Resurrecting the right to know (The Hindu)
Mains Paper 2:Governance
Prelims level: RTI Act
Mains level: Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability
- A significant development in the right to information campaign has largely gone unnoticed.
- The resurrectionof the right to know is momentous considering that we are increasingly witnessing an unfortunate denial of information while forgetting the right to know.
Releasing the report:
- A High-Level Committee (HLC) chaired by a retired judge of the Gauhati HC and also including the Advocates General of two Northeast States was constituted by the Home Ministry on July 15, 2019.
- Its mandate was, among others, to recommend measures to implement Clause 6 of the Assam Accord and define “Assamese People”.
- The HLC finalised its report by mid-February 2020 and submitted it to the Assam Chief Minister soon after. He handed over the report to the Union Home Minister on March 20.
- With the Central government apparently “sitting idle” over the report, the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), which was represented in the HLC, released the report on August 11.
- The proffered reasons for the release were the Central government’s inaction on the report and the people’s right to know.
- Sitting idle over a report is not an uncommon phenomenon. The Vohra Committee report on the alleged nexusbetween politicians and criminals was kept under wrapsfor almost two years.
- It was tabled in Parliament following a public uproaron the murder of NainaSahni by a prominent politician.
Right to know:
- The right to know was recognised nearly 50 years ago and is the foundational basis for the right to information.
- In State of U.P. v. Raj Narain (1975), the Supreme Court carved out a class of documents that demand protection even though their contents may not be damaging to the national interest.
- For example, Cabinet papers, foreign office despatches, papers regarding the security of the state and high-level interdepartmental minutes.
- A pragmatic view was told by Justice Mathew who held that “the people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in a public way, by their public functionaries.
- They are entitled to know the particulars of every public transaction in all its bearing.
- The right to know, which is derived from the concept of freedom of speech, though not absolute, is a factor which should make one wary, when secrecy is claimed for transactions which can, at any rate, have no repercussionon public security.”
- Our Supreme Court held that there is no provision by which Parliament had vested power in the government either to restrain the publication of documents marked as secret or from placing such documents before a court of law which may have been called upon to adjudicate a legal issue concerning the parties.
- Justice K.M. Joseph referred to Section 8(2) of the Right to Information Act, 2005 which provides that a citizen can get a certified copy of a document even if the matter pertains to security or relationship with a foreign nation, if a case is made out.
- Therefore, it is clear that the right to know can be curtailed only in limited circumstances and if there is an overriding public interest.
Being more transparent:
- Keeping in mind the view expressed by the Supreme Court over nearly 50 years, it is clear that the Official Secrets Act is not attracted to the disclosure of the HLC report.
- There is no doubt that a bold and progressive decision has been taken by AASU to release the report in public interest.
- Hopefully, this will encourage governments to effectuate the citizen’s right to know and be more transparent in public interest, as long as the security of the country is not jeopardised.
Q.1)With reference to the Sub-Mission on Agricultural Mechanisation (SMAM), consider the following statements:
1. It was introduced in April 2014 with an aim to have inclusive growth of farm mechanisation to boost productivity.
2. The Centre has recently released ₹553 crore to States under this scheme.
Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2
Q.1) Enumerate the salient features of the RTI Act.