Updated: Feb 20, 2022
Written by: P. Sandhya
The right to information act, 2005 is a special law enacted by the parliament of India in the year 2005. It empowered the citizens of this country, the right to seek information from any public authority, and that concerned authority is bound to provide the piece of information required as soon as possible or within thirty days. Every public entity is also required by the Act to digitize their records for wide circulation and to proactively disseminate certain categories of information so that it acts as basic information and as a resource for the people needing them. Prior to the establishment of this act, various other laws such as the official secrets act 1923 restricted the disclosure of information to the general public but, this specific act relaxed all such provisions strengthening the power of the common man.
STANDS ON RTI PRIOR TO 2005
In India, the fight for access to information began with the MazdoorKisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) campaign, which demanded minimum salaries in rural India in order to bring transparency to village finances and the fake entries for wages were showing up growing corruption, prompting MKSS to demand official information from government files.
Although this law was enacted by the parliament in the year 2005, The idea of the rights of the common man to seek or know information from the government was enunciated in many situations and supreme court judgments. Initially, this right was considered to be under the ambit of Art.19 (1) (a) i.e the right to speech and expression, and Art. 21 which is the right to life and personal liberty. It was considered that Article 19 doesn’t only imply the right to speech and expression but also the right to know and seek information.
Ex - In the case of Raj Narain Gandhi v. Indhira Nehru Gandhi, The court declined the government's claim for the privilege and noted the statement of Dewey that says "the forces which determine the government are sovereign. The effective social forces are not the Union, nor the States, nor the oligarchy of States, nor the organs of Government, nor the Constitution, nor natural law, but those forces which created these organizations and agents and institutions, and to whom they are all ultimately responsible. According to him, the Sovereignty of the People.”
RIGHT TO INFORMATION - what is the need?
The right of the citizen’s to know how the government functions is a cornerstone in a democratic society. It is necessary for the rule of law and citizen's liberty. The democratic form of government requires citizens to participate actively and intelligently in the affairs of society. Democracy's core feature and rational process, which distinguishes it from all other kinds of government, is public debate, which can be strengthened by this right guaranteed by the act. Hence, the Right to Information Act's main goal is to empower citizens, combat corruption, promote openness and accountability in government operations, and make our democracy truly function for the people. It goes without saying that a well-informed citizen is better able to maintain a close eye on the tools of governance and hold the government accountable to the people. The Act is a significant step toward keeping individuals informed about government actions. The right to know is not intended to satisfy idle curiosity or simple inquisitiveness, but rather to ensure that democracy functions properly. In a genuine democracy, transparency and accountability are required.
Justice Bhagwati opined that the right to know, which appears to be implicit in the right to freedom of speech and expression, is the direct emanation of the concept of open government. According to renowned judges, the right to knowledge, or assessed right to information, is fundamental to the democratic way of life. It reshapes the public-government interaction by placing essential information and evidence in the hands of ordinary citizens.
IMPORTANT PROVISIONS and EXCEPTIONS
- Under the provisions of this act, the public authority is bound to provide information to the public within the prescribed time limit. The word public authority has been ascertained in the act itself. Every government body from the office of the prime minister and president to the gram panchayats are under the purview of this act. After several debates, even the chamber of the chief justice of India is under the ambit of the act.
- Information as defined under SECTION 2(f) includes any material in any form, including records, books documents, mails, Orders, Logbooks, Reports, Papers, Data material held in any electronic form, and information relating to any public office or private body which can be accessed by a public authority.
- SECTION 5 of Act mandates that a CPIO (Central Public information officer) should be appointed by the public authority so as to comply with the objectives of the aforementioned act.
- A citizen has the right to reach out to SIC or CIC (state information committee and central information committee) as a second appeal if he is not satisfied by the information provided by the CPIO or even if the information is not provided within the prescribed limit of 30 days.
Under section 8, the act determines a few exceptions with regard to the disclosure of information.
That includes -
- Information on the state's integrity, security, and sovereignty, as well as its geopolitical, economic, and scientific interests.
- Any information that has been expressly prohibited from being released by a court of law.
- The information which would jeopardize Parliament's or a state legislature's privileges.
- Information relating to IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) and trade secrets
- Cabinet documents providing records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers and other high-ranking officials.
- Personal information whose disclosure is unrelated to any public activity or interest.
- Any foreign government's information received in trust.
- Information that would endanger any person's life or physical safety.
- Information about the investigation and prosecution.
- Few clauses such as the time bar of 30 days, which doesn’t include important exceptions such as public holidays, administrative functions such as elections, census, disaster management, etc. makes it unserviceable for the office to provide adequate information.
- The purpose clause is provided under the act, i.e any citizen can seek information without providing any objective or purpose.
- The PIO clause ensures that the citizen can seek information from any PIO, whether the PIO has that information or not. This will delay the process of providing the information and the 30 days limit would not be sufficient for providing the information.
- The appeal and complaint issue still plays a crucial role. Moving ahead with complaints without the appeal would result in nothing but chaos and unnecessary pressure on the public functionaries affecting the motive of public servants and this act.
In Indian law, the right to information stems substantially from the freedom of speech and expression provided by Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian constitution. We cannot hold the government accountable unless we have access to fundamental facts about its choices and operations. Such power to hold the public offices accountable is harnessed by this Right to information act. It helps the governed to question those who govern. It is just not a tool to question the government but also a facet of the rights of the public. By the virtue of this act, the Public can know the information without waiting for someone else to take cognizance of any issue.
The Right to Information Act, 2005 (Act 22 of 2005), s.22. Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Shri Raj Narain, AIR1975 SC 2299 The Right to Information Act, 2005 (Act 22 0f 2005), s. 2(f). The Right to Information Act, 2005(Act 22 0f 2005), s.5.  The Right to Information Act, 2005 (Act 22 0f 2005), s.8.