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Right to Information: India


History and Background

The campaign for right to information in India has its genesis in Rajasthan led by the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan. MKSS's struggle and its success made the issue more public at the national level. After that, numerous groups and individuals have taken up the issue and have led a campaign for this right both at the national and state levels. They have campaigned not only for this right to be guaranteed in legislation, but also for the practical implementation of the right at the grassroots level.

Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan

The first major step forward in the history of the freedom of information movement in India was spearheaded by Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) in Rajasthan that forced the state government to pass the right to information Act in 1997. The MKSS, led by Aruna Roy, was a people's movement that began at the grassroots but reverberations were felt across the whole country. It was a movement by peasants and workers that demanded social audit of accounts in the villages and thereby exposed the corruption at the lower levels of administration. Their campaign for right to information has been effectively linked to the livelihood issues of the rural person and is deeply rooted in the struggles and concerns of survival and justice of the most disadvantaged rural people. MKSS's demand for right to information arose from the demand to get minimum wages and check rampant corruption by inspection of muster rolls and bill vouchers. They employed a direct technique to fight for the right to information, namely, the use of jan sunwais or public hearings.

National Campaign on People's Right to Information

The success of MKSS had its impact all over India and at all sections of the society. The MKSS advocacy gave rise to a National Campaign on People's Right to Information (NCPRI), which was formed as a support group for the MKSS and to do advocacy on right to information at a national level. Although as a group it has not been highly active or aggressive, the presence of senior and respected media persons, serving and retired bureaucrats and members of the bar and judiciary in the committee make it an important nodal body. Constituted in 1996 in New Delhi, its main objectives are to provide active support to grassroots struggles for right to information; assistance in critical review of rules and executive instructions for the right to information, capacity building and support to citizens' groups to exercise the right to information; and demystification of government programmes, laws and policies including technical documents in order to make them comprehensible to people.


There have also been smaller groups and movements struggling for various causes who have invoked the Right to Information in their campaign. Recently in the heart of India's capital, Parivartan, a non government Delhi-based organisation has launched a campaign to promote transparency in the public distribution system in Sundernagri, a resettlement colony in East Delhi. Parivartan is a group of citizens who are extremely disturbed with the present levels of corruption and an absolute absence of governance in the country and are working towards altering this situation. It consists of people from all walks of life including lawyers, journalists, artists, doctors, government servants etc.

The Association for Democratic Reforms

The Association for Democratic Reforms based in Ahmedabad in Gujarat seeks to bring transparency in elections and makes an attempt to cleanse the electoral system. In a run up to the Gujarat polls in 2002, this group launched an Election Watch Experiment wherein its members collected and gave wide publicity to the background of candidates collected from affidavits filed under "The Representation of the People Act Amendment ordinance" which was in force at that time. The organisation is responsible for the court cases which resulted in the voter's right to know being declared a fundamental right by the Supreme Court. The latest judgement of the apex court makes it mandatory for every candidate to file five affidavits at the time of filing nominations. Taking cue from the success of the experiment in Gujarat, Delhi Election Watch, a coalition of concerned citizens and civil society groups is conducting a similar exercise aimed at informing the largest number of people on the Supreme Court judgment about the voters' fundamental right to know who they are voting for; persuading political parties through public pressure not to field candidates with criminal backgrounds; and getting people who do not normally vote, to cast their votes; and cast them wisely and well. This is keeping in mind the elections in Delhi in December 2003.

Anna Hazare

The struggle of Anna Hazare, a Gandhian from Ralegaon Siddhi village, 85 kms from Pune in Maharashtra, who gave a clarion call to root out corruption is no less significant. The Maharashtra Government had taken steps to introduce their own RTI Act in 2000 but repealed it in favour of a more powerful Right to Information Ordinance in September 2002 due to growing pressure by the civil society groups. Since the Ordinance was going to lapse, the Maharashtra Government made efforts to convert it into an Act but even after its passage by both the houses of the assembly the Act was lying with the Centre for consideration. Amongst Shri Anna's list of demands from the Maharashtra Government was the immediate passage of this Right to Information law and action against officials for serious charges of corruption. He went on a fast unto death till his demands were met. His main aim is to bring transparency in the governing structure. He was able to stop his fast when the Central Government finally took notice of his demand and the President gave his consent to the Maharashtra RTI Act in August 2003.

Public Affairs Centre

The Public Affairs Centre (PAC), Bangalore, is dedicated to the cause of improving the quality of governance in India. PAC and CHRI together launched an 'Implemenation Audit' to test the working of the Karnataka Right to Information Act. For more information on this please click here.

For Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative's Campaign on Right to Information, go to the workshop page.