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Right to Information: India



After a long protracted battle India finally saw the passage of the Freedom of Information Act 2002 (FOI Act). The Act was passed in December 2002 and received the Presidential assent in January 2003. This legislation will be uniformly applicable all over the country. However, it is not yet operational since the Rules for this Act have not been formulated so far.

But even before the Central FOI Act was passed some of the States introduced their own right to information legislation. The first amongst these was Tamil Nadu (1997) which was followed by Goa (1997), Rajasthan (2000), Karnataka (2000), Delhi (2001), Maharashtra (2002), Assam (2002), Madhya Pradesh (2003) and Jammu & Kashmir (2004). Of these Madhya Pradesh had taken steps to enact a law on this subject as early as 1997 but failed due to lack of consent by the Centre and Maharashtra repealed its earlier RTI Act of 2000 to bring out a stronger one in 2002.

The importance and the need of the law cannot be overemphasised or undermined. The legal basis of this right could be traced to the Constitution of India where right to information is a fundamental right. While the Indian Constitution does not explicitly provide for this, the Supreme Court has through its various judgments interpreted this right to be flowing from Article 19 (1) (a) which states that "all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression". This means that the people have the right to talk about things freely, the right to express oneself freely whether by writing, speaking, drawing, painting, broadcasting, singing and so on. This right also includes the right to express an opinion on anything. The right to free speech and expression includes the right to know, because unless we know about something we cannot express anything about it or protest against it. Right to information is also seen to flow from Article 21 of right to life and liberty that means that one has a right to all those things by which one's life is protected and one can live a life of dignity. This also includes the right to know about things which affect our lives closely.

There are however no set procedures or systems for getting information. That is why we need a law which lays down procedures which enable both the government functionaries to discharge their duty to give information easily as well as enable citizens to get information without running from pillar to post.

The main objectives of a law on right to information is to operationalise the fundamental right to information; to set up systems and mechanisms that facilitate peoples' easy access to information; to promote transparency and accountability in governance; to minimise corruption and inefficiency in public offices and to enable people's participation in governance and that a piece meal legislation does not work - a comprehensive law required.

The right to information in India is restricted by the Official Secrets Act which is a colonial hangover from the past. A colonial culture of secrecy has permeated every government structure that severely encroaches upon our right to be informed and to get information from the government departments. Adding to the woes is the Indian Evidence Act and the civil services Code of Conduct Rules etc.

Under such prevailing scenario, it is heartening to know that eight states in India have passed right to information law to streamline rules and procedures for the people to access information from the government departments. It will pave the way for more transparency and accountability in our corroded institutions and instil faith in our democracy in the long run.

Click here to view the Comparative Table on the Right to Information Legislations in India. Click here to view the Comparative Table of Exemption Clauses in Indian RTI Laws.

The Central and State right to information Acts are given below in order of sequence:
1. Assam Right to Information Act (2002)
2. Code Of Practice On Access To Information, Government Of Uttar Pradesh
3. Delhi Right to Information Act (2001)
4. Freedom of Information Act (2002) (Central Act)
Goa Right to Information Act (1997)
6. Jammu & Kashmir Right to Information Act (2004)
. Karnataka Right to Information Act (2000)
8. Madhya Pradesh Jankari Ki Swatantrata Adhiniyam (2002)
9. Maharashtra Right to Information Act (2003)
10. Rajasthan Right to Information Act (2000)
11. Tamil Nadu Right To Information Act (1997)