History of RTI Act 2005 in India: Evolution and Challenges

History of RTI Act 2005 in India: Evolution and ChallengesThere is long history of RTI Act 2005 in India. It took a lot of effort and time to make RTI (Right to Information) a reality for citizen. There were many existing rules contrary to the right to information. Let me provide you various challenges and events in the evolution of RTI in India.

History of RTI Act 2005 in India: Challenges

In the long history of RTI Act 2005 in India, there were various challenges to overcome. Since British times, there have been many laws that prohibited implementation of right to information. Important laws that prohibited Right to Information in India is produced below:

  • The Official Secrets Act, 1923: This law was the most important challenge in the history of RTI Act 2005 in India beacause it prohibited all public servants from disclosing any information to the public.
  • Section 123 of the Indian evidence Act 1872: No one shall be permitted to give any evidence derived from unpublished official records relating to any affairs of State, except wit the permission of the officer at the head of the department concerned, who shall give or withhold such permission as he thinks fit.
  • Oath by the Public Servant: Before joining duty, public servant swears that the information is a state secret.
  • Rule 11 of The Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 1964: No Employee of the Secretariat shall, except in accordance with any general or special order of the Secretariat or in the performance in  good faith of the duties assigned to him/her, communicate, directly or indirectly, any official document or any part thereof or information to any Employee of the Secretariat or any other person to whom he/she is not authorized to communicate such document or information.
  • Rule 9 of The All India Services (Conduct) Rules, 1968: No member of the Service shall except in accordance with any general or special order of the Government or in the performance in good faith of duties assigned to him, communicate directly or indirectly any official document or part thereof or information to any Government servant or any other person to whom he is not authorized to communicate such document or information.
  • Archives Policy Resolution of 22 December 1972: States that all documents are classified for 30 years and thereafter only non-confidential material is available to a restricted range of people. Even unclassified material cannot be communicated to anyone outside the government without permission.

The above mentioned prevalent laws are considered main hurdles to right to information in the history of RTI Act 2005 in India.

History of RTI Act 2005 in India: Evolution

From time to time, there have been many moves by government as well as private institutions to bring right to information to the citizen. I have listed below various important events in the evolution of the RTI Act, 2005 that made history of RTI Act 2005 in India.

1977: Janata Government headed by Morarji Desai constituted a working group to ascertain if the Official Secrets Act, 1923 could be modified so as to facilitate greater flow of information to the public. The working group recommended that the Act of 1923 should be retained without change.

1986: In the famous case of Mr. Kulwal v/s Jaipur Municipal Corporation the Supreme Court gave clear cut directive that Freedom of Speech and Expression provided under Article 19 of the Constitution clearly implies Right to Information as without information the freedom of speech and expression cannot be fully used by the citizens.

1990: Heading the National Front government, Prime Minister V.P Singh, first politician to lay emphasis on RTI, stressed on the importance of Right to Information as a legislated right. He tried to enact legislation in 1989-90. But, due to the political instability at the time, the idea did not materialize and V P Singh was removed from office in 1990, as his government lost the confidence vote in Lok Sabha.

1994: Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan (MKSS) started a grassroots campaign for Right to Information – demanding information concerning development works in rural Rajasthan. This movement grew and the campaign resulted in the government of Rajasthan enacting a law on Right to Information in 2000.

1995: Draft Act was formulated in a meeting of social activists at the LBSNAA, Mussoorie, 1995.

1996: National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI), one among several civil society groups, was founded with the objective of getting legislation on RTI passed. Due to the growing demand for right to information, the Press Council of India under guidance of its Chairman Justice P B Sawant drafted a law which was later updated and changed at a workshop and renamed “The Press Council–NIRD Freedom of Information Act, 1997.

1997: Tamilnadu became the first state in India to have passed a law on Right to Information.

1997: The Madhya Pradesh Government issued executive orders to 36 departments to implement Right to Information which later increased to more than 50 departments.

1997: The Working Group, under Chairmanship of H D Shourie, appointed by the United Front government, drafted the Freedom of Information Bill, 1997.

1997: Goa legislature enacted a law on Right to Information.

1998: The Government of Madhya Pradesh tabled a Bill on Right to Information, which was passed by the legislature. The Bill didn’t become Law because the Governor denied assent.

1998: When the NDA came to power, Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee assured the nation that a Law on Right to Information shall be enacted soon.

1999: Government restrained Ministers.

1999: Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed before Supreme Court to: Lift restraint on Ministers; Declare Section 5 of Official Secret Act, 1923 unconstitutional; Ask Government of India to issue suitable instructions for RTI, pending legislation.

1999: Union Urban Affairs Minister passed an administrative order on transparency in the Urban Affairs Ministry.

2000: Freedom of Information Bill, 2000 was introduced in Parliament, and was referred to a Select Committee of Parliament.

2001: NCT Delhi assembly passed a law on Right to Information.

2002: Report of Select Committee in early 2002.

2002: Freedom of Information Bill, 2000 was passed in both houses of Parliament in December 2002. This was a watered down version of the bill proposed by NCPRI and other organizations.

2002: In September, Maharashtra Government passed RTI Ordinance that overwrote the Maharashtra RTI Act, 2000.

2002: The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, by its order dated 2nd May, 2002 in Civil Appeal No. 7178 of 2001 (Union of India vs. Association for Democratic reforms and another) directed the Election Commission to call for information on affidavit by issuing necessary order in exercise of its power under Article 324 of the Constitution of India from each candidate seeking election to Parliament or a state legislature as a necessary part of his nomination paper.

2003: Freedom of Information Bill received the assent of the President of India on 6th January, 2003, and became law, known as Freedom of Information Act, 2002 Act No. 5 of 2003.

2003: On 31st January MP Government passed MP RTI Act.

2003: In August, Maharashtra Government converted its Ordinance into new RTI Act.2004UPA Government came to power in 2004. The National Advisory Council (NAC), also known as the shadow government, was formed under Mrs. Sonia Gandhi. The main objective of the Council was to monitor implementation of government schemes and advise government on policy and law.

2004: NCPRI formulated amendments to Freedom of Information Act, 2002 and forwarded to the NAC. NAC endorsed with minor changes and recommended to the Government (Prime Minister). There was reluctance among politicians and bureaucrats in adopting these changes. There was an attempt made to re-notify the earlier Freedom of Information Act; This move faced widespread protests by citizens and civil society.

2004: Finally, on 23rd December 2004, UPA Government tabled the RTI Bill 2004, applicable only to the Union Government. The civil society was not happy with this. Most of the information required by the common man was from state governments. The bill did not serve the purpose of the common man. Some members of the NAC too were unhappy with this. After heavy lobbying by NCPRI and other organizations the Right to Information Act, 2005 was passed with 150 amendments. Bill is now applicable to States also.

2005: RTI Bill was passed in Lok Sabha on 11th May 2005, and in Rajya Sabha on 12th May 2005. It received assent of President of India on 15th June 2005, and was published in the Gazette of India on 21st June 2005. RTI Act, 2005 came into force with effect from 12th October 2005, and known as Right to Information Act, 2005 (Act No. 22 of 2005).

The above mentioned list of events does not contain all important events in the history of RTI Act 2005 in India, rather contains only those events that had been influential in the evolution of RTI Act 2005 in India.

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