(Sample Material) Gist of IIPA Journal: Sustainable Development: Right to Information Regime in India: A Critical Appraisal Sapna Chadah

(Sample Material) Gist of Important Articles from IIPA Journal

Topic: Right to Information Regime in India: A Critical Appraisal Sapna Chadah

Right to Information: Indian Scenario

Indian, Constitution does not expressly provide any right to freedom of information as such, Part III dealing with Fundamental Rights and Part IV dealing with Directive Principles of State Policy are totally silent on this subject, However, Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, which confers the right to freedom of speech and expression, includes the right to information when read with Article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has been ratified by India also. It may however be mentioned that the Indian apex Court through its, progressive interpretation read this valuable right as apart of Article 19(1)(a).

In the case of State Of UP vs. Raj Narain Mathew, J, expressed this proposition in the following words:

In a government of responsibility like ours, where all the agents of the public must be responsible for their conduct there can be but few secrets, the people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in a public way, by their public going to have on then national interest. Both, person who is communicating and the person who is receiving the official information are guilty under the Act Person guilty under the Act shall be punishable with imprisonment, which may extend to three years or fine or both. The decision to decide whether the information is secret not lies solely with the government. Government by classifying any document as secret can prohibit public access to it. In today’s world where the sole emphasis is on openness, and accountability in government functioning the Act remains merely as a relic of the British regime. In addition to Official Secrets Act, 1923 there are provisions in Sections 123, 124 and 162 of Indian Evidence Act, 1872, which regulate the power of the government to withhold information. It is therefore submitted that to give meaning to Right to Information Act and to’ make it effective it is essential to introduce consequential changes in the provisions of the different laws having negative implications on the free flow of information.

Demand for Right to Information in India

In addition to recognition to right to information by Supreme Court, Mathew Commission in 1982 in its report while recommending amendment to Section 5 of Official Secrets Act 1923 emphasised the need of right to know. In 1989 V. P. Singhs National government came to power and declared its decision to make Right to Information a fundamental right. He expressed his intention in April 1991 in 20th Conference of Ministers of Information and Cinematography, “An open system of governance is an essential prerequisite for the fullest flowering of democracy. Free flow of information from the government to the people will not only create an enlightened and informed public opinion but also render those in authority accountable”. By this time the demand for Right to Information got intensified and took the shape of mass movement. In 1995 the Press Council of India drew up the first blue print for the information Bill. It asserted that information which could not be denied to Parliament or State Legislature, should net be denied to a citizen. In 1997 the Government of India decided to introduce the Freedom of Information Bill. It suggested that each state do likewise, to provide access to information in areas within its Jurisdiction. As a result several states enacted Right to Information Act. In 1997 itself, a working group under the, Chairmanship of Shri H. D. Shourie, a consumer activist was constituted which presented another draft. In. July 2000 Freedom of Information Bill was finally introduced in Parliament keeping in view the growing recognition and demands for Right to Information. Freedom of information Act, 2002 was enacted but was never notified.

Right to Information Act, 2005

Right to Information Act] 2005 was passed by both Houses in the summer session of the Parliament and received assent of President on June 15, 2005.

The Bill was passed after about 150 amendments were introduced in the original draft. The Act replaces relatively weak and ineffective legislation Freedom of Information Act, 2002 passed during NDA regime. The legislation confers on all citizens a right to seek information and correspondingly makes it the duty of the public authorities to disseminate information for better governance and accountability. The law has widest possible reach covering Centra1 and State Governments, Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI), local bodies and recipients of government grants but would not apply, to the intelligence and security organisations except if the information relates to the allegations of corruption. Moving the Bill Prime Minister said that the Bill would usher in a new era of performance and transparency to benefit the common man in the complex modern world and empower the people to judge if the government was functioning in public interest. Right to Information will give public-spirited people an instrument to prevent misuse of public power and funds. He said that the intention of the Bill is to enlarge the interface between people and government and not to paralyse the administration.

Purpose of the Act

As per the Preamble of the Act the aim is to provide the citizens right to information which will enable them to have access to information under control of the public authorities which will promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority and to provide for the constitution of a Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions.

The Act will extend to whole of India except the state of J and K. The Act gives every citizen of India a Right to Information.

Meaning of Information

Information has been defined as “any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mail opinion, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic 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”.

Definition of Right to Information

Right to Information under the Act means as the right accessible under this Act, which is held by or under the control of any public authority and includes the right to:

(i) inspection of the work, documents, records;
(ii) taking notes, extracts, or certified copies of documents or records;
(iii) taking certified samples of material;
(iv) obtaining information in the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts where such information is stored in a computer or any other device.

Authorities under the Act

For providing information it has been made incumbent on every public authority to designate within a period of 100 days of enactment of this Act Central Public Information Officers or State Public Information Officers as the case may be in all its administrative wings for the purpose of providing information to person so requesting and Central Assistant Public Information Officer or a State Assistant Information Officer at each sub-divisional level or other sub-district level to receive the applications or appeals and to forward them to the Central Public Information Office or State Public Information Officer or Central Information Commission or State Information Commission as the case may be.

Procedure for Supply of Information

A person who desires to, obtain information has to make a request for the same in writing or through electronic form. It can be in English, Hindi or in the official language of the area in which the application is being made, Such application shall be accompanied with prescribed fee, The application is to be made to the Central Public Information Officer or State Public information Officer of the concerned public authority or Central Assistant Public Information Officer or State Assistant Public Information Officer as the case may be. The particulars of the information required must be specified in the application, No reasons or personal details are required to be given for seeking information. The application must either be decided within a period of 30 day’s or the request be rejected for the reasons as specified under the Act.

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