There was always a strong demand for a formal law on freedom of information. The states of Goa, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan, since 1997, enacted laws ensuring public Access to information, with some restrictions. It creates a pressure on the Central Government to enact law granting the right to Information. There were various bodies who submitted the draft like the Press Council of India and the Independent citizens’ group. This results in the Freedom of Information Act, 2002 and the president gave assent on 6 January 2003. But on the recommendation of the National Advisory Council repealed the earlier Act and enacted the Right to Information Act, 2005.
This is for all citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority. This law makes the “freedom of information” into the “Right to Information”. Information includes all forms of records like the documents, e-mails, circular, press release, contract, electronic data etc.
Information can be provided on written request or request by electronic means with payment of nominal fees. And the authority to supply required information within the 30 days and any matter related to life and liberty of person then within 48 hours. And if the authority refuses or does not comply with data within the given time frame then a penalty of 250/- to be paid but not more than 25,000/- rupees.
Section 8 of the Act provides the restrictions on providing the data. Sovereignty and integrity of India, security, strategic and economic interest of state, trade secrets or intellectual properties or any thing which disclosure would harm the competitive position of a third party. The Act also restricts the information related to the certain governmental organization listed in the second schedule. Such as the Intelligence Bureau, Directorate of Enforcement. RAW, Narcotic Control Bureau.
There is the appointment of Public Information Officers (PIO’s), State Information Commissions and Central Information Commission. These are independent and autonomous wings. Any aggrieved person appeals against the decision of the PIO to the officer who is senior in rank within 30 days and a second appeal is also provided before the Central or State Information Commission within the 90 days.
It also faces huge problems in implementation because bureaucrats do not relish openness. Administrative Reform Commission on the Right to Information Act, 2005 recommend :-
- That PIO be given power to refuse a request for information
- PIO be given power to deny requests if work involved in processing the divert resources of a public body.
- Armed forces be excluded from the purview of this Act.
Enforcement also becomes a challenge as the Central Information Commission Report suggests that people generally exercise their right to information for settling personal scores and not for enforcing governmental transparency and accountability. In India, bureaucrats place serious difficulties in the way of the public’s legitimate access to information. This is from the colonial heritage. Even after Independence, a government official feels that he is acting on behalf of the President or Governor and not on behalf of the public.
The Supreme Court also held that “Right to Know” is a fundamental right of the people covered under Articles 19(a) , 14 and 21.
In Union of India v. Assn. For Democratic Reforms ( 2002) 5 SCC 294: AIR 2002 SC 112.
The Supreme Court held that voters’ right to know antecedents including the criminal past of a candidate to membership of parliament or Legislative Assembly is also a fundamental right.
To know about the crime and property and education status of the candidates as a part of the nomination paper is also a right of a voter. This also held in the People’s Union of Civil Liberties ( PUCL) V. Union of India – this is to ensure free and fair election which is the basic structure of the Constitution.
But there is a conflict between the right to know and the right to privacy. But the right to privacy should not be allowed as a pretext to suppress information.