RTI is being butchered at the doorstep of Information Commissions. And How!
The report that has just been released by two NGOs – Satarka Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) and Centre for Equity Studies (CES) hits the nail on how the Central Information Commissions (CICs) and State Information Commissions (SICs) are mercilessly killing the Right to Information Act (RTI), in more ways than one.
 
The study revolved around the performance of information commissions (ICs) in terms of the number of appeals and complaints registered and disposed of by the ICs; the number of pending appeals and complaints and imposition of penalty; the estimated waiting time for the disposal of an appeal; availability of annual reports of ICs; frequency of violations penalised by ICs and transparency in the functioning of ICs.  All these areas are in a dismal state.
 
The report is based on 169 RTI applications at 29 SICs and the CIC. 
 
The following is a point-by-point study on the situation:
 
Actual penalties imposed only in 4.1% of cases
 
  • A random sample of orders of information commissions that were assessed in 2017 found that an average of 59% orders recorded one or more violations listed in Section 20 of the RTI Act, based on which penalties were imposable.
  • If this estimate of 59% is used, penalty was imposable in 99,558 cases out of the 1, 68,742 cases disposed by the 20 ICs between 1 January 2016 and 31 October 2017. Actual penalties were imposed in 4,083 cases- only in 4.1% of the cases where penalties were imposable!
  • The ICs therefore did not impose penalties in almost 96% of the cases where penalties were imposable. 
 
The following two graphs reveal the abysmal record of penalty levied by Information Commissions in various states:
 
 
 
Vacancies of Information Commissioners
 
Currently, three information commissions are functioning without a Chief Information Commissioner. One of the information commissioners has taken on the additional charge as chief, although there is no such explicit provision under the RTI Act, 2005. 
 
  • Maharashtra: The Chief Information Commissioner of Maharashtra retired in April 2017. The government is yet to appoint a new Chief.
  • Nagaland: The SIC of Nagaland has been without a Chief since September 2017
  • Gujarat: The Gujarat Chief Information Commissioner retired in January 2018 and the position is currently vacant.
  • Observes the report, “The absence of a chief information commissioner has serious ramifications since the RTI Act envisages a critical role for the Chief, including, superintendence, management and direction of the affairs of the information commission”. 
  • The non-appointment of commissioners in the IC leads to a large build-up of pending appeals and complaints. 
  • Kerala: The SIC of Kerala is functioning with a single commissioner. As of 31 October 2017 nearly 14,000 appeals and complaints were pending with the commission (see section 3.1).
  • Odisha: The Odisha SIC is functioning with 3 commissioners despite having a pendency of more than 10,000 appeals and complaints as of October 31, 2017. 
  • Central Information Commission: There are currently four vacancies in the CIC – the first of which arose in December 2016. Of the existing seven commissioners, four commissioners, including the Chief, are set to retire in 2018.
 
Appeals and complaints registered and disposed
 
  • 2,76,405 appeals and complaints were registered and 2,14,809 were disposed between 1 January 2016 and 31 October 2017 by 23 ICs which provided the requisite information.

 

  • The information commissions of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu did not provide information under the RTI Act regarding the number of appeals and complaints dealt with by the ICs. Further, this information was also not available on the websites of these 6 commissions.

 

  • The SICs of Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan did not respond to the RTI applications.

 

  • The information commission of Bihar denied information on the number of appeals and complaints registered, disposed and returned by stating that “the information is not maintained in the BIC Records in the format in which information has been sought by you.”

 

 

  • The SIC of Maharashtra stated that the information sought would be part of the annual report which would be uploaded on its website, once prepared. However, till March 5, 2018 the annual reports for 2016 and 2017 had not been uploaded. The SIC also directed us to the monthly reports available on the website of the SIC. However, the monthly reports provide incomplete information.
 
The following table reveals the Appeals and Complaints status of Information Commissions:
 
 
Large number of Appeals/complaints returned by ICs without passing orders
 
  • A worrying trend that has recently emerged relates to ICs returning a large number of appeals/complaints without passing any orders. The CIC returned 27,558 appeals/complaints during January 2016 to October 2017.

 

  • The Gujarat SIC returned 9,854 appeals/complaints during January 2016 to October 2017.

 

  • Observes the report, ``this is extremely problematic as people, especially the marginalised, reach the commissions after a great hardship and a long wait. Commissions need to facilitate and assist people in the process of registering their appeals/complaints, rather than summarily returning them due to a deficiency.’’
 
Following is the table showing the number of appeals/complaints returned:
 
 
Nearly two lakh backlogs in Information Commissions
 
  • The number of appeals and complaints pending on 31 December 2016 in the 23 information commissions, from which data was obtained, stood at an alarming figure of 1,81,852. The pendency increased to 1,99,186 at the end of October 2017.

 

  • As of 31 October 2017, the maximum number of appeals/complaints were pending in UP (41,561) followed by Maharashtra (41,178) and Karnataka (32,992). The CIC with 23,944 pending appeals and complaints came in at number four.

 

  • There were no backlogs in the SICs of Mizoram and Sikkim as of 31 October 2017.

 

  • Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu did not provide information

 

  • Observes the report, `the huge backlog in the disposal of appeals and complaints by the commissions is one of the most serious problems being faced by the transparency regime in India. The high levels of pendency are often a result of non-appointment of commissioners in the IC and/or the tardy functioning of existing commissioners. The high levels of pendency in ICs result in applicants having to wait for many months, even years, for their appeals and complaints to be heard.’
 
Pathetic websites of ICs 
 
  • For institutions that are vested with the responsibility of ensuring that all public authorities function transparently and adhere to the letter and spirit of the RTI Act, it would perhaps be fair to expect that information commissions lead by example. 

 

 
The Report regrets the fact that despite the Information Commissions having the power to enforce RTI Act effectively, they have turned out be the ``bottlenecks’’ for the smooth passage of the RTI Act.
 
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005, and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book, “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte”, with Vinita Kamte, and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
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    COMMENTS

    Wahawa Manmasi

    2 years ago

    The CIC should be punished by parliament.

