04/14/2024

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Right to Information as a Fundamental Right

The article is written by Jyotika Saroha. The present article extensively covers the evolution of the right to information in Indian and international contexts. It deals with the growing need for this right and also discusses Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution in light of the right to information, which has been recognized as a fundamental right in India. It further discusses landmarks and recent judgements regarding the right to information. It also discusses the laws on the right to information in various countries. It further deals with the Right to Information Act, 2005, the necessary provisions under the said Act, and recent amendments to the Act. Lastly, it deals with the recent controversies surrounding the Right to Information Act.

This article has been published by Shashwat Kaushik.

India is the world’s largest democracy, and its main objective is to promote growth and development for its citizens in every sphere, be it social, economic, or political. One of the main factors that contributes to the development of any country is the transparency and accountability of the government’s working system. With the increasing advancement in these two factors and to curb the menace of corruption in India, the right to information came into existence as a fundamental right, which brought up many developments by itself. The right to information is considered as one of the milestones of legislation, and it plays a significant role in empowering citizens. It helps to make them aware of their right to know about the working system of the government. Not only in India, but legislation regarding the right to know is prevalent in various countries around the world.

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The term “information” comes from the Latin terms “formation” and “forma,” which mean to form a pattern or a shape. Information is something that has been added to our thoughts and ideas. The right to information also got legal recognition under Article 19(1)(a) as a fundamental right to speech and expression. The historical background of the right to information dates back several years.

The very first legislation regarding the right to information came in Sweden in 1776, namely the Freedom of Print Act (1776), which was issued in Stockholm. This particular legislation dealt with the freedom of the press. A great politician, Anders Chydenius, played a significant role in the development of this new legislation regarding information. With the advent of this legislation in Sweden, many countries in the world adopted this very idea of inculcating the same in the laws of their respective nations.

Under the French Constitution, the “right to know” has also been provided in the Declaration of Human and Civic Rights (1789) within Article 14 as a reference for the French citizens to know about the details of the tax that they are paying to the government. 

After the declaration, in 1946, the United Nations General Assembly regarded the right to information as a fundamental right and remarked that it was the bedrock of all freedoms. It refers to the right to collect, transmit, and publish news everywhere. The assembly regarded it as an important right to be provided to citizens across the world in order to promote peace and development.

The Universal Declaration on Human Rights, 1948 is considered a milestone in the history of human rights. It laid down certain rights and freedoms that promoted the growth and development of society in various ways. Article 19(2) of the declaration mentions the right to freedom of expression, which includes the “right to seek, collect, and transmit  information, be it in written form or in oral form”.

Further, the United States of America implemented the Freedom of Information Act, 1966 in order to set the framework for the public on the right to get information. Several amendments were made to the said legislation.

In India, during the pre-independence period, the Official Secrets Act, 1923, came into existence. In this legislation, it was mentioned that the government can maintain all the necessary information about the state as a secret. This law was prevalent until the pre-independence era; no new law was being implemented regarding the right to information in the post-independence period. However, an early provision related to access to public records can be found in Section 76 of the Indian Evidence Act of 1872, which is regarded as the initial statutory provision concerning the right to information.

In the development of the right to information, courts have always played a prominent role. The right to information became a highlighted topic in the case State of Uttar Pradesh v. Raj Narain (1975), wherein the Supreme Court stated that citizens of India have the “right to know.” Later on, in 1982, the Supreme Court, by giving a positive connotation, stated that the right to information is a fundamental right that is inhibited under Article 19(1)(a) as a right to free speech and expression.

In Indian Express Newspaper v. Union of India (1984), the Supreme Court opined that the citizens of India have the right to know about the functioning and working system of the government and information related to it. 

Awareness about this right increased more after Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey started a movement and formed ‘Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan’ in Rajasthan. They named the movement ‘Hamara Paisa Hamara hisab’. After the movement took pace, the Rajasthan government passed the Right to Information Act, 2001. The first Indian state to implement legislation regarding the right to information was Tamil Nadu. 

Between 1985 and 1990, many applications were filed before the Supreme Court in order to obtain information from government offices regarding various incidents that had happened over the decade, including the Bhopal gas tragedy. 

