(Online Course) Pub Ad for IAS Mains: Chapter: 5 Accountability & Control - RIGHT TO INFORMATION (Paper -1)

Paper - 1
Chapter: 5 (Accountability & Control)



Right to Information means the freedom of people to have access to government information. It implies that the citizens and non-governmental organisations should enjoy a reasonably free access to all files and documents pertaining to the governmental operations, decisions, and performance. In other words, it means openness and transparency in the functioning of government. Thus, it is antithetical to secrecy in public administration.

As rightly observed by Paras Kuhad, “secrecy as a component of executive privilege or transparency through right to information—which of the two be adopted as a paradigm for governance. Both offer public interest as their rationale. Which in fact serves public interest and can they be harmonised.”
In 1992, the World Bank released a document entitled Governance and Development’. The document has mentioned seven aspects or elements of governance—one of them being transparency and information.


The right to information is necessary due to the following reasons:

  1. It makes administration more accountable to people.
  2. It reduces the gap between administration and people.
  3. It makes people aware of administrative decision-making.
  4. It facilitates better delivery of goods and services to people by civil servants.
  5. It facilitates intelligent and constructive criticism of administration.
  6. It increases people’s participation in administration.
  7. It promotes public interest by discouraging arbitrariness in administrative decision-making.
  8. It reduces the scope for corruption in public administration.
  9. It upholds the democratic ideology by promoting openness and transparency in administration.
  10. It makes administration more responsive to the requirements of people.
  11. It reduces the chance of abuse of authority by the public servants.

The following statements made by eminent administrative thinkers and practitioners highlight the importance of right to information:

Woodrow Wilson “I for one have the conviction that government ought to be all outside and not inside. I, for my part, believe that there ought to be no place where everything can be done that everyone does not know about. Everyone knows corruption thrives in secret places and avoids public places.”

James Madison “People who mean to be their governors must arm themselves with power which knowledge gives. A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is hut a prologue to a farce or tragedy or perhaps both.”

Lord Acton “Nothing is safe that does not show that it can bear discussion and publicity.”

British Franks Committee (1972) “A government which pursues secret aims, or which operates in greater secrecy than the effective conduct of its proper functions require, or which turns information services into propaganda agencies, will lose the trust of the people. It will be countered by ill-informed and destructive criticism”.

Justice Douglas of USA “Secrecy in government is fundamentally antidemocratic, perpetuating bureaucratic errors. Open discussion based on full information and debate on public issues are vital to our national health.”
To sum up, in the words of Paras Kuhad, “The secrecy system is less for safeguarding public or national interest and more for safeguarding government’s reputation, burying its mistakes, maximizing its power, shielding its corrupt practices, and manipulating the citizens.”

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Global Scenario

Sweden was the first country in the world to introduce the right to information. It had conferred this right on its citizens through a direct constitutional provision, way back in 1766. In this country, access to government documents is a right and non-access an exception.

Sweden was followed by other Scandinavian countries but very lately. Thus, Finland enacted the Freedom of Information legislation in 1951. Both Denmark and Norway have made the similar legislations in the same year (1970).

USA has granted .the right to information to its citizens by the Freedom of Information Act (1966). This Act was amended in 1974 for two purposes: (i) to limit the exemptions (the documents which the administration may keep in secret); and (ii) to provide for penalties for withholding the information or acting in an arbitrary manner.

France, Netherlands and Austria have made the similar legislations in the 1970s. Canada, Australia and New Zealand have done it in 1982. Thailand and Ireland have made the law in the same year (1997). Bulgaria enacted it in 2000.

In South Africa, the right to information is guaranteed by the constitution itself. This right of the citizens has been further reinforced by enacting a legislation in 2000.

In Britain, the Fulton Committee (1966—68) found too much of secrecy in public administration. Hence, it recommended an enquiry into the Official Secrets Act, 1911. In 1972, the Franks Committee also made the similar recommendation. Hence, in 1988, the Act was amended to narrow the scope of official information falling within its ambit. Finally, the UK Freedom of Information Act came into force on January 1, 2005.

