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Right to Information: India



The Constitution of India does not explicitly grant a right to information. However, the Supreme Court of India (the country's highest court) has held in several cases that the right to information is implicit in the constitutionally enshrined rights to freedom of speech and expression (Article 19 (1)(a) and right to life and liberty (Article 21).

The first Supreme Court ruling on the right to information dates back to 1975. However, no attempt was made by either the Central or the State Governments to implement a simple and effective access to information regime until after the launching of campaigns for freedom of information by civil society. (Notably, effective right to information legislation is important even where a constitutional right exists because it ensures that people do not have to go to court every time they want to exercise the right, and puts in place simple, clear and regular procedures which can be easily utilised by all.)

The first and most well-known right to information movement in India was the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), which began its right to information work in Rajasthan during the early 1990s. MKSS's struggle for access to village accounts and transparency in administration is widely credited with having sparked off the right to information movement across India.

From the mid-1990s, a national campaign for the enactment of a central law on right to information gained momentum. After much struggle, the Central Government enacted the Indian Freedom of Information Act in 2002. The Act represents an important step towards actualising the Right to Information, but has been criticised for not going far enough. More problematically, the Act is yet to come into force, since the rules to implement the Act are yet to be formulated by the Central Government.

While the campaign for national legislation was going on, in the meantime some significant breakthroughs were achieved at the State-level. Tamil Nadu was the first State to enact a right to information law, in 1997, followed by Goa in the same year. To date, seven other States have passed legislation - Rajasthan (2000), Karnataka (2000), Delhi (2001), Maharashtra (2002), Assam (2002), Madhya Pradesh (2003) and Jammu and Kashmir (2003). Campaign efforts in other States have also had some success - Uttar Pradesh framed an executive code on access to information in 2000 and draft bills have now been prepared by the Governments of Kerala and Orissa.

As one of the leading campaigners for the right to information, CHRI has sought to generate awareness on this issue, support civil society campaigns and provide input into the law making process, drawing on our knowledge of international best practice. CHRI's advocacy has included the making of policy submissions, articles in the media and training and workshops. CHRI has also published several booklets, fliers, brochures and posters.


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