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LEARNING WITH

Right to Information Act

VOTERS RIGHTS
The Preamble of the Indian Constitution states that India is a sovereign, socialist, secular democratic republic. The sovereign power of the nation vested with the citizens who exercise their power through right to vote and elect their representatives to form the democratic government which makes policies and legislations for the country. According to Indian Constitution there shall be one general electoral roll for every territorial constituency [Art. 325]. No person shall be ineligible for inclusion in any such roll on grounds only on religion, race, caste, sex or any of them. The elections to the Parliament and State Legislatures are to be held on the basis of adult suffrage. Every person who is citizen of India and who is not less than 18 years of age is not otherwise disqualified under this Constitution or any law made by Legislature on the ground of residence, unsoundness of mind, crime or illegal practice, has a right to be registered as a voter [Art 326]. Parliament has enacted the Representation of People Act , 1950 and 1951
Voters' Right to Information: Voters Right to Information to know about Education, Assets and Criminal Antecedents of Contesting Candidates in Election. The Indian Parliament enacted Right To Information in 2005. Now the Right to Information is a human, legal and constitutional right. On May 2, 2002 the Supreme Court delivered a judgment and directed Election Commission to issue a notification making it compulsory for those who contest elections to make available information about their education, assets, liabilities and criminal antecedents for the information and benefits of voters. The Election Commission acted upon the order of the Court and issued the notification making it compulsory to provide above information before filing their nominations for contesting elections. Section 33 of the amended Representation of People Act provided 'no candidate shall be liable to disclose or furnish any such information, in respect to his election, which is not required to be disclosed or furnished under this Act or the rules made thereunder'. Thus, the amended Representation of People Act provided that only candidates who are elected were required to give details of their assets and liabilities to the concerned presiding officers of the Houses like Assembly, zonal or Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, and not contesting candidates who are not elected.
Voters have Right to know the information about the educational qualifications, movable and immovable properties, criminal background, and to have free, fair and peaceful elections. The Court restored its May 2, 2002 verdict and directed the Election Commission to issue a fresh notification for the implementation of its judgment. Keeping the amended Representation of People Act in mind the Court asked whether there was any necessity to keep the voters in dark about any murder, dacoity or rape committed by a candidate or about his ill-gotten money which could be used for elections. Justice Shah opined that the judgment was aimed at cleansing the democracy of unwanted elements and gives the country a competent legislature and voters right to information about the contesting candidates in elections. Political Parties Comes Under RTI Act 2005: The Right to Information Act 2005 entitles every citizen to have access to information controlled by public authorities. The object of the Act is to promote openness, transparency, accountability in administration. The source of right to information does not emanate from Right to Information Act. It is a right that emerges from constitutional guarantee under Article 19(1) (a). The Right to Information Act is not repository of the Right to Information. Its repository is the constitutional right guaranteed under Article 19(1) (a). In a landmark ruling, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has ruled that political parties come within the ambit of the Right to Information Act. The judgment has far reaching implications on the functioning of political parties. The CIC order stated that INC/AICC, BJP, CPI(M), CPI, NCP and BSP political parties have been substantially financed by the Central government and, therefore, they are held to be public authorities under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act 2005. The bench held that the criticality of the role being played by these political parties in our democratic set-up and the nature of duties performed by them also point out towards their public character, bringing them in the ambit of Section 2(h) of RTI Act. The constitutional and legal provisions indicates towards their character as public authorities. The order came after activists Subhash Chandra Aggarwal and Anil Bairwal of the Association for Democratic Reforms approached the CIC, requesting that political parties be declared as public authorities. The commission then directed the presidents and general secretaries of the six political parties to designate Central Public Information Officers (CPIOs) and the Appellate Authorities at their headquarters.
ELECTION COMMISSION
According to Art. 324, the Constitution of India has vested in the Election Commission of India the superintendence, direction and control of the entire process for conduct of elections to Parliament and Legislature of every State and to the offices of President and Vice-President of India. Election Commission of India is a permanent Constitutional Body. Mr. T.N. Seshan, former CEC asseuted the powers of Election Constitution and provided sanctity to this constitutional body which was followed by all the later CECs of India.
COURT DIRECTIVES
Jailed Persons can Contest Elections: On the July 10, the Supreme Court said that Section 8 (4) of RP Act is unconstitutional. The government filed a review petition, but also amended the law by introducing a provision to section 62 (5) in RP Act 2013. The Supreme Court upheld the amended electoral law. The Supreme Court gave directions in the judgment dated 27th September, 2013 to provide a None of the Above Options (NOTA) option on the EVM and ballot papers. EC clarified even if the number of electors opting for NOTA option is more than the number of votes polled by any of the candidates, the candidate who secures the largest number of votes has to be declared elected. The Allahabad High Court banned the Caste based Rallies. It was held that caste based rallies are against the spirit of the constitution. Paid News And Media Ethics: The Press Council of India and Election Commission of India have recognized the mischievous role paid by paid news. The Press Council of India has set up a two member committee to inquire into the allegations of paid news and found that the contesting candidates bribed the journalists and newspapers for writing favourable stories for their victory in elections. With the EC's formation of Media Monitoring and Media Certification Committees to monitor media conduct in the states going to poll, it is being envisaged that the phenomenon of paid news would take a beating. The Supreme Court has given a landmark judgment on 5th May 2014 and said that Election Commission has power to inquire into complaints of paid news against a person contesting polls. The Apex Court also opined that the Election Commission can disqualify the candidate for fudging poll expenses.
Misuse of Social Media In Elections: The Election Commission issued detailed guidelines on social media to regulate internet campaigns on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, E-mails, sms etc, asking candidates to declare their social media accounts and all political parties to pre-certify advertisements before they are posted on social media websites. The instructions also require political parties to account for payments made to internet companies and social media websites for posting advertisements, expenditure on making and development of creative content, and operational expenditure on salaries and wages paid to staff hired for maintaining social media accounts of parties and candidates. Besides, model code would apply to content being posted on internet, including social media websites, by the candidates and political parties contesting in elections. No voting Rights to NRI’s:- Hopes of Non Residents of India (NRIs) of casting votes in on-going elections through the internet were dashed. On 11 April 2014 with the Supreme Court said that any interim relief in this stage may open a paradora’s box.
Freedom of Speech And Indian Constitution:- The Constitution of India and hate speech laws aim to prevent discord among its many ethnic and religious communities. Election banned several candidates from public meetings and also censored candidates belonging to different political parties. Election Commission also ordered for registering for FIRs against the political individual in hate speeches. Some of the leaders of Political Parties were also sent to judicial custody. Voters have Right to Report to Election Authorities about hate speeches and also can report to the police. The media can also reflect the public opinion about the hate speeches. Voters Rights Awareness Programme: The Election Commission of India initiated systematicVoters Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP). The SVEEP has stimulated every aspect of Election Process to ensure enhanced voters participation in the polling. During the last three years, voters registration especially among youth has gone up from 15 to 35 %. Voterregistration and Electorate education are central to the election management process. However, qualitatively and quantitatively the voter participation of India is still far from the ideal of participatory democracy. Election Commission's SVEEP programme is aimed to inform, educate, motivate and facilitate voters and in turn make Indian democracy more participative and meaningful. National Voters Day is being celebrated on 25th January every year.


