BY Ms. HARINIYADAV. D
“The right to know is the right to live”
- Aruna Roy
The right to know is one of the implied fundamental rights granted to every citizen. Every democratic government has an obligation to inform its citizens about their operations. This right is not merely restricted to governmental projects, but also includes voter’s right to know about the candidates in an election. The evolution of this right has resulted in the development of a prominent piece of legislation – Right to Information Act, 2005. Therefore, this right has been consistently declared as an integral part of Article 19 and 21 of the Constitution.
A bare perusal of the Indian Constitution would provide that the right to know is not explicitly furnished under Part III of the Constitution (Fundamental rights). However, the judiciary has broadened its scope in various judgments. The first landmark case to incorporate the “right to information” as a part of Article 19 was State of U.P. Vs. Raj Narain.[i] The Court held that “In a government of responsibility like ours, where all the agents of the public must be responsible for their conduct, there can 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 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 repercussion on public security.”[ii] Later, the Supreme Court in S.P Gupta vs Union of India,[iii] also reiterated the position of the right to information. It was stated that “The concept of an open government is the direct emanation from the right to know which seems to be implicit in the right of free speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a)”.[iv]Subsequently, in Dinesh Trivedi vs. Union of India,[v] this Court was confronted with the issue whether background papers and investigatory reports which were fundamental in formulating governmental policies could be compelled to be made public. The following observations were made by Ahmadi, C.J.:--"In modern Constitutional democracies, it is axiomatic that citizens have a right to know about the affairs of the Government which, having been elected by them, seeks to formulate sound policies of governance aimed at their welfare. However, like all other rights, even this right has recognized limitations; it is, by no means, absolute."[vi] Therefore, a bare reading of all the judgments would provide that the right to Information is an integral facet of freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India,1950. However, all the above-mentioned judgments precisely specified that the right to Information is not absolute in nature and is subjected to certain limitations as provided under Article 19(2) of the Constitution. Hence, the right to Information Act, 2005 was promulgated in furtherance of the same, which also accommodates certain limitations.
3.ORIGIN OF THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT, 2005
This Act was passed to establish an accountable and a transparent regime in the working of the public authorities. It recognises that the democracy requires an informed citizenry and further aims to contain corruption.[vii] Section 6 of the Act, stipulates that any person can request for any information maintained by the public authorities subject to exceptions under Section 8. In pursuance to the Section 7, the request must be disposed within the period of thirty days. In the event of any requested information, concerns the life or liberty of a person, the same shall be provided within forty-eight hours of the receipt of the request. Further, if the Information officer is not able to furnish the requested information, then the fees procured from the person will be refunded. Another prominent feature is that the Information Officer must provide the reasons for rejecting the request. It is also pertinent to note that the persons, whose requests were rejected, can prefer an appeal. The first appeal lies to such officers who are senior in rank to the Central or State Public Information Officer. The first appeal must be filed within thirty days from the receipt of such a decision. The second appeal lies with the Central or State Information Commission.[viii] The second appeal must be filed within ninety days from the date on which the decision should have been made or was actually received. At this juncture, it is important to note that the Central or State Information Commission has the requisite authority to impose penalties on its officers, who have indulged in refusing an application for information, without any reasonable cause or has not furnished information within the specified time period or malafidely denied the request for information or knowingly given incorrect, incomplete or misleading information or destroyed information which was the subject of the request or obstructed in any manner in furnishing the information. Therefore, a perusal of the Right to Information Act, would help us understand that both Central and State Government have been involved in contributing a transparent regime.
The right to know is considered as one of the most important fundamental rights in modern times, owing due to the rise in corruption and the minuscule loopholes in the present system. The scope of this right has been constantly broadened by the judiciary in plethora of cases and has subsequently paved the way for the passing of Right to Information Act in 2005. This Act, not only specifies the nature of the accessible information, but also furnishes appeals for the rejection of the request and also imposes penalties on the officers for their misconduct. Therefore, this Act has cultivated vigilance in the legislative and executive authorities and has reinstated the legitimate expectations of every citizen.
[i] State of U.P. Vs. Raj Narain, (1975) 4 S.CC.. 428(India). [ii] Ibid. [iii] S.P Gupta vs Union of India, A.I.R. 1982 S.C. 149(India). [iv] Ibid [v] Dinesh Trivedi Vs. Union of India, (1997) 4 S.C.C. 306 (India). [vi] Ibid. [vii] Preamble. Right to Information Act, 2005 , No. 22, Act of the Parliament, 2005. [viii] Section 19 ,Ibid,