    Yesurathnam Dasari

    2 years ago

    It very informative to public & supporting

    SuchindranathAiyerS

    2 years ago

    RTI: This analysis gives further evidence (like any India Court) that the State is a mafia. The first among Indian criminal societies. Criminals always stick together against the honest

    GLN Prasad

    2 years ago

    This is the Best analytical report I have observed after enactment of RTI. Ms.Vanita deserves great appreciation for compiling this data, and this must be sent to DOPT, and let them take a policy decision on further improvements to simple RTI Act through implementation. When the Acts are powerful no one cares, but when acts are teetchless who bothers, giving a long rope even to those who apprehend on some action on PIOs can rest assured, that no one is going to touch them. Infact this report should have been made complete, if only the pendency, or expected second hearing years are furnished, as in many states, I understand that second appeals may not come up for hearing even after two decades. Successors or legal heirs can not follow further course, and the second appeals naturally die with death of appellants.

    Silloo Marker

    2 years ago

    Ms Vinita Deshmukh is doing great service to the citizens of India by providing this date about the slow death of the RTI Act. At least if this data serves as a wake-up call to people, it may save the RTI, a precious right obtained after very long, worth doing whatever is required to save it from disappearing. One needs a leader like Shailesh Gandhi to lead the charge.

    Vinod Garg

    2 years ago

    Really a eye opener research work. just now I was reading a news item over RTI which says that if any appellant or complainants died in between first Appeal or second appeal the file will automatically shall be closed without revealing any information. Thus more dangerous act to activists.

    GLN Prasad

    2 years ago

    An eye opener who still thinks that going for second appeal gets penalties

    In the end applicant has no say for imposing penalties as Delhi HC ruled that levying penalty is at the discretion of IC and in between PIO and IC.

    So at the end, if such is the case, why Act says penalty is not known.

    Also study the recovery of even that 4% cases in which penalty was levied. It is hardly sufficient to pay the salaries of one IC.

    Now think, if the penalties are levied as per stipulations as to whether the second appeals will come down or not,

    and whether indiscriminate penalties at one time can make Information commission self sufficient ?

    and whether stipulation by DOPT for first appeal hearing and for delivering a speaking order further reduces second appeals or not.

    Who is bothered ? Even such butchered parts of animals can serve to feed to some.

    Imagine as to appellant has to wait for ten years for second appeal at CIC.

    It is just like running with the hare and hunting with the hound.

    An eye opener who still thinks that going for second appeal gets penalties

    In the end applicant has no say for imposing penalties as Delhi HC ruled that levying penalty is at the discretion of IC and in between PIO and IC.

    So at the end, if such is the case, why Act says penalty is not known.

    Also study the recovery of even that 4% cases in which penalty was levied. It is hardly sufficient to pay the salaries of one IC.

    Now think, if the penalties are levied as per stipulations as to whether the second appeals will come down or not,

    and whether indiscriminate penalties at one time can make Information commission self sufficient ?

    and whether stipulation by DOPT for first appeal hearing and for delivering a speaking order further reduces second appeals or not.

    Who is bothered ? Even such butchered parts of animals can serve to feed to some.

    Imagine as to appellant has to wait for ten years for second appeal at CIC.

    It is just like running with the hare and hunting with the hound.

    An eye opener who still thinks that going for second appeal gets penalties

    In the end applicant has no say for imposing penalties as Delhi HC ruled that levying penalty is at the discretion of IC and in between PIO and IC.

    So at the end, if such is the case, why Act says penalty is not known.

    Also study the recovery of even that 4% cases in which penalty was levied. It is hardly sufficient to pay the salaries of one IC.

    Now think, if the penalties are levied as per stipulations as to whether the second appeals will come down or not,

    and whether indiscriminate penalties at one time can make Information commission self sufficient ?

    and whether stipulation by DOPT for first appeal hearing and for delivering a speaking order further reduces second appeals or not.

    Who is bothered ? Even such butchered parts of animals can serve to feed to some.

    Imagine as to appellant has to wait for ten years for second appeal at CIC.

    It is just like running with the hare and hunting with the hound.

    This is pathetic state of affairs of IC. Even when 4% was the total penalty vis a vis number of appeals out of 4.50 lakhs the commission is .50 lakh. This is not equal to remuneration of one IC in entire India. When can they make SIC/CIC self sufficient by imposing penalties and make a weekly follow up by charging Rs.250/- per day from the errants. Let public authority first pay the penalty to IC and then recover it from PIO in what ever manner they like. This is eye opener for all second appeal filing citizens. Salt on the wounds a decision that an appellant has no role to pray other than making simple ritual prayers for imposing penalty and it is in between PIO and FAA. There is no record with any IC, the total amount of the Govt scams recovered or protected through RTI. Imagine for this one has to wait for decades in some states. Time and again grievances are filed by DOPT, to issue O & M to conduct personal hearings if appellant prays, as it can save time and costs of appellant, public authority and pending second appeals. But DOPTescapes from such responsibility stating that it is not stated in RTI Act. When it is not stated by certain ICs including law professor at CIC directs FAA to provide opportunity of personal hearing to appellants, as authority functioning as quasi judicial authority. They do not have such pro active plans to reduce the burden on Information commission. Neither Th do try to get creative ides nor hear to citizens from a common man. I blame DOPT fpr tje rucus. Even after 12 years they have not brought atleast one pro active feature in making RTI a better tool.

    Denial of Provident Fund info is misuse of Section 8 of RTI Act: CIC
    In a significant order, Central Information Commissioner Prof Dr Sridhar Acharyulu had directed Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of Nashik-based Employee Provident Fund Office (EPFO) to provide complete information about PF to the appellant within 15 days while imposing Rs25,000 penalty on former CPIO for not providing complete information and delaying it for over 15 months. 
     
    The Provident Fund, for which the law states that the employee must deposit 12% of his salary and an equal amount is to be contributed by the employer and credited in the provident fund (PF) account of employee, seems to have become a bone of contention in several cases. In recent times, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has received several second appeals under Right to Information (RTI), pertaining to many private employers collecting this amount from the employees but not depositing the same with the PF account along with their contribution. 
     
    While the Provident Fund officers have all the powers to act on such complaints and initiate action against defaulting employers, victims of the employer’s illegal action seem to have found a new tool in the RTI Act. RTI applications are being filed to seek information from PF authorities about their action (read inaction) against erroneous employers, even though the Central Public Information Officers (CPIOs) have been brazenly declining part with such  information, under Section 8 (1)(j). 
     