What is the Right to Information Act?
The Right to Information(RTI) ACT,2004 is a comprehensive legislation that would confer statutory rights on citizen for seeking information from public authorities.The Act seeks to ensure-(a)maximum exemptions consistent with constitutional provisions (b)an effective mechanism for access information and disclosure by authorities(c)an independent appeal mechanism and (d)penalities for failure to provide information as per the law.The Act is a major improvement on the freedom of information Act that was passed by Parliament in December 2002 but never came into force.The RTI Bill was tabled in Parliament on December 23,2004 and was passed on May 12,2005.Upon receiving President's assent on June 15,2005 the RTI Act is supposed to come into force within 120 days.So latest by October 12 this year,the RTI Act should be functional in every city and village.The act is not applicable to the state of Jammu & Kashmir and intelligence and security organisations like the IB,RAW,BSF,etc are out of the cabinet and council of ministers.

What are the key provisions in the RTI Act,2004?
The preamble of the RTI act states that it sets out to provide a 'practical regime of right to information for people to secure access to information .....in order to promote transparency and accountability.Only citizens can request information from a 'public authority',defined as any body owned or controlled by the Central government,this definition does not include private bodies that perform public services.Broadly,the Act includes a right to copy and inspect records,take certified samples and inspect public works.Public authorities are also bound to proactively publish a wide range of information about their oraganisation.A Central Chief Information Commisioner will be appointed by a committee consisting of the Prime Minister,leader of the opposition and a union minister mominated by the PM.Each state will also have its own information commissioner .Additionally,an officer at each sub-divisional level or other appropriate sub-district level shall be designated as Public inforamtion officer(PIO).The PIO shall recieve all requests for information,and pass them on to the designated authority for transmission to the relevant department or agency.

What is the procedure for seeking information under the Act? Information must be requested in writing,including by e-mail,and the request must be submitted to the PIO.Applications need to be responded to within 30 days ,except in cases concerning the life and liberty of the person,Where no response is received,this will be deemed to be a refusal.Applications must be rejected in writing with the appropriate reasons.Where applications are approved,a fee will be deemed to be refusal.Applications must be rejected in writing with the appropriate reasons.Where applications are approved,a fee will be imposed for accessing the information.However,if the application is not dealt with in time,fees will not be collected.If a person believes she has been wrongly denied information,she can appela to the officer immediately senior to the PIO in the concerned public authority.A second appeal can be lodged with the independent information commisioner.Penalities can be imposed on PIOs at the rate of Rs.250 a day upto Rs 25,000.

What is the current controversy regarding the Act?
After initially rejecting it,the government has finally accepted the bureaucrats demand that nothings by officials on goverment files should not be made public under the RTI Act. The president has also backed the demand and supporters of this view claim that if not enacted it will discourage officials from making honest and fair assessments as file notings are part of the deliberation process.


 
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