The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI) is a law enacted by the Parliament of India “to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens.” The Act applies to all States and Union Territories of India, except the State of Jammu and Kashmir – which is covered under a State-level law. Under the provisions of the Act, any citizen (excluding the citizens within J&K) may request information from a “public authority” (a body of Government or “instrumentality of State”) which is required to reply expeditiously or within thirty days. The Act also requires every public authority to computerize their records for wide dissemination and to proactively publish certain categories of information so that the citizens need minimum recourse to request for information formally. This law was passed by Parliament on 15 June 2005 and came fully into force on 13 October 2005. Information disclosure in India was hitherto restricted by the Official Secrets Act 1923 and various other special laws, which the new RTI Act now relaxes.
Right to information under constitution and its exception
The right to information movement in India began with the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) movement to bring in transparency in village accounts through the demand for minimum wages in rural India. False entries in wage rolls were a sign of increasing corruption in the system, which encouraged MKSS to demand official information recorded in government files.
The constitution of India does not clearly provide Right to information. However, the Apex court of the country held in several cases that Right to information is concern with the Article 19 (1)(a) and Article 21 of the Indian constitution which states freedom of expression and speech and Right to life and personal liberty respectively. In other words we can say that it (Right to information) protect the very purpose of the such Articles. Article 19 and Article 21 comes under part 3 of the constitution which is the fundamental Rights of Indian constitution. In this way we can say that Right to Information might be considered as fundamental right of the constitution.
Article 19 of the Constitution of India talks about rights and in Art.19 (1) (a) we have the Freedom of Speech. This Freedom not only extends to the right of expressing the views freely but also the right to know. This right to know also has some limitations to it, for say, information of national security or any other matter which would affect the nation’s integrity. But if contains information for example related to sanitation then it is not a matter of national security and the public has the right to know why such information is with held.
Citizens have a right to know about government affairs. But the right is not absolute; secrecy can be legitimately claimed in respect of transactions with repercussion on public security. In other words, the information which is not in the interest of the public or country cannot be disclosed at any circumstances. Sec.8 of the Right to information Act, 2005 is concerns with the same. In the case of Prabha dutt v. Union of India, the Apex court ordered the superintendent of the Tihar jail to allow the representatives of a few news paper to interview two death sentence culprit under Article 19 (1)(a) though with the observation that the right under Article 19(1)(a) “is not an absolute right, nor indeed does it confer any right on the press to have an unrestricted access to means of information’’. This position has been reiterated in subsequent cases. The right to information was regularly recognized by the court in a number of cases as it is concern with freedom of speech and expression in Article 19(1)(a) until finally it was incorporated in the right to information Act, 2005 and give ultimate mechanism for its utilization.
Right to information Act, 2005 and its exception
The right to information bill was passed by Lok Sabah on 11th may 2005 and by Raj Sabah on 12th may 2005 and took the assent of president on 15th June 2005. It has come as statue book Right to Information Act, 2005 (22 of 2005). It was enacted to provide transparency and accountability of the sovereign authority to the people. Under this Act an individual can make an application to get the information from the public authority. It aids to check the working system of the government. In the democracy of India, where its citizens play a very crucial role, it is very necessary to provide them adequacy, transparency and accountability of the government. Now the question arises is that, is the individual has the right to get any information from public authority? Article 19 (1)(a) (which is a fundamental right) implicit or concern with the right to information but Article 19 (2) of the constitution also states that if the disclosed information affects the integrity or security of the country then government can impose restriction on such sub clause. In other word, a citizen can get the information to the extent which does not affect the secrecy and dignity of the country. So right to information is not an absolute right. Section 8 of the Right to Information Act concerned with the exemption from disclosure of information. It states that any information which affect country’s integrity, security, strategic, scientific economic interest of the state which lead to incitement of an offence and contempt of the court of law, breach of privilege of parliament and state legislature, information regarding trade secret; the disclosure of which would harm the competitive of third party, information received in confidence with foreign government, information related to personal life of individual which has not related to any public interest or activity shall not any obligation to the public authority to be disclosed. Because of such exception it is said that Right to information does not provide absolute right.
Ambiguity and Obstacles
Right to information has also ambiguity. Section 22 of the Right to Information Act 2005 provides that it is to have overriding effect over inconsistent legislation or rules. The Official Secrets Act, 1923, a legacy of British rule in India, contains several provisions prohibiting the flow of information from the Government to ordinary people. It was enacted to protect against spying, but its provisions are far-reaching. They serve not only to restrict access to information, but also to punish the disclosure of certain sorts of information, by any person. Sections 123 and 124 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 also impose unnecessary restrictions on making available official information as evidence. The Act is designed as per the state level also. Different states have different rules which create the ambiguity.
Right to information had provided an awesome right to the citizen of India. But still there is not sufficient awareness of the people among their rights. On the other hand the fee structure is also not so favorable. It creates obstacle to achieve the very purpose of the Act or fundamental right