Right to information has been seen as the key to strengthening participatory democracy and ushering in people centered governance. Access to information can empower the poor and the weaker sections of society to demand and get information about public policies and actions, thereby leading to their welfare.
In recognition of the need for transparency in public affairs, the Indian Parliament enacted the Right to Information Act in 2005. The Act applies to all States and Union Territories of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Jammu and Kashmir has its own act called Jammu & Kashmir Right to Information Act, 2009. While right to information is implicitly guaranteed by the Constitution, the Act sets out the practical regime for citizens to secure access to information on all matters of governance.
Information Rights have a long history of 246 years. World’s first Freedom of Information Act was issued in Stockholm on Dec. 2, 1766. In 1946, U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution “Freedom of information is a fundamental human right and the touchstone for all freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated”.
Also, Universal declaration of human rights 1948 states art 19(2), “Every one shall have the right to freedom of expression which shall include freedom to: Seek, receive and impart information; Regardless of frontiers; Either orally, in writing or in print, etc.
Right to Information is implicit in the Indian Constitution
- Article 19(1)(a): Freedom of speech and expression
- Article 21: Right to live with human dignity
Rights under Right to Information Act
- Setting out the practical regime of RTI.
- Secure access to information under control of public authorities.
- Promotion of transparency and accountability
- Reduction and containing corruption.
- Transparency a rule and confidentiality an exception.
- The Act was passed on June 15, 2005 and implemented with effect from Oct 12, 2005
Salient features of Right to Information Act
- Section 4: To publish within 120 days detailed information about every organization, important policies, decisions, etc.
- Sec. 5(1): Appointment of PIO, (Public Information Officers) in all administrative units.
- Sec. 20: Provision of penalties against PIO for refusal to receive an application, mala fide denial and other lapses.
- Constitution of central and state Information Commissions.
- The Act has an overriding effect.
- Provision of Compensation.
- Onus on Public authorities and PIO.
The Right to Information Act of 2005 signals a radical shift in our governance culture and permanently impacts all agencies of state. The effective implementation of this law depends on three fundamental shifts:
- From the prevailing culture of secrecy to a new culture of openness;
- From personalized despotism to authority coupled with accountability; and
- From unilateral decision-making to participative governance.