In 1996, the National Campaign for people’s right to information was formed with the support of the Press Council of India, and a draft bill regarding the right to information was prepared and sent to the government. For the aforesaid purpose, the government formed a committee under the chairmanship of H.D. Shourie, and the committee under his chairmanship submitted its report. In 2001, the parliamentary committee also gave its recommendations for the bill to be presented before both houses. In 2002, both houses passed the Right to Information Bill, and it got presidential assent in 2003, but due to some unexpected reasons, the bill did not get notified. In 2004, the Congress-led government formed the National Advisory Council (NAC), and after receiving the bill from the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI), it made certain changes to the bill. Finally, in May 2005, the bill was ratified, receiving presidential assent in June 2005. Consequently, the Right to Information Act, 2005, came into effect in October 2005.

India is a democratic country where the government is elected directly by the people. The people who appoint the government expect them to work for the betterment of society and to help in the growth and development of the country. It is the responsibility of the elected government to work for their people without any bias, irrespective of their social, economic, or political strata. The right to information is a right that provides them with the opportunity to know about the workings and functioning of government. It brings accountability and transparency within the system and also promotes the development of the nation in every sphere. It is difficult for a nation to grow and develop if its citizens are not aware of the workings of their government and if no transparency is being maintained. The government is only the representative of the people, and all the information related to institutions and bodies vests with the public. Hence, in order to curb the menace of corruption and to bring forth transparency, accountability, and good administration in the country, the right to information is an essential fundamental right provided under Article 19(1)(a).

Since the implementation of the Right to Information Act, 2005, there have been significant changes in the present times. The Act holds utmost importance for the general public because it provides them with the freedom to ask for information from the public authorities. This legislation is considered as a milestone in order to fight against the menace of corruption. The Act promotes accountability and transparency within the working system of government. 

Helps in empowering citizens

The Act provides citizens with the right to ask for or receive information from the public authorities and empowers them to take part in the decisions of the government.

Helps to fight against corruption

The most important aim of this significant piece of legislation is to fight against the menace of corruption that is present at the grass-roots level. It helps in empowering the citizens to question the irregularities of public officials.

Helps in promoting good governance

One of the important objectives of this Act is to ensure good governance; it mandates the government to display and maintain proper records and files for the purpose of disseminating information.

Article 19 of the Indian Constitution lays down certain freedoms for the citizens of India. These rights are natural and not statutory in nature. The right to information is also inculcated in one such right provided within Article 19. Article 19(1)(a) provides the right to free speech and expression. The judiciary has played an essential role in interpreting Article 19 and inculcating the right to information under the right to free speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a). The right to information is considered one of the important rights enshrined under Article 19, especially for the media, whose objective is to provide reliable and true information to the public. In Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras (1950), popularly known as the Cross Roads newspaper case, the Supreme Court stressed on the people’s right to know. In the said case, the government of Madras imposed a ban on the distribution of journals, namely, the Cross Roads, as per Section 9(1-A) of the Madras Maintenance of Public Order Act, 1949. The owner of the journal challenged the said order passed by the government of Madras. The Supreme Court, in its verdict, held that the order passed by the government of Madras violated the petitioner’s right to free speech and expression enshrined under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution, and hence the Court struck down the order.

Further, in Indian Express Newspapers Bombay Pvt. Ltd. v. Union of India (1984), the Supreme Court reiterated the concept of the right to know and the right of a citizen to be informed about the workings of its government.

In S.P. Gupta v. Union of India (1981), also known as the judges transfer case, the Supreme Court followed its earlier decision pronounced in State of Uttar Pradesh v. Raj Narain (1975) and stated that the citizens have the right to know what their government is doing and how it is functioning as a representative head of the people. The Supreme Court in this case again provided the right to information with the status of a fundamental right. The Hon’ble Court also stated that the right to know has now become a necessity to be recognised as a fundamental right, as it is important for the upliftment of the downtrodden sections of society. The Supreme Court expanded the scope of Article 19(1)(a), which deals with the right to free speech and expression, and included the right to information in it. It stated that every citizen has the right to free speech and expression, which also includes the right to obtain and transmit information, as laid down in the case of Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India v. Cricket Association of Bengal (1995).