    Prof Acharyulu, who has been dealing with several such second appeals, says, “In fact the wage is fixed by the wage board and 12% also is fixed as PF contribution. The PF account cannot be equated with the bank account because the former does not contain any deductions or addition of other amounts. Even then, it is observed that the CPIOs of the PF public authority, deny information, thereby misusing the privacy clause to deny the genuine employees their rightful information about PF and denial of their own money to themselves. Authorities neither perform their duty nor give information.’’
     
    The CIC order pertained to the case of Nagraj Janardhan Patil who filed an RTI application at the EPFO in Nashik in 2016, seeking copies of documents relating to the 1988-89 PF account of Chetan Patil. He sought copies of documents pertaining to the PF amount deducted from the salary of Chetan Patil and the employer’s share deposited from July-1988 to March-1989 with the PF office by his employer.
     
    Janardhan Patil was denied information by the CPIO as well as the Appellate Authority under the pretext of Section 8 (1) (j) which states that: “(j) information which relates to personal information, the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information: Provided that the information, which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person.’’ They also held that this is `third party’ information as Janardhan Patil was seeking information of another person, that is, Chetan Patil.
     
    On 20 February 2018, the Commission directed the CPIO of EPFO, Nashik office to provide complete information to Janardhan Patil, stating that the PF account cannot be compared with a personal bank account. That, denial on the grounds of it being ``personal information’’ and ``third party information’’ is ``illegal and illogical.’’
     
    During the CIC hearing, the CPIO, AC Pagariya, defended himself, stating that he had joined 14 months after this RTI application was filed and that Jagdish Tambe was the CPIO at that point of time.
     
    The earlier CPIO, Jagdish Tambe explained that, Janardhan Patil, “has sought information on provident fund contribution of a third party, which included financial details of that person. As provident fund contribution is not public information and pertains to the individual concerned and that such personal information has implication of being misused and hence the same cannot be provided. Various decisions of Hon. CIC, in the past have held the same principle and thus the information sought is found to be exempt from the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 as per Section 8(1)(e) and 8(1)(j).’’
     
    Tambe further stated during the CIC hearing that: ``some of the CIC judgments ordering that non-disclosure of third party details or data held in fiduciary relationship as proper. He quoted the following examples to defend why he was not wrong in denying information: 
     
    • The details of transactions in the bank accounts of the customers are held by the Bank in its fiduciary capacity. Income tax returns filed by the assesse are also confidential information submitted in fiduciary capacity. {CIC decision dated 30.03.2006, Farida Hoosenally v. Income-tax}. In the instant case the provident fund details and transactions therein pertaining to an individual are held by EPFO in fiduciary relationship. Hence the judgment is applicable.

     

    • The information about the personal details of the employees as held by the public authority in a fiduciary capacity. Such information held in trust is not open to disclosure. [CIC decision dated 31.05.2006, Ajay Pal Singh v. State Farms Corporation of India Ltd]. In the instant case the provident fund details and transactions therein pertaining to an individual include their personal details too and the same are held by EPFO in fiduciary relationship. Hence the judgment is applicable.

     

    • Held that the matter connected with an employee’s provident fund is exclusive and personal to that employee and exempt u/s 8(1)(j). [CIC decision Smt. Chandrakala Bai v Western Coalfields Limited. [F. No. CIC/AT/A/2008/00128 DT 09.07.2008]

     

    • Held that the provident fund is not a public fund of an individual employee. Disclosure not permitted under section 8(1)(j). [CIC decision Shri Ajit Lakhani v Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai. [application No CIC/WB/A/2006/00378 dated 09.02.2007].
     
    CIC Acharyulu did not accept these examples presented by the CPIO; he observed that Public Provident Fund is public information and should be given under RTI, to anyone who seeks it, even if it is of another person. 
     
    (This article is based on a decision in the case CIC/EPFOG/A/2016/294053, Nagraj Janardhan Patil v. PIO, EPFO, Nasik, on 20 February 2018)
     
    (Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005, and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book, “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte”, with Vinita Kamte, and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
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    COMMENTS

    Ambrose Leo

    2 years ago

    This is about obtaining the information to help the poor pensioners.All ready the EPS-95 Pensioners are cheated by paying meagre amount & No of disputes are pending in courts all over the Country.It is the Eps -95 pensioners who require to safeguard their interest by forming their own association to obtain information to fight their own cases. Those members not interested need not join or develuge their information.

    Sethi

    2 years ago

    It is a pathetic state of affairs . Both the UPA and the NDA Governments have killed the RTI Act . It is for for RTI activisits to rise up and hold the present dispensation accountable not only for the present state of affairs , but for governance as a whole .

    Meenal Mamdani

    2 years ago

    I request Vinita Deshmukh to write a little explanation on this article.
    I thought that I was the only one who was perplexed why this was a god use of RTI as it invaded someone's privacy.
    Other commentators have raised the same question.
    Therefore it would be very helpful if the author would explain to all of us why this was good use of RTI.

    Sridhar Rao

    2 years ago

    So does it mean I can seek and obtain epf info about anyone? Something appears amiss in this account

    REPLY

    Ambrose Leo

    In Reply to Sridhar Rao 2 years ago

    The question is the helpless Senior Citizen who are deprived of their Pension benefits.A number of Cases filed. All over India in High Courts & Supreme Courts. Some have come forward to protect & help the helpless pensioners. When their genuine pension claim is denied there is no question of protection of information in that case many will die without getting their increased,enhanced,revised pension all the agencies have denied & suffering & dyeing,because the pension till now paid is very meagre compare to their needs.

    Ambrose Leo

    2 years ago

    The Question is nobody is interested to help the helpless like the poor,deprived,suffering and the Senior Citizen against vast institution Like EPF although it if their Money,sacrifice and their future,so some person joined to help where all other designated agencies & authorities if failed.When they were getting meagre pension & violated & harassed nobody intervened only few filled Claims & when denied entered the Court of Law after a long last battle won the cases in Hon'ble Apex Court many perished & only surviving are put to lot of test & suffering .Now Some are helping them for nothing in return & others are helping in the Court, So looking to the above if they get increased,enhanced,revised Pension can live a peaceful life .Why our Law,Institutions,Politics,Judiciary,Legislature & other Agencies,Authorities are Helping in their fag end of life. I Implore to help the Poor,suffering instead depriving their just cause.

