Brief History of the RTI Act
The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) was founded in 1996. Its founding members included social activists, journalists, lawyers, professionals, retired civil servants and academics. One of its primary objectives was to campaign for a national law facilitating the exercise of the fundamental right to information. Since the passage of the law, the campaign has been working towards effective implementation of the Act and realisation of peoples’ right to information.
As a first step, the NCPRI and the Press Council of India formulated an initial draft of a Right to Information (RTI) law. This draft, after extensive discussions, was sent to the Government of India in 1996. The Government finally introduced the Freedom of Information Bill in Parliament, in 2002. This was a very watered down version of the Bill first drafted by the NCPRI and others in 1996. Meanwhile, the NCPRI was also campaigning for state RTI acts and supporting the efforts of state governments, like Karnataka, Delhi and Rajasthan.
In August 2004 the NCPRI forwarded to the National Advisory Council a set of suggested amendments to the Freedom of Information Act 2002. These amendments, designed to strengthen and make more effective the 2002 Act, were based on extensive discussions with civil society groups working on transparency and other related issues and were in response to the undertaking given by the UPA government, in their Common Minimum Programme, that the “Right to Information Act will be made more progressive, participatory and meaningful.”
The NAC endorsed most of the suggested amendments and recommended them to the Prime Minister of India for further action. These formed the basis of the subsequent Right to Information Bill, introduced in Parliament on 22 December 2004.
However, this bill, as introduced in Parliament, had many weaknesses. Most significantly, unlike the NCPRI suggestion, it did not apply to the whole country but only to the Union Government. The consequent public outrage from civil society made the government review the changes. The Bill was referred to a Standing Committee of the Parliament and to a Group of Ministers. The standing committee asked several of the NCPRI members to give evidence before it, and ultimately endorsed the stand taken by the NCPRI in most matters. . In the next session of Parliament, the bill was passed after over a hundred amendments introduced by the government to accommodate the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee and the Group of Ministers. Most important, the jurisdiction of the Bill was extended to cover the whole of India. The RTI Act then came into effect all over India, from 13 October 2005.