Apart from including the right to information within the ambit of Article 19(1)(a), the Supreme Court in Reliance Petrochemicals Ltd. v. Indian Express Newspapers Bombay Pvt. Ltd. (1988) stated that the right to information found its inception in the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution. 

The Right to Information Act came into force in 2005 and is one of the important pieces of legislation that entitles citizens to know about the functioning and working of their government. It also aims to curb the sinfulness of corruption and bring good governance and accountability to the working system of the government. The main focus of this legislation is to bring transparency to the decisions of the government in order to promote the welfare of society. This legislation is considered a great step in terms of bringing awareness amongst the citizens about the functioning and working of government. All the government bodies, institutions, and authorities fall within the ambit of this Act, and it is applicable to all of them. The provisions of the Act mandate that the government authorities follow the procedure laid down in the Act in order to provide information to a citizen who is applying for it. It also provides for the provisions of appeals and penalties.

Important provisions of Right to Information Act, 2005

The Act consists of 31 sections in six chapters, which include the interpretation clause, the right to information, the duties of public authorities, the establishment of central and state information commissions, their powers and functions, provisions regarding appeals and penalties, and lastly, the miscellaneous provisions.

Definitions

Some of the important definitions under the Act are as follows:

Information

Section 2(f) of the Act defines the term ‘information’ as any important material in any form, be it a record, memo, email, report, contract, book, etc. It also includes any data contained in electronic form and information that can be accessed by a public authority.

Public Authority

Section 2(h) defines the term ‘public authority’; it says that any authority or institution of government that has been established or formed under the constitution, by any law made by the Parliament, by any law made by the state legislature, or by any order passed by the appropriate government and also includes any body or institution financed or controlled by the government.

Record

Section 2(i) defines the term ‘record’ and it includes any document, file, manuscript, microfilm, microfiche, any reproduction of images, or any other material shown by the computer, etc.

Right to Information

Section 2(j) defines the term ‘right to information’ which means the information that is accessible to under this Act and held by or under the control of public authority. This includes the inspection of documents, records, works, notes, extracts, information in the form of video cassettes, diskettes, floppies, tapes, etc., or through any electronic mode. 

Right to information and obligations of public authorities

Section 3 of the Act provides citizens with the right to information. This provision is very important and provides citizens with the right to know about the functioning of their government. 

Section 4 deals with the obligations and duties of the public authority, which include the maintenance of records and ensuring that all records are properly made in the manner prescribed. It laid down a list of obligations that needed to be fulfilled by the public authorities. Basically, the government has a responsibility to maintain proper records in order to disclose accurate information. 

Request for obtaining information

Section 6 deals with the provision related to requests to obtain necessary information from the authority. Basically, it prescribes the manner in which a person can obtain the information by filing a request in writing or through the online mode. It further provides that the Central Public Information Commissioner or the State Public Information Officer will provide reasonable assistance to the person seeking information or requesting the same. 

Exemption from disclosure of information

Section 8 deals with certain exemptions for the disclosure of information, which include information that affects the sovereignty and integrity of the country, information that has been prohibited from being published, information regarding trade secrets, commercial deals, etc. It also exempts information that impedes the process of investigation or hinders the process of justice.

Central Information Commission

Sections 12, 13, and 14 deal with the constitution of the Central Information Commission, which includes the establishment of the Commission, the tenure and conditions of service of the Chief Information Commissioner, their salary and allowances, and the procedure regarding the removal of the Chief Information Commissioner or information commissioner. Removal can be done on the basis of provisions laid down in Section 14.

State Information Commission

Sections 15, 16, and 17 deal with the constitution of the State Information Commission, and other provisions regarding tenure, salary, allowances, and removal. The provisions related to the State Information Commission are similar to those of the Central Information Commission.

Powers and functions of the information commissions, appeals and penalties

Section 18 deals with the powers and functions of the information commissions. It includes the power to inquire into the complaints received from any person, the power to summon the person regarding the complaints received, the power to receive the evidence on an affidavit etc. 

Sections 19 and 20 deal with the provisions of appeal and penalties in cases of failure to provide the information to the citizens. Any person who is aggrieved by the decision of Central Public Information Commissioner or State Public Information Officer can appeal to the concerned officer who is senior in rank from that of the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer within thirty days from the expiry of receipt of such decision.