    GLN Prasad

    2 years ago

    When the decision was delivered by Professor in law, further discussion by common men may not be comparable with his expertise. I am sure that EPF goes for WP against this decision. *For me personally to provide information on his own by EPF subscriber is proper and to seek such information of others....doubtful, as I think that is is certainly invasion on privacy. Let us wait for the outcome ..

    Meenal Mamdani

    2 years ago

    This is strange. Why should some one else ask details about my financial matters? And how does this man have a right to look at another's financial matters, enforced by RTI?

    Am I missing something here? Could I demand to see the PF account of any Tom, Dick or Harry?

    Somebody, please explain how this is a victory for RTI. It seems to me that this is invasion of Chetan Patil's privacy, enforced by CIC.

    Rajiv Jain

    2 years ago

    I have been facing a similar situation for the last two years where PF Office, Kandvali, Mumbai has not been giving me information about my own account.
    The details sought by me pertain to interest calculation errors made by the PF office and subsequent rectification entries passed by them.
    Can Moneylife or Metro Jagruti Abhiyan guide me on how I can get the details of my PF interest calculations?

    The bureaucracy prefers secrecy, distance and mystification, not fundamentally different from colonial times
    A. Introduction
     
    1. Good evening Ms. Sucheta Dalal, Shailesh Gandhi, and members of this distinguished gathering. It is a privilege and an honour to be here to speak at the inaugural RTI lecture, organised by the Moneylife Foundation, about “Transparency and Empowerment in Decision Making as Pillars of Healthy Democracy”. I will be speaking about these issues in the context of the RTI Act.
     
    2. Before starting, I want to go back in time for a bit. In 330 B.C., one of the famous great Greek orators of the Classical Age, Aeschines, stood on the marble floors of an Athenian court and spoke of the importance of the public's right to inspect its government's records, “a fine thing, my fellow Athenians, a fine thing is the preservation of public records. For records do not change, and they do not shift sides with traitors, but they grant to you, the people, the opportunity to know whenever you want.”
     
    3. 2000 years later, James Madison, the 4th President of the United States of America, expressed similar views, observing that a "popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy: or perhaps both... . A people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."
     
    4. What both these views have in common is the idea that the public’s right to information is the cornerstone of a democracy – a founding ideal that gives priority to transparency over secrecy. Our constitutional framers did not expressly include the right to information in the Indian Constitution, but they imbued the ideals of open government, accountability, and freedom of speech and expression within the Constitution, such that the Supreme Court, could, in later years derive a constitutional right to information from Article 19(1)(a).
     
     
    B. Understanding the need for a “Right to Information”
     
    5. There are various justifications that underlie the need for a right to information. Roy Peled and Yoram Robin in their excellent article on the “Constitutional Right to Information” published in the Columbia Human Rights Law Review break down the theoretical justifications for such a constitutional right into four prongs.
     
    RTI as integral to a participatory democracy
     
    6. They first speak about the “Political-Democratic” justification. This views the right to information as central to the effective functioning of a participatory and constitutional democracy, since it is a pre-condition to the exercise of other fundamental and constitutional rights such as the right to free speech. 
     
    7. Peled and Robin use the example of a 2004 request – for information submitted to the Pentagon for documents related to the 2001-2003 debates over estimate troop levels deployed in Iraq – to demonstrate the centrality of right to information. The released documents revealed that while the military prediction had been that around 5000 soldiers would be stationed in Iraq by the end of 2006, in reality, 1,34,000 American soldiers were still stationed on Iraqi soil in 2006 when the information was disclosed. Thus, the information provided a fulcrum for debate around the need and extent of US troop levels in Iraq, since it demonstrated the contrast in the government prediction and reality. A similar incident transpired in Israel, when on a petition submitted before it, the Israeli High Court ordered the release of hearing protocols on the Winongrad Commission to investigate the conduct of the Second Lebanon War, which played a great part in the formation of public opinion around the management of the war.
     
    8. In the Indian context too, the right to information has been integral in fostering a culture of participatory democracy. No place is this more evident than in the recent Aadhaar debates. RTI activists, journalists, and ordinary citizens have successfully used the RTI Act to get information about the number of enrollment centres that have been blacklisted, about the number of Aadhaar cards that the UIDAI has deactivated or cancelled over the last 7 years, about the number of FIRs that have been filed by the UIDAI under section 47 of the Aadhaar Act, and about the basis for calculating the savings claims. RTI has thus been a treasure trove of information that has allowed us to know that there had been a disclosure of Aadhaar numbers and other personal data by over 210 government websites, which brought out the clear privacy dangers associated with Aadhaar and led to the UIDAI and government taking corrective measures. RTI applications also revealed that 99.97% of Aadhaar numbers were issued to people who already had two existing identification documents, thus questioning the government claim that Aadhaar was necessary in order to give everyone an identity.
     
    9. RTI also helped in revealing the truth behind the functioning of the Jan Dhan Yojna, the government’s flagship scheme under which the unbanked get bank accounts. Indian Express sent RTI queries to more than 30 national and regional banks to report on a story about how bank officials were quietly making one-rupee deposits, some from their own allowances and some from money kept aside for office maintenance, with a view to reduce their branch’s tally of zero-balance accounts. RTI information revealed that 18 public sector banks and their 16 regional rural subsidiaries held 1.05 crore Jan Dhan accounts with deposits of Re 1. This led to a great public debate about such practices, zero balance accounts, and the efficacy of the Jan Dhan Yojna itself, and our democracy was only richer for it.
     
    10. Just as democracy can be served by providing a right to information, it can also be hampered when there are obstructions to granting such a right. For instance, the Henderson Brooks-Bhagat Report, an inquiry into the Indo-China War of 1962 (and presumably the failures within the Establishment to prevent or respond to the war), has remained secret for the last 50 years, leaving the public in the dark about the mistakes that led to the disastrous war effort.
     
