of India (DPB): The latest draft proposes a new regulatory framework that was present in previous versions, which now significantly limits the scope of the envisioned Data Protection Board of India (DPB) vested with significant regulatory-making, enforcement, and adjudication powers.
- Government’s procession of personal data and exemptions allocated: The present Bill also includes significant exemptions to the state's handling of personal data.
- Scope: The scope of the Bill encompasses digital personal data within India but also extends its jurisdiction to cover data processing activities outside the country.