Recent amendments made to Right to Information Act, 2005

In 2013, an amendment was made to the definition of ‘public authorities’ and the political parties were removed from it.

The most recent amendment made to the Right to Information Act, 2005, was in 2019, which was related to the tenure of the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners. Earlier, the tenure was for 5 years, but now, after this amendment, the central government will notify people regarding the tenure of their offices. An amendment was also made regarding the salary and allowances of the Chief Information Commissioner, which will now be determined by the central government.

Lacunas and challenges in Right to Information Act, 2005

As the Act is designed to curb the menace of corruption and bring transparency within the system, it still lacks in some areas. 

  1. Proper records are not being maintained, and the procedure is quite poor. 
  2. The government sometimes shows a lack of support and does not actively publish the required information but makes up stories in order to avoid the disclosure of information. 
  3. Many frivolous or baseless RTI applications are also being filed by people in order to commit fraudulent activities with the government or with other institutions.
  4. Though the procedure for filing an RTI is not difficult but for poor and illiterate persons, it cannot be said to be an easy one, as it involves the request application for obtaining the information in a written manner or through the online mode. 

Girish Ramchandra Deshpande v. Central Information Commissioner (2012)

Facts of the case

In this case, the petitioner has filed an application before the Regional Provident Fund Commissioner, which comes under the Ministry of Labour, and asked for information about an officer working there. The information asked was regarding his salary details, disciplinary inquiries that had been initiated against him in the past, his income tax returns, etc. The request to obtain such information was denied by the Regional Provident Fund Commissioner office as well as by the Chief Information Commissioner as per the requirements of Section 8(1)(j) of the Right to Information Act, 2005. The said section of the Act exempts certain information that is personal and is a kind of information that has no relationship with or connectivity with the public interest. Aggrieved by this, the petitioner went to the High Court by filing a writ petition, wherein the single judge bench and later on the division bench also dismissed the petition and upheld the order of the Chief Information Commission. Lastly, the petitioner went to the Supreme Court by way of a special leave petition.

Issue before the court

Whether the Chief Information Commission was correct in rejecting the request for information about the respondent’s income tax return details and other details regarding his personal affairs as per Section 8(1)(j) of the Right to Information Act, 2005?

Judgement

The Supreme Court also upheld the decision of the Chief Information Commission and the High Court by stating that the information asked by the petitioner about the respondent comes within the ambit of ingredients laid down in Section 8(1)(j) and is deemed to be personal information of which the disclosure is not related to the public interest in any manner; hence, the release of such information would infringe the respondent’s right to privacy. 

Bihar Public Service Commission v. Saiyed Hussain Abbas Rizvi (2012)

Facts of the case

In this case, the appellant, the Bihar Public Service Commission, has released advertisements regarding some vacancies for the post of state examiner of questioned documents in the Police Laboratory in the Crime Investigation Department, Government of Bihar, Patna. Due to the limited number of applications, the appellant decided to select the candidates on the basis of an interview rather than conducting a written examination. The respondent, Saiyed Hussain Abbas Rizwi, filed an application before the Bihar Public Service Commission seeking information regarding the selected candidates, but received no reply from the commission. Later, the respondent filed the application before the State Information Commission, which directed the Public Information Officer to provide the information that had been requested by him. The Bihar Public Service Commission replied to most of the queries but then denied further information related to the personal information about the name and address of the candidates as per the provisions of Section 8(1)(g) under the Right to Information Act, 2005. This section states that the public authority is not bound to provide information about an individual that would lead to danger to his life and security. 

The respondent then approached the Patna High Court, wherein the single judge bench dismissed the petition filed by him. Further, the respondent challenged the order of the single judge bench before the division bench, which set aside the order of the single judge bench and ordered the appellant to provide the information sought by the respondent. The case then went to the Supreme Court.

Issues before the court

  • Whether it is the duty of the Commission to reveal the names of the candidates who have been selected for the interview?
  • Whether the Commission has the power to refuse the information on the grounds of exemptions laid down in Section 8 of the Right to Information Act, 2005?
  • Whether the Bihar Public Service Commission comes within the purview of ‘public authority’ given under Section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act?