    RTI as a foundational right to exercise other rights
     
    11. A related justification for the constitutional elevation of the right to information is the “Instrumental” justification, which views this right as a necessary pre-requisite to allow citizens to exercise their other constitutional rights. This view focuses on reducing the dependence of the citizens on the State and enabling them to effectively exercise their right. Thus, just as the right to education creates a more informed citizenry, the right to information under such a view is important to allow them to hold the government to account. 
     
    12. When a public agency stores information touching upon an individual’s rights or duties, the only protection that the citizen has, is through a guaranteed right to information. Such a right, serves as a foundational human right, upon which the enjoyment of other rights depends. It also helps equal the power and information imbalance between the citizen and the State: the State provides citizens with a plethora of services, but also has the power of law enforcement and coercion to require compliance with certain duties. A right to information will help empower citizens against the excesses of the State, and bring about improvement in State functioning.
     
    13. The importance of access to information has particular resonance in developing countries, where it plays a key role in growth and development. This was recognized by the UNDP as far back in 1997 in its Human Development Report, which focused on how poverty limits human choices and opportunities and is represented by a lack of political freedom and inability to participate in decision-making. The UNDP thus emphasised the need to empower the ordinary person to ensure their participation in the processes that affect daily life. A strategy for poverty reduction, after all, must focus not only on what needs to be done, but also on how to ensure that the action is to be taken. This requires fundamental reforms like promoting political participation by all, ensuring accountability and transparency in government, preventing the criminalisation of politics, promoting free flow of information, and freedom of the press, while ensuring a strong role of community grounds and NGOs in policy making.
     
    14. This is particularly important in a transition or young democracy like India, where uninformed people find it difficult to fully participate in the political process. Empowerment happens when people are given access to information and are able to understand how best to use that information in the political and legal sphere, or to organise themselves for collective action to influence decisions that are being made about their lives. Access to information is one such key, with which poor people can begin to organise themselves for collective action to influence the decisions affecting their lives.
     
    Information as property
     
    15. The third view is one of “Proprietary” justification, that the information holdings of the government are a national resource, which are collected or created for the public benefit or in the exercise of their official duties, using public money. Under this view, the Government and its vast bureaucracy is, in a sense, a ‘public trustee’ of such information on behalf of its citizens and residents.
     
    16. The government does not create information for its own use and benefit; this information is generated for purposes related to the legitimate discharge of duties of office and for the service of the public. Yet, there has been a prevalent culture of unnecessary secrecy in our system, with the bureaucracy preferring secrecy, distance and mystification, not fundamentally different from colonial times.
     
    17. Edumund Burke also recognized this, and that is why he famously said, “All persons possessing a portion of power ought to be strongly and awfully impressed with an idea that they act in trust and that they are to account for their conduct in that trust.”
    RTI as promoting transparency and open government
     
    18.  The fourth, and perhaps, the most resonant justification for India, is the “Oversight” justification which requires governments to create mechanisms by which citizens can hold its actions to account. This view is underpinned by the recognition of the importance of transparency and accountability in a democratic government and is thus, strongly linked to the “Instrumental” justification for the right to information.
     
    19. The purpose of access to information is to redress the imbalance of power between the citizens and the State, and to promote efficient and transparent governance. Open government laws are not merely for the satisfaction of citizen’s curiosity. There is an inseparable connection between a citizen’s interest in how the country is governed and a right of access to records of the government, which go a long way in disclosing inefficiency, arbitrariness and corruption.
     
    20. Bureaucratic apathy and lack of transparency are the root causes of corruption inherent within the state machinery, which are only seriously challenged when there is a statutory right to seek information. Such a right should have simplified rules of procedure, along with a focus on pro-active dissemination of relevant information amongst public.
     
    21. In the UK, the freedom of information battle resulted in revelations that led to the MPs’ Expenses Scandal. The release of records pertaining to the expenses claims made by MPs resulted in an intense public debate and outrage over the abuse of power, when information came to light, for instance, that some British elected representatives claimed reimbursement for private expenses such as pay per view pornography and dog food. More importantly, it also led to reforms.
     
    22. The effectiveness of the RTI in the Indian context in serving as a tool to combat corruption, cannot be emphasised enough. In India, the State exercises control in varying degrees in every aspect of public life, which means that the common person faces corruption in every walk of life. Citizens have to constantly deal with harassment at the hands of government institutions – either indifference and apathy (resulting in inordinate delays), or straight up stonewalling and resistant behaviour.
     
    23. Thus, the coming into force of the RTI Act has been true game changer in changing the mai-baap culture that had pervaded Indian polity and bureaucratic life. It is now regarded as indispensable in fighting government inefficiency and corruption, since it provides statutory backing for the idea of audits, reviews, and examination of government conduct, and holding it to high standards of probity and justice. With the contribution of many RTI activists, ordinary citizens, PIOs, and Information Commissioners, over the last 15 years, RTI Act has helped unearth the Adarsh Housing society scam, the 2G scam, the CWG Diversion of Funds scam, the Indian Red Cross Society scam (of how public officials in the Indian Red Cross Society were squandering money meant for the Kargil war relief and natural disaster rehabilitation efforts) etc.
     
    24. The need for openness in the government was also recognized by Justice Mathew of the Supreme Court of India in State of U.P. v. Raj Narain, AIR 1975 SC 865, para 74 as under: 
     
    “In a government of responsibility like ours, where all the agents of the public must be responsible for their conduct, there can be but few secrets. The people of the country have a right to know everything that is done in a public way, by their public functionaries.” 
     
    25. Unsurprisingly, these ideas of transparency and accountability are not restricted to classically commonwealth countries only. The French came up with the term ‘transparence administrative’, which means “open government” or “administrative openness”. The former USSR too, used ‘glasnost’ for the principle “that every citizen has the inalienable right to obtain exhaustive and authentic information on any question of public life that is not a state or military secret”. Such openness and transparency in government helps root out corruption and inefficiency, and is only secured by access, and right to information
     
    RTI as fostering citizen-State interaction
     
    26. To Peled and Robin’s four justifications for the right to information, a fifth justification could be added – that of promoting a “Citizen-Government” partnership, where use of such a right has instilled a wider sense of ownership amongst the citizens in the development activities of the State, whether at a national or a decentralised level. Granting citizens the right to information permanently changes the nature of relationship between the citizen and the State, especially if it ends up encouraging active citizen participation.
     
