Author: Prasoon Shekhar, ICFAI University
RTI as a Tool to expose Corruption
“Fighting corruption is not just good governance. It’s self-defense. It’s patriotism.”…………………..Joe Biden
Corruption can be defined as the use of public money for personal gains. It is one of the biggest enemies for good governance and is also a great obstruction in the development of the country. The corruption in public offices is not hidden from anyone. Even, one of our former Prime Minister Late Rajiv Gandhi had remarked that only fifteen paise of every rupee spent for the welfare reaches ground level. As per a recent report of Transparency International, India has ranked 80th (out of 180 Countries) in the Corruption Perception Index – 2019 obtaining a score of 45 out of 100 which is below the global average.
On, June 15, 2005, the Act was enacted which became fully functional on October 12, 2005. This was a great step taken for ensuring transparency and accountability. Now the people of India can have access to any information except specifically provided in Section 8 and 9 of the Act. Also, a penalty could be imposed on the authorities on not providing information on time or providing false or misleading information.
Background of The Right to Information Act, 2005
The Apex Court in the case of State of Uttar Pradesh v. Raj Narain, held that the Right to Know is part of Freedom of Speech. Justice Mathew ruled that people of the country are entitled to all the public transactions. It was said that secrecy could be maintained if the same was related to public security.
In the year 1986, in the case of Mr. Kulwal v. Jaipur Municipal Corporation, the Supreme Court said that Right to Information is implied in Article 19 of the Constitution and without Right to Information, Freedom of Speech and Expression cannot be complete.
In the year 1990, the then Prime Minster V. P. Singh, considering the importance of RTI, tried to enact a legislation on the same but he was removed from office due to no confidence motion.
In the year 1994, an organization Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), started ground campaign for RTI and the movement took a massive growth and Rajasthan Government enacted RTI in 2000.
In the year 2003, Freedom of Information Act, 2002 was enacted by the government of India but it created a controversy. It also had very less disclosure as demanded by the activists.
In the year 2005, Right to Information Act was passed by the UPA government providing maximum information and minimum disclosure and to solve the controversies of the previous Act.
Corruption and RTI
Accessibility: Before the enactments of Freedom of Information Act, 2002 (now repealed) and Right to Information Act, 2005, people did not had right to ask for information from the government. But by the enactment of Right to Information Act, 2005 the people of the country have a right to access any information except specifically denied in Section 8 and 9 of the Act. Section 6 of the Act provides that no reason can be asked for seeking information. Act also provides that the PIO has to give reasonable assistance to people who are unable to fill the application on their own.
Transparency: There are fewer chances of corruption if all details of the amount spent is transparent. RTI Act imposes penalties on PIO if they do not furnish information on time or if they knowingly provide false or misleading information. Also, Section 4(1)(a) and 4(1)(b) of the Act provides that the public authorities have to maintain all records and provide such information through the internet and other means of communication.
Accountability: Through accessibility to information and transparency people come to know about the amount spent by the representatives and amount allotted for any project. They also know the ground status of what has been done. This makes the representatives accountable and to reduce the chances of corruption.
Affordability: The information provided to citizens under RTI is quite. The charge of filing an application is Rs. Ten per application and they do need to pay Rs. Two per sheet in case of photocopies of the document required. No fees are being charged for the first appeal. Also, the person belonging to Below Poverty Line (BPL), are exempted from paying any kind of fee for seeking such information.
Success Stories of Right to Information Act, 2005
RTI Act, 2005 has been able to bring in light a large number of scams and irregularities. Some of the major ones are as follows:
In a recent reply dated April 24, 2020, on an RTI application filed by activist Saket Gokhale, RBI has provided the list of top 50 Indian defaulters making a total of Rs. 68607 Crore. The information was not provided by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman, despite it was asked by Rahul Gandhi.
Adarsh Housing Society Scam: A six-story building was proposed to be made for the widows of 1999 Kargil war martyrs in Colaba, a posh area in Mumbai. But it became a thirty-one story building and also it became a residence of top military officials, politicians, and bureaucrats. The misuse of Adarsh Housing Society Scam was exposed by RTI Activists Yogarcharya Anandji and Simpreet Singh. It led to the resignation of the then Chief Minister of Maharastra.
2G Scam: It was one of the major scams exposed in the period of the UPA government. A loss of 1.76 Lakh Crore had taken place as reported by the former CAG during the granting of allocation of 2G spectrum. It was considered as a gross misuse of executive power and on the basis of the report of Subhash Chandra Agarwal, an RTI activist charges were framed against major politicians including former telecom minister A Raja.
Commonwealth Games Scam: An RTI filed by Housing and Land Rights Network, exposed that an amount of Rs. 744 Crore from the funds allotted for the welfare of Dalit Community were transferred for Common Wealth Games. Also, on further findings, it came into light that most of the things were limited to be on paper only.
Announcement of Demonetization without RBI approval: On November 8, 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced demonetization but it came into light by an application filed by activist Venkatesh Nayak that RBI disagreed on center’s justification that such step can restrict the circulation of fake currency or black money. RBI did not even formally agree on taking the step of demonetization at the time of taking such a step. Approval of RBI was sent after 38 days of the ban of currency notes.
Indian Red Cross Society Scam: On the basis an RTI application filed by an NGO Resurgent India through its head Hitender Jain, it came into light that a huge misappropriation of funds had taken place by the IAS officers from the funds allocated for victims of Kargil War and for the ones displaced due to natural disasters.
Odisha University Scam: Anil Agarwal, chairman of the Vedanta group set a mission of establishing a university to compete with global universities like Cambridge and Stanford. He required 15000 acres of land of which CM Naveen Patnaik provided him 8000 acres and gave the assurance that he will provide the rest 7000 acres too. On the basis of RTI filed by the landowners which revealed that they were not given proper chance to be heard, they challenged the acquisition.
RTI has acted as a tool in increasing transparency and it has also acted as an anti-corruption tool. Through the information obtained from the filing of RTI Application, many cases of corruption have been exposed. But illiteracy in India is a serious concern and most of the citizens are unaware of this right. The government needs to take steps to introduce this strong tool to the people at ground roots.
Many activists and activists are working hard to expose the corruption but they are being attacked time and again some of them are even being killed. Till June 2019, 77 activists were murdered and around 169 activists were assaulted or harassed. There are no efficient steps taken by the government to curb it.
 (1975) 4 SCC 428