RTI – A powerful tool of Democratic India

Art. 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India ensures that all the citizens of India shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression. It implies that every citizen has the right to express his/her views and opinions, openly and freely, without any fear or constraint, through any mode of his/her choice, even by way of silence. However, a wider interpretation of the same confers a powerful right on the citizens of India; a right which has time and again been helpful in holding the public authorities accountable and responsible for their actions – Right to information. The same has been conferred under Art. 21 of the Constitution, i.e., right to life and personal liberty, as citizens have the right to know in order to ensure a healthy democracy.

Though not expressed in Art. 19(1)(a) and Art. 21 of the Indian Constitution, the Judiciary has interpreted the right to have access to or receive information under the Fundamental Right of Freedom of Speech and Expression and Right to Life and Personal Liberty through various judgments, like  Union of India v. Association for Democratic Reforms and Another[1], S.P. Gupta v. Union of India[2], Dinesh Trivedi, M.P. & Ors. V. Union of India[3], People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) v. Union of India[4], Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India v. Cricket Association of India[5], and many more.

But, it was in State of Uttar Pradesh v. Raj Narain[6] case that the Supreme Court, for the very first time, established that the right to know or receive information arises from the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression.

To empower this interpreted right to know or receive information, to help in holding the public authorities accountable and to ensure transparency in the working of the public authorities, Right to Information Act, 2005 was enacted on the 15th Day of June, 2005 and came into force on the 12th Day of October, 2005, i.e., the 120th day of its enactment.

Sec. 3 of the Right to Information Act, 2005, confers on only the citizens of India the right to file the Right to Information (RTI) application in order to receive information. Here, ‘information’, as per the Act means to include any material in any form, like records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advice, press releases, circulars, orders, etc., including the ones held in digital form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force[7]. And whatever information is received under this Act, we, as the citizens of India, have the right to inspect such records, documents and any material in any form and to take extracts, notes, certified copies and samples of such material including their digital formats[8].

For the purpose of providing information to persons requesting it, every public authority shall appoint a Public Information Officer and whenever information is asked for, the RTI application should be addressed to the concerned or appropriate Public Information Officer of the public authority from whom the information is sought[9].

But, just as there are restrictions on the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression under Art. 19(2) of the Indian Constitution, there are restrictions on the kinds of information one can ask under the Right to Information Act, 2005. Sec. 8 of the Act exempts certain kinds of information from being asked in the RTI applications, which are related to the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, which is expressly forbidden to be published as its publication may lead to contempt of court, which would cause breach of privilege of the Parliament or the State Legislature, etc. However, such information may be disclosed if it is for the protection of the larger interests of the people; after all salus populi suprema lex esto[10].

The exemptions are not only with respect to kinds of information but also with respect to certain public authorities like the security and intelligence organisations – Intelligence Bureau, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Assam Rifles, etc. – as mentioned under the Second Schedule of the Act. But, if the information sought is relating to allegations of corruption and human rights violation, they shall be disclosed after the approval of the Central Information Commission [established under Sec. 12(1) of the Act], within a period of 45 days from the date of receipt of such request.

Every response to any RTI application shall be given within thirty days of the receipt of the request[11]. In case it is relating to the matter of a person’s life and liberty, the information shall be given within 48 hours of its receipt[12]. If the response to the RTI application is not received within the specified time, an appeal can be filed to the appellate authority appointed for the same in the concerned public authority[13].

By now, we know that Right to Information Act, 2005 is a powerful tool in the hands of the Indian citizens, which many citizens are unaware of even after over a decade of its enactment. RTI empowers the ordinary, common man to question the authority, irrespective of his or her social, economic or political background, and hold them accountable for their actions. Without the Right to Information Act, 2005, the right to access information under Art. 19(1)(a) and Art. 21 of the Indian Constitution would have remained incomplete because RTI is an instrument used to regulate this right.

[1] (2002) 5 SCC 294

[2] AIR 1982 SC 149

[3] (1997) 4 SCC 306

[4] AIR[2003] SC 2363

[5] 1995 AIR 1236, 1995 SCC (2)161

[6] A.I.R. 1975 S.C. 865

[7] Sec. 2(f) of the Right to Information Act, 2005

[8] Sec. 2(j) of the Right to Information Act, 2005

[9] Sec. 5 of the Right to Information Act, 2005

[10] Welfare of the people shall be the supreme law

[11] Sec. 7(1) of the Right to Information Act, 2005

[12] Sec. 7(1) of the Right to Information Act, 2005

[13] Sec. 19 of the Right to Information Act, 2005


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Headshot - Vidhya Kumarswamy

VIDHYA KUMARSWAMY

Vidhya Kumarswamy is a Law student pursuing B.B.A. LL.B. (Hons.), has a craving for knowledge and passionate about writing just as she’s a passionate foodie. Also, she’s a blogger and an Otaku.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s