    27. Justice Bhagwati, articulated a version of such a justification in S.P. Gupta v. Union of India, 1981 (Supp) 87, para 65, where he endorsed a continuous process of government in the following words:
     
    “This means inter alia that people should not only cast intelligent and rational votes but should also exercise sound judgment on the conduct of the government and the merits of public policies, so that democracy does not remain a sporadic exercise in voting but becomes a continuous process of government – an attitude and habit of mind…”
     
     
    C. Enactment of the RTI Act
     
    28. Despite several judicial declarations holding that the right to information was a constitutional right, it was not enough to make it a reality for most people. An enabling legislation that defined the scope of the right and provided for a dedicated enforcement mechanism was needed to realize it practically. The right to information received its first mass impetus as a result of the powerful grassroots struggle of the rural poor for the right to information, to combat rampant corruption in the famine relief works. This struggle was led by a people’s organization, the Mazdoor Kisaan Shakti Sangathan. The reverberations of this struggle led to a nationwide demand for a law to guarantee the right to information to every citizen. 
     
    29. After over a decade of struggle, a meaningful right to information was realized only when the Parliament enacted the Right to Information Act, 2005. The RTI Act is perhaps the biggest contribution of our legislature towards promoting greater accountability in independent India. If information is power, then the RTI Act has been a veritable Brahmastra in the hands of Indian public. People have exercised the RTI seeking transparency and accountability in diverse sectors such as PDS, MGNREGA, public health, education, social security, environment, fisheries, nuclear installations, stock markets, sports, urban development etc. It is important to note that although the RTI was enacted during UPA’s regime, there have always been government attempts at diluting its rigor.
     
    D. The Right to Information and the Polity
     
    30. Transparency and accountability will only become a reality in India when there is genuine reform, and disclosure of information. However, the Executive has traditionally been resistant to the successful operationalization of the RTI Act.
     
    Myths about RTI ‘misuse’
     
    31. Political parties have sought to combat the RTI by making repeated allegations about misuse and vexatious RTI applications being filed. There is an apprehension that RTI was primarily being used by public servants (seeking information about their service matters) and the urban elite. However, a 2014 RaaG study found that 14% of RTI applicants lived in rural areas, 58% in towns or cities and 29% in metropolitan centres. Thus, if an estimated 49 lakh RTIs were filed in India in 2011-12, over 5 lakh would have been from rural areas. 
     
    32. Another criticism levelled against the RTI Act is that the number of frivolous applications was being used to overwhelm government departments. However, while such a feeling may have become part of popular culture (through its repeated dissemination in the media), the PMO itself acknowledged in response to RTIs, that it had no actual evidence of misuse. Conversely, two national studies done by RaaG in 2008 and 2014 statistically proved that there were negligible numbers of vexatious and frivolous applications (less than 1%) and 67% of RTIs filed were seeking information that should already have been in the public domain, if there had been proactive disclosure of information under Section 4 of the RTI Act.
     
    The lack of implementation of the RTI Act
     
    33. Section 4 is one of the most critical sections of the RTI Act. It requires the government to proactively disclose information on a range of issues and is the future direction of the transparency law. Unfortunately, there has been no systematic effort by the government to improve the implementation of proactive disclosures: research has shown that nearly 70% of all RTI applications ask for information that should have been proactively disclosed. In 2015, the Prime Minister had drawn the link between the RTI Act and good governance at the CIC convention, requiring public authorities to analyse the RTI applications received by them to identify weaknesses in the functioning of the public authority. However, it appears that there has been no action on the suggestions of the Prime Minister. 
     
    34. This is unfortunate since the government should be moving towards a system where all information, save what is exempt under Section 8, is proactively available to citizens. In fact, the hallmark of a democracy is that citizens have the right to question the government on its actions. This is possible only if proper information about government decisions and policies is provided to people. The trend of making claims and taking policy decisions without adequate information is very dangerous. We have seen that several recent claims of the government have not withstood fact-checking and interrogation through RTI and media. 
     
    35. Most worrying is the recent trend to not maintain proper records. Lack of record maintenance prevents public scrutiny and accountability of government actions. Media reports indicate that government is using WhatsApp to communicate information so as to evade public accountability.
     
    36. The RTI is also trying to be weakened through the creation of vacancies and arrears. Thus, most states and, currently, the Central Information Commission also, do not have a full complement of commissioners. In some states like Andhra Pradesh, there is no functional information commission at all. Even the Telenagana Commission was set up only a few months back on the directions of the High Court. Similarly, the Maharashtra State Information Commission is without a chief and there are 3 vacancies in the Central Information Commission which have not been filled. The story of apathy and deliberate inaction is similar in various other State Commissions, including in Sikkim, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh.
     
    37. This vacancy in posts is compounded by a lack of transparency in the appointments that are being made to the Central/State Information Commissions. The Supreme Court, in Union of India vs Namit Sharma, laid down the beginnings of a transparent process, and directed that the qualifications and experience of selected candidates must be made public. However, even this bare minimum requirement for transparent selection has not been followed by many states, with appointments in Kerala, Gujarat, and Andhra Pradesh being struck down for lack of transparency.
     
    38. It is one of the greatest ironies that the appointment procedure for the Chief/State Information Commissioner is not transparent. In fact, it represents another instance of complete failure to implement the provisions of the Act, even though this is one of the few laws that is used very frequently by the people.
     
     
    Non-operationalisation of the Whistle Blower’s Protection Act and the Lokpal Act
     
    39.  The Whistle Blowers Protection Act was passed by Parliament in February 2014 after a sustained campaign by activists and families of slain whistle blowers. Despite the passage of more than three years since the law was approved by Parliament, whistle blowers continue to pay a heavy price for exposing corruption and wrongdoing, as the government has still not operationalised the Act. Instead, it moved an amendment bill in May 2015, which seeks to severely dilute the Act. 
     
    40. The amendment bill seeks to remove safeguards available to whistle blowers from prosecution under the Official Secrets Act and also introduces wide-ranging exclusions by stating that disclosures should not contain information which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty, integrity, security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State.
     
