Importance of RTI

 

In 1946 the United Nations General Assembly passed one of its very earliest resolutions regarding freedom of information. It stated this :

Freedom of information is a fundamental human right and … the touchstone of all freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated.

Considering that freedom of information is regarded as such an important human right, it might be a little surprising that it is not more clearly stated in the international human rights standards. The wording of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is clear and unambiguous:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Although freedom of expression was seen as benefiting both those who “imparted information” and those who “received” it, the idea that citizens were entitled to have access to information held by the institutions of government was not widely held at that time.

Governments and other institutions hold much information that affects the well-being of the individual as a member of society, even if it does not refer to them by name.

There are any numbers of types of information that governments hold that affect the individual. They could fall into any of the following categories:

  • Politics
  • Social welfare
  • Health
  • Education
  • Planned investment
  • Security
  • Justice

In all these areas the individual citizen has rights and particular things to which they are entitled. If they do not have adequate information about what the government is doing in these areas, then they will not be able to exercise those rights fully.

“Government” does not only refer to the head of government and the Ministers. On a day-to-day basis it means a large number of institutions – and decision-making committees within those institutions – which make decisions and take actions that implement government policy or the law. And, while there is great public interest in what goes on in the legislature or the courts, these less glamorous institutions make extremely important decisions.

In Uttar Pradesh, the State Information Commission was constituted vide State Government’s notification no. 856/43-2-2005-15/2 (2)/2003 TC-4 dated 19.09.2005. After that Hon. Justice (Retd) M.A. Khan was appointed first State Chief Information Commissioner. He joined his office on 22nd March, 2006.

Training of officers is being organized in different departments in different towns. At the state level, Uttar Pradesh Academy of Administration and Management (UPAAM), has been acting as state implementing agency for “Right to Information”. Training for the ranks of SDM, BDO and below is urgently required. To train Panchayat Secretaries in more than 52000 panchayats is a challenge.

Most of the departments have provided proactive disclosures on their web sites.

Office of the State Information Commission, Uttar Pradesh has been made fully automated. Weekly cause list is available on their web site. Important decisions of all the State Information Commissioners including Chief State Information Commissioner Mr. Ranjeet Singh Pankaj may be found online. State Information Commission, Uttar Pradesh has also been hearing the cases through video conferencing.

The right to information forms the crucial underpinning to participatory democracy. It is essential to ensure accountability and good governance.

The greater the access of the citizens to information, the greater is the responsiveness of government to community needs. Alternatively, the greater the restrictions that are placed on access, the greater the feelings of ‘powerlessness’ and ‘alienation’.

Without information, people cannot adequately exercise their rights as citizens or make informed choices.

Rajesh Kumar Mehtani,

U.P.Housing & Development Board,

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