Position in India

The Constitution of India has no direct provision expressly conferring right to information to the citizens.

However, the Supreme Court has been stating since 1975 that the right to information is an intrinsic part of the following two fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India:

  1. Right to freedom of speech and expression (Article 19).
  2. Right to life and personal liberty (Article 21).

In India, various laws and rules restrict the disclosure of official information to the people and thus favours secrecy in administration:

  1. Official Secrets Act, 1923.
  2. Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
  3. Commission of Enquiry Act, 1952.
  4. All-India Services (Conduct) Rules, 1954.
  5. Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 1955.
  6. Railway Services (Conduct) Rules, 1956.

The Fifth Pay Commission (1994-1997) recommended for the abolition of the Official Secrets Act and introduction of Right to Information Act.

Information Act In 2005, the Parliament has enacted a new legislation—the Right to Information Act (2005). This new Act replaces the old Freedom of Information Act, 2002, which was unnotified and hence, not operational.

The new legislation confers on all citizens the right of access to the information and, correspondingly, makes the dissemination of such information an obligation on all public authorities. It aims at promoting transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority. It has the widest possible reach covering Central government, state governments, panchayati raj institutions, local bodies and recipients of government grants. Its various provisions are mentioned below:

  1. It provides for the appointment of an information officer in each department to provide information to the public on request.
  2. It fixes a 30-day deadline for providing information; deadline is 48 hours if information concerns life or liberty of a person.
  3. Information will be free for people below poverty line. For others, fee will he reasonable.
  4. The Act imposes obligation on public agencies to disclose the information suo-motu to reduce requests for an information.
  5. Government bodies have to publish details of staff payments and budgets.
  6. It provides for the establishment of a Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions to implement the provisions of the Act. They will be independent high-level bodies to act as appellate authorities and vested with the powers of a civil court.
  7. The President will appoint a Chief Information Commissioner and governors of state will appoint state information commissioners. Their term will be five years.
  8. The Chief Information Commissioner (on par with the status currently accorded to the chief election commissioner) will be selected by a panel comprising the prime minister, leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and a minister nominated by the prime minister.
  9. The Chief Information Commissioner and State Information Commissioner will publish an annual report on the implementation of the Act. These reports will be tabled before Parliament and state legislature.
  10. The Act overrides the Official Secrets Act, 1923. The information commissions can allow access to the information if public interest outweighs harm to protected persons.
  11. It carries strict penalties for failing to provide information or affecting its flow. The erring officials will be subject to departmental proceedings.
  12. The information commission shall fine an official Rs 250 per day (subject to a maximum of Rs 25,000) if information is delayed without reasonable cause beyond the stipulated 30 days.
  13. The procedure of appeal in case the information is denied is like this—first appeal to superior of public information officer, second appeal to information commission, and third appeal to a high court.
  14. Its purview does not extend to intelligence and security organisations like Intelligence Bureau, RAW, BSF, CISF, NSG and so on. However, information pertaining to allegations of corruption or violation of human rights by these organisations will not be excluded.
  15. All categories of exempted information to be disclosed after 20 years except cabinet deliberations and information that affects security, strategic, scientific or economic interests, relations with foreign states or leads to incitement of offence.

State Information Acts Even before the Central legislation was passed, some of the states have introduced their own right to information legislation. The first amongst these was Tamil Nadu. The states and the respective years of the enactment of legislations are mentioned below in Table 5.4.

Table 5.4 Right to Information Acts in States

  States Year of Enactment
 1.    Tamil Nadu


 2. Goa


 3. Rajasthan


 4. Karnataka


 5. Delhi


 6. Maharashtra*


 7. Assam


 8. Madhya Pradesh


 9. Jammu & Kashmir


*Maharashtra repealed its earlier Right to Information Act of 2000 to bring out an improved one in 2002.

In Rajasthan, the Right to Information movement was initiated by Aruna Roy in the early 1990s. The Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) succeeded through struggle and agitation, in accessing and using information to put an end to local corruption and exploitation.

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