    41. The non-operationalisation of the Whistle Blowers Act is also accompanied by the non-operationalisation Lokpal & Lokayuktas Act.
     
    42. While there is perceived incorruptibility around the Prime Minister, that itself is no reason to discard or dilute existing laws promoting proactive oversight and audit of government actions, especially since the problem of corruption and opacity in the functioning of the lower levels of government remain.
     
    Political parties and the RTI Act
     
    43. Political parties have historically been resistant to being placed under the RTI Act, on the ground that they are not “public authority” and that “revealing names of their donors might endanger the donors` lives” and that “it would impact the parties’ decision-making process”. I am of the firm view that placing political parties under the ambit of the RTI Act will open politics to public scrutiny, regulate political party funding and clean up our electoral ecosystem. This is especially important given the incentive structures underlying the financial model of politics in India. 
     
    44. Notably, just last week on 06.02.2018, the Supreme Court in its decision in Lok Prahari v Union of India ruled that election candidates must disclose not only their sources of income, but also the source of income of their respective associates (spouses/dependants). The Court cited its previous decision in UOI v ADR, (2002) 5 SCC 294 which held the importance of information of prospective candidates, including their assets and liabilities, criminal antecedents, and educational qualifications. Notably, in PUCL v UOI, (2003) 4 SCC 399, the Court also recorded that s. 33A of the Representation of People Act fails to ensure complete compliance with the directions issued by the Court in ADR case. 
     
    E. The Right to Information and the Judiciary
     
    45. Different countries have engaged with the issue of right to information distinctly, as will be elaborated below.
     
    A comparative perspective 
     
    46. The UK Supreme Court in 2014, in Kennedy v The Charity Commissioner, (2014) UKSC 10 recognised a common law right to access to information. This case concerned an appeal lodged by a journalist, one Mr. Kennedy against the rejection of his request for information regarding three inquiries conducted by the Charity Commission in respect of the sanctions imposed on Iraq following the first Gulf War. The Commission cited Section 32(2) of the UK Freedom of Information Act, while rejecting Mr. Kennedy’s request, on the ground that the information sought for – pertaining to an inquiry – was covered by an absolute exemption from disclosure. 
     
    47. The majority in the UK Supreme Court held that section 32(2) of the Act did indeed contain such an absolute exemption. Thus, it ruled that Mr. Kennedy’s case is not entitled to succeed on the claims he has pursued by reference to section 32 of the FOIA, but that was not because of any conclusion that he has no right to the disclosure sought. The majority thus recognised a common law right for such information outside the ambit of the FOIA, noting that the Charity Commission has the power to disclose information to the public concerning inquiries on which it has published reports, both in pursuit of its statutory objective under the Charities Act of increasing public trust in, and the accountability of, charities, and under general common law duties of openness and transparency on public authorities. The Court reiterated that given the importance of the principles of openness and transparency, courts will apply a very high standard of review to any decision not to disclose information in answer to questions of real public interest.
     
    48. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has in its jurisprudence, also interpreted article 13(1) as conferring a positive right to receive and a positive duty to impart information: Reyes v Chile (2006) IACHR, 19 September 2006, while the Israeli Supreme Court also reached a similar decision.
     
     
    49. In contrast, the US Supreme Court in Houchins v KQED, Inc., 438 US 1 (1978), at 15-16 held that “there is no constitutional right to have access to particular government information, or to require openness from the bureaucracy . . . .
     
    The Constitution itself is neither a Freedom of information Act nor an Official Secrets Act” Justice Stevens, in a powerful dissent, noted that “The dissemination of ideas can accomplish nothing if otherwise willing addressees are not free to receive and consider them. It would be a barren marketplace of ideas that had only sellers and no buyers.” It would be an even more barren market-place that had willing buyers and sellers and no meaningful information to exchange.”
     
    The Indian perspective: A Mixed Record
     
    50. I have already elaborated on various judicial pronouncements of the Indian Supreme Court, particularly in SP Gupta and Raj Narain on issues pertaining to the importance of information. 
     
    51. As is clear, Indian law is well settled in its recognition of a constitutional and statutory basis of the right to information. Unfortunately, however, the record of the Indian judiciary in guaranteeing that right is mixed. For every pronouncement such as SP Gupta and Raj Narain, there is judicial decision by evasion. This is best illustrated by the fact that the appeal filed by the Supreme Court to itself against the 2009 decision of the Delhi High Court in Subhash Chandra Aggarwal, is still pending in the Supreme Court, even after 9 years. Meanwhile the effect of the High Court judgment has been nullified.
     
    52. At the heart of the Subhash Chandra Aggarwal dispute lie two resolutions: the first, dt. 07.05.1997 of the Full Court of the Supreme Court, and the second being the Restatement of Values of Judicial Life (Code of Conduct), which were adopted unanimously at the Chief Justices Conferences of all High Courts convened in the Supreme Court on 03/04.12.1999. The 1997 Resolution represented the Judges’ commitment to declare their assets (in the form of real estate or investment) held in their own name, or in the name of their spouse or dependents. The 1999 Resolution, on the other hand, looked at the in-house code of conduct mechanism regulating the conduct of Judges. 
     
    53. Subhash Chandra Aggarwal came to the Delhi High Court with a simple prayer – it was not to direct the asset declaration to be put up on the website, but merely for the supply of information concerning declaration of personal assets by the Judges of the Supreme Court. However, the Registrar of the Supreme Court argued that the 1997 Resolution was not “rules”, and was not binding, with compliance being a matter of choice
     
    54. In this context, the Delhi High Court extended the ambit of the RTI to the Chief Justice of India. It held that the right to information can no longer be exclusively treated as being situated in Art. 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, and broadened its ambit as a constitutional concept by also situating the same within Art. 14 and Art. 21 of the Constitution.
     
    55. It is important to understand that the RTI Act, as originally enacted, does not provide for any exemption to the Chief Justice or any judge of the Supreme Court from its application. For the Judiciary to meaningfully be referred to as the “First amongst the equals”, it must walk the talk by leading from the frontlines on transparency and openness. In fact, the Court’s resistant to embracing RTI is also reflected in its hesitation towards bringing in transparency to the collegium system for judicial appointments and allotment of important cases.
     