Judgement

The Hon’ble Supreme Court stated that the Commission falls within the definition of public authority under Section 2(h), as the Commission was formulated under Article 315 of the Indian Constitution. The Supreme Court further stated that the appellant is not bound to furnish the information asked by the respondent as per Section 8(1)(g) of the Right to Information Act, 2005. The Supreme Court dismissed the order passed by the Division Bench of Patna High Court and stated that the revelation of information by the Commission would lead to damage to the security and safety of those individuals who were selected through an interview, and the exemption laid down in Section 8 allows the Commission to not disclose the said information. 

Saurav Das v. Union of India (2023)

Facts of the case

In this case, the petitioner, by way of a writ petition under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution, prayed for directions to states regarding the publication of chargesheets and final reports as per Section 173 of the CrPC on their websites in order to ensure transparency in the criminal justice system.

Issues before the court

The issues before the court were

  • Whether the charge sheets come within the definition of ‘public documents’ under Section 74 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872?
  • Whether the charge sheets fall under the ambit of Section 4(1) of the Right to Information Act, 2005?

Judgement

In this case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court, looking into the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973, and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, held that charge sheets do not fall within the definition of ‘public documents’ as per Section 74 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, and putting them in the public domain would disturb the provisions of the CrPC. Further, the Court stated that such disclosure would also violate the rights of both victims and accused persons.

Anjali Bhardwaj v. CPIO, Supreme Court of India (2022)

Facts of the case

In this case, the petitioner preferred an RTI application on 26-02-2019 before the Central Information Commissioner and asked for a copy of the resolution and decision taken in the collegium’s meeting dated 12.12.2018. The application was rejected by the concerned authorities by stating that the information falls within the subject matter of judicial proceedings. The petitioner filed a writ petition before the Single Judge in Delhi High Court, and the Court, in its judgement, stated that no final resolution has been drawn yet and dismissed the said writ. The said appeal then went to the Division Bench of the Delhi High Court.

Judgement

The Court held that there is no interference required in the decision of a learned single judge. The Delhi High Court held that only final directions and decisions will be made to the public that have been decided in the meeting. The minutes of the meeting are not required to be published on the website for public access.

At the international level, the right to information got so much recognition that, as of today, 124 countries have laws regarding information as a matter of right. The first country that recognised the right to access information was Sweden. Many renowned scholars, including Jack Rousseau, extensively discussed the significance of the right to information, particularly emphasising accountability and transparency within governmental operations. The right to information helps the citizens to get proper information about the workings of the government and also benefits the news reporters or journalists to use the information as a proper mode of spreading awareness and to help in bridging the gap between citizens and political decisions taken by the government. 

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights, 1948 and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 describes the freedom of expression, which also includes the right to obtain and receive information. 

Article 10 of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (2003) provides for the states to take appropriate steps in order to maintain openness or transparency within their working systems.

European Council

In 1981, during a meeting of the committee of ministers, a recommendation concerning the right to access information was adopted. The recommendation stipulated that every citizen within the jurisdiction of a member state should possess the right to seek, receive, and access the information.

Further, in a significant step, the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents (2009), also known as the Tromso Convention, came into force in December 2020. It is a specific convention regarding the right to access information that has been brought into force in order to bring accountability and transparency.

Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 10 deals with the right to access information that has been kept under the supervision of the state. Firstly, it needs to be considered for what purpose the information is required. Secondly, the role of the applicant or the information seeker in obtaining such information. Thirdly, to determine the nature of information, which means that the information must be sought for the purpose of public interest. The European Court of Human Rights (1959) in Magyar Bizottság v. Hungary (2016) stated the conditions that need to be fulfilled in order to apply Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. 

Finland

After Sweden, Finland became the second country in 1951 to adopt a law regarding the right to access information. The Constitution of Finland, in Article 12, provides for freedom of expression and also includes the citizens’ right to access information.

Denmark

Denmark also implemented the law regarding the right to information; the Act on Access of the public to documents in administrative files formulated an intelligible programme related to the access of information. The records or documents of the public authorities can be accessed by way of the Access to Public Administration Files Act, 1985.