    56. The Supreme Court has recently resolved, vide Resolution dt. 03.10.2017, to improve the transparency in the collegium system:
     
    “…indicating the reasons shall be put on the website of the Supreme Court, when the recommendation(s) is/are sent to the Government of India, with regard to the cases relating to initial elevation to the High Court Bench, confirmation as permanent Judge(s) of the High Court, elevation to the post of Chief Justice of High Court, transfer of High Court Chief Justices / Judges and 2 elevation to the Supreme Court, because on each occasion the material which is considered by the Collegium is different”
     
    57. While this is a welcome method, especially in respect of the positive reasons for elevation, it is also inadequate to address transparency and other concerns. Unless the public knows the criteria for selection of a judge, merely making the final decision public would not serve the purpose. We must know the parameters for a person’s selection or rejection for judgeship and the person whose name is being considered must be made public so that the collegium can get feedback on the same. Nor is it clear what purpose will be served by communicating the reasons for rejection, if they simply cite “intelligence reports”.
     
    58. Similarly, the Supreme Court has moved to increase the transparency in the process of designation of Senior Counsels, and after the infamous press conference, has also now allocated a roster to different courts. Such moves will hopefully reinvigorate the debate around transparency and right to information, and ultimately positively impact the discourse around RTI in India. 
     
    RTI and privacy
     
    59. Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act provides an exception to the disclosure of information “which relates to personal information… which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause an unwarranted invasion of privacy.”
     
    60. The problem arises because the RTI Act does not define the term “privacy” or “public activity” or “unwarranted invasion”, thus giving wide leeway to PIOs to reject genuine RTI requests on such grounds. For instance, in Bihar Public Service Commission v Saiyed Hussain Abbas Rizwi, (2012) 13 SCC 61, the Court dealt with the provisions of Section 8(1)(g) of the Right to Information Act, 2005. A person claiming to be a public-spirited citizen sought information under the statute from the Bihar Public Service Commission on a range of matters relating to interviews conducted by it on two days.  The commission disclosed the information save and except for the names of the interview board. The High Court directed disclosure, but the Supreme Court overturned the judgment of the High Court citing the need to balance the public and private interests in privacy.
     
    61. While the Puttaswamy judgment has clarified that the right to privacy is a fundamental, constitutional right, inherent in Articles 14, 19, 21 and other Articles, it did not have occasion to define the scope and contours of the right to privacy. In fact, the judgment has created some uncertainty about how the right to privacy will now interact with the right to access information, especially when it concerns sensitive topics such as the degree of the Prime Minister or the assets and liabilities of public servants, or their performance evaluation reports. It is important to note that information regarding the names of all students who graduated from college, is readily provided by prominent foreign universities.
     
    62. Notably, privacy has been, and continues to be, used to deny RTI requests. Thus, in Girish Ramachandra Deshpande v CIC, (2013), the Supreme Court upheld the denial of information regarding a public servant’s emoluments and assets, including the gifts received by him by citing s. 8(1)(j) of the Act.
     
    63. It is nonetheless important to remember that the privacy claims of pubic authorities and public functionaries are distinctly different from the privacy expectations of private individuals. This is because, it is well recognised, through a series of judgments, that public officials by virtue of their position, have a lower claim to privacy, since they are exercising their functions as trustees. 
     
    64. Furthermore, Puttaswamy was concerned with privacy as a a shield against intrusive State action, and not how it could be used as a sword to limit the amplitude of other rights, such as the right to information, as exists qua the citizen and a functionary of the State.
     
    65. The Aadhaar Act further compounds problems, especially when we consider the right to information concerning one self. While the RTI Act regulates the citizen’s right to information regarding third party public authorities, the Aadhaar Act is concerned with the right to access information about one self. Shockingly, the proviso to sec. 28(5) of the Aadhaar Act has made it clear that an Aadhaar number holder does not have the right to access core biometric information about themselves – what this means is that while the State has access to my fingerprint and iris scan in their Central Identity Database Repository, I, myself, am prohibited from accessing this information!!!
     
    F. RTI Act: Enactment and Challenges 
     
    Attack on Free Speech
     
    66. I have already elaborated on how the exercise of access to information is a sine qua non for the free exercise of speech and other constitutional entitlements.
     
    67. However, free speech is under attack. Today, we are living in a world where we are told what we can and cannot eat, what we can and cannot see, and what we can and cannot speak about. Dissent, especially in the university space and in popular culture, is being curbed. We have journalists who are shot dead at point blank rage, merely for the views they hold and propagate. We have movie producers and directors who are forced to make edits in their scenes and issue disclaimers, despite CBFC clearance, so as to not offend the sentiments of a single community. Think of the controversies surrounding Padmavat, Lipstick under the Burkha, S Durga, or Jolly LLB, and you will realise that we are living in an increasingly intolerant society.
     
    68. More importantly, in this age of mass-communication and digital media, the media assumes an even greater importance in playing the role of the opposition and checking facts. In fact, no other institution wields as much power and influence on public opinion as the media. However, in recent times, a section of the media, through its biased and one-sided reporting, has unfortunately aided in the restriction on free speech. Media have become propaganda machine, if not anything else.  
     
    69. It is thus not an exaggeration to state that our institutions are under attack today and there is a concerted attempt to destroy any independent thought. Think of the weakened Election Commission or the Central Vigilance Commissioner’s office, once beacons of independence. Today, if anyone holds a view that is different from the government’s “acceptable” view, they are immediately dubbed as “anti-national”, with a view to intimidate and browbeat voices of dissent and criticism, especially through severe online harassment, trolling and abuse.
     
    CONCLUSION
     
    70. We are today living in the age of propaganda, and proactive false information, and half truths. The media coverage, or rather black out, of certain press conferences, and distorting headlines with a pro-government bias, is an attempt to spread disinformation. The right to freedom of speech and expression is under attack. Unless, we as ordinary citizens do not rise up and demand accountability from the government, there will be no change in the situation.
     
    (This is the speech given by Justice AP Shah, former Chief Justice of Delhi and Madras High Courts, at Moneylife Foundation’s RTI Centre organised Inaugural RTI Lecture at Pune on 3 March 2018.)
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