South-American Countries

Many countries in South America also adopted legislation regarding the right to information, one after the other. Colombia became the first country in South America to adopt legislation regarding the right to information. Apart from Colombia, countries like Chile, Mexico, and Uruguay also implemented stricter laws on the right to access information. 

United States of America

After World War II, the US also implemented a law regarding the right to information. After the Watergate scandal, the law related to access to information became stricter in the US in 1966. In 1967, the Freedom of Information Act was passed, which has gone through several amendments later on. In the US, state governments have made different laws in order to maintain openness and accountability within the working system of the government.

Canada

The law relating to the right to information in Canada is the Access to Information Act, 1983, which provides the citizens of Canada with the right to ask for or request to obtain information about the public authorities or information regarding the functioning of government by way of this Act. This mandates that the information be given within 15 days of the request made by the information seeker. 

Asian countries

In 2002, Pakistan became the first Asian country to adopt  legislation regarding public access to information. 

Sri Lanka

The Sri Lankan government has passed the Right to Information Act (2016), which also formulated the Right to Information Commission in order to ensure that the procedure provided in the Act is followed properly. 

Nepal

Nepal has also implemented the Right to Information Act, 2007, which provides its citizens with the right to obtain information from any branch of government, be it legislative, executive, or judiciary. One lacuna that exists in the present Act is that it provides information to those who present a justified reason for it. 

Bhutan

Article 7 of the Constitution of Bhutan provides its citizens with the right to information as a fundamental right. The Bhutanese government also presented a bill in 2014 named the Right to Information Bill. The National Assembly of Bhutan passed the said bill on 5th February, 2014, and became the 100th nation to have a law on the right to information.

The implementation of the Right to Information Act, 2005, is considered as good legislation in order to protect democracy. Ever since it has come into force, it has provided the citizens with significant help in order to maintain transparency and accountability. It helps in fighting against corruption in bureaucracy and protecting those who work honestly.

With the recent amendments and emerging laws in separate fields of law, there is a great impact on the working of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

RTI and Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023

The enactment of the Digital Personal Data Protection Act 2023 (hereinafter referred to as the Data Act) has significant ramifications for the Right to Information Act, 2005. A conflict has arisen between the right to information, which has been enshrined under Article 19(1)(a), and Article 21. The Supreme Court, in its earlier verdicts, has mentioned ‘right to privacy’ within the ambit of Article 21 and added ‘right to information’ within the ambit of Article 19(1)(a), which is freedom of speech and expression. The amendments proposed in the Data Act are likely to hinder the process of the RTI Act on the grounds of protection of privacy in order to maintain transparency and accountability.

The Data Act seeks to restrict the scope of the Right to Information Act, 2005, by affecting the public right to access information. It provides the central government with discretionary powers by limiting the scope of the Right to Information Act, 2005. The Data Act seeks to amend Section 8(1)(j) of the Right to Information Act, 2005, in order to exclude all personal information by giving power to public officials even if the information impacts public interest, which means that government officials are exempt from disclosing information that is sought through RTI applications. 

There has been a lot of criticism over the implementation of the Data Act, as a lot of people have stated that soon the right to information will become the right to denial of information. 

With the recent amendments brought in the year 2019, it gives powers to the central government to fix the salaries and allowances of information commissioners, which basically allows the central government to decide upon the matters that have been dealt with by the information commissioners earlier. This move has been heavily criticised for undermining the independence of the Chief Information Commissions at both the state and central levels. 

RTI on PM-Cares Fund

A public interest litigation has been filed before the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in order to put the fund within the ambit of the Right to Information Act, 2005, after a request for information was made to the Prime Minister’s office, which was later denied on the ground that the information would be used in a misappropriate way in order to divert the funds of public authorities under Section 7(9) of the Act.

The Central Information Commission heavily criticised this move by the Prime Minister’s office on the denial of information regarding the Prime Minister’s Citizens Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Funds (PM-CARES Fund). The Delhi High Court set aside the direction of the Central Information Commission for seeking the disclosure of information regarding the PM-Cares Fund. The Court stated that the authority could have followed the procedure laid down under Section 11 of the Right to Information Act before ordering or directing the disclosure of information as sought by the applicant. 

Further, another Public interest litigation was also filed by the Centre for public interest litigation before the Hon’ble Supreme Court in order to direct the central government to disclose the funds collected through the PM-CARES fund during the COVID-19 pandemic. The petitioners contended that, as per the Disaster Management Act, 2005, the donations made by the public during pandemic times should be kept within the National Disaster Response Fund by way of Section 46 of the said Act. Putting them in the PM-CARES fund would disturb the functioning of the Disaster Management Act, 2005. They also stated that the reasons given by the Union government were not adequate. The Supreme Court, in its observation, stated that they did not find any merit in the said case and dismissed the prayer made by the petitioners. It stated that the emergencies covered under the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) are different from those of ‘public health emergencies’. It was also stated that the NDRF does not provide for provisions covering emergencies regarding biological needs. The PM-Cares fund is a public charitable fund and not a statutorily created fund that needs to be audited by the Comptroller auditor general. The Hon’ble Court lastly stated that it is not correct for the petitioner to question the financial or monetary decisions taken by the Central government, especially when they are taken in the interest of the public.

Electoral Bonds and Right to Information

The electoral bond scheme was implemented in 2018 in order to make donations to political parties, wherein the bonds were issued with no maximum limit. The State Bank of India (SBI) was enabled to issue such bonds. As per this scheme, individuals and corporations can buy the financial instruments from the SBI and donate them to any political party.

As per the Association for Democratic Reforms, a total of 12,145.87 crores have been received by the political parties.

The scheme was challenged by two NGOs, namely the Association for Democratic Reforms and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), before the Hon’ble Supreme Court. The petitioners contended that the electoral bond scheme is unconstitutional, threatens the democratic process, is anonymous, and is violative of voters’ right to information. The Supreme Court in Association for Democratic Reforms v. Union of India (2024) recently delivered its verdict regarding the electoral bonds scheme and held it unconstitutional and violative of ‘right to information’ enshrined under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. The Court also put a ban on the sale of such electoral bonds with immediate effect. Also, the State Bank of India is directed to show all the details regarding the electoral bonds that have been purchased by the political parties till now.

In a nutshell, it can be stated that the right to information is an essential fundamental right that helps the citizens of a country to receive information related to their government and inform them about their right to know. It is an important subject in order to keep a check on the persons who are sitting in such positions to prevent them from misusing public property for their own convenience. The right to access information helps in maintaining openness and accountability towards citizens. Nowadays, almost every country in the world has implemented laws regarding public access to information in order to make their citizens aware of the workings and functioning of the government. This right has been used widely by the media as well in order to expose corruption at different levels. It helps the government achieve its goal in order to promote the welfare of citizens and ensure good governance. Also, the Act provides for citizen-friendly provisions to make sure that the citizens can exercise their right to know and to get adequate information properly without any incovenience. However, information that can affect the national integrity or sovereignty of the country is exempt from being available to the citizens of the country, but that is also necessary in order to protect against spreading any kind of misinformation or information that can pose a threat to democracy. However, it is considered one of the good legislations which helps in the betterment of the public and in maintaining good relations between the government and the citizens of the country. 

How does RTI help in fighting against corruption and promoting good governance?

The main objective of the Right to Information Act, 2005, is to promote transparency within the working system of government and to make citizens aware of the decisions taken by the government about how their funds have been used in promoting the general welfare of the public. This legislation is considered as a significant piece of legislation in fighting against the menace of corruption by promoting openness and accountability in the functioning of the government.

Whether the information sought includes “any kind of information” or whether there are certain exemptions regarding that in the Act?

No, the information sought must meet the requirements laid down in Section 8 of the Right to Information Act, 2005. The word information does not include ‘any’ or ‘every’ kind of information, but there are certain exemptions to it. Section 8 states the exemptions for the disclosure of information that is not required to be disclosed, and it includes information that affects the sovereignty and integrity of the country, information that has been prohibited from being published, information regarding trade secrets, commercial deals, etc. 

What is the scope of the right to information in foreign countries?

Around 124 countries have implemented laws regarding the right to information in order to maintain accountability and transparency in the functioning of government procedures. The first country to implement a law regarding this was Sweden in 1776. Other countries that have implemented the law regarding the right to information after Sweden were Denmark, Finland, Canada, the United States of America, etc.