Role of Right to Information Act, 2005 in Institutionalizing Transparency in Indian Governance

The Author is Dipali Singh who is pursuing law from School of Law, FIMT Affiliated to Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi.

“Where a society has chosen to accept democracy as its creedal faith, it is elementary that the citizens ought to know what their government is doing.”  -Justice P N Bhagwati

Transparency is the sine qua non of participatory democracy. Free flow of information is essential for the health of democratic society. The Right to Information Act, 2005 came as a march which broke the unrevealed silence. Transparency involves ready access to reliable, comprehensive, timely, understandable, and internationally comparable information on government activities and accountability encapsulates three main elements; answerability- the need for justification of actions; enforcement- the sanction that could be imposed if the action is found to be unsatisfactory; and responsiveness - the ability of those held accountable to respond to the demands made.
The Right to Information Act, 2005
In India, till 2005, the citizens had no access to any information which was dealt by a Public Authority. The promulgation of Right to Information Act (2005) set the stage for the transparency in the functioning of the government and its various agencies. Under this Act, access to information from a public agency has become a statutory right of every citizen. In its enactment, it had been argued that the system of government in India is so opaque that ordinary citizens do not have much information about how decisions are made and how public resources are utilized. In effect, RTI Act is a vehicle for greater transparency about the manner of functioning of public agencies.
What constitutes ‘Information’?
Section 2(f) of RTI Act defines “information” as any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advice, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force;
What is ‘Right to Information’?
So as per Section 2(j) “right to information” means the right to information accessible under this Act which is held by or under the control of any public authority and includes the right to—
(i) inspection of work, documents, records;
(ii) taking notes, extracts, or certified copies of documents or records;
(iii) Taking certified samples of material;
(iv) Obtaining information in the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts where such information is stored in a computer or in any other device;
Section 2(h) of the RTI Act defines “public authority” as any authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted, —
(a) By or under the Constitution;
(b) By any other law made by Parliament;
(c) By any other law made by State Legislature;
(d) By notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government, and includes any—
(i) Body owned, controlled or substantially financed;
(ii) Non-Government Organization substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government;
Apart from public authority, one may also access information of any private entity, subject to the condition that the public authority may be legally entitled to access such information sought by you under any existing law.
Exemption from disclosure of information: 
Exemptions against furnishing information under the RTI Act have been provided under Section 8(1) and Section 9 of the Act. Unless the public authority is able to demonstrate that information sought for falls under any of the exempted categories of information, it would be bound to provide the information and that reasons for rejection of requests for information must also be clearly provided. Section 8 (1) of the RTI Act being a non-obstante provision, over-rides other provisions of the RTI Act.
Right to Information as a Fundamental Right:
The landmark case in freedom of the press in India was Bennett Coleman and Co. v. Union of India[1], where the right to information was held to be included within the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Art. 19 (1) (a).
The Court explicitly stated that it is not in the interest of the public to ‘cover with a veil of secrecy the common routine business - the responsibility of officials to explain and to justify their acts is the chief safeguard against oppression and corruption.[2]
The Hub of Transparency-
There are two separate bodies to hear complaint and appeals under the RTI Act, 2005. For central level there will be Central Information Commission (CIC) and State Information Commission (SIC). CIC will deal with the matter pertaining to central level public authorities and SIC state level public authorities.

Dr Manmohan Singh opined “There is a fine balance required to be maintained between the right to information and the right to privacy, which stems out of the fundamental right to life and liberty. The citizens' right to know should definitely be circumscribed if disclosure of information encroaches upon someone's personal privacy. But where to draw the line is a complicated question,"
According to Section 8(1)(j) of the Right to Information Act, 2005, information which has been exempted from disclosure at the instance of a citizen of this country is defined as; “information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies disclosure of such information.” privacy law and right to information law are like two sides of the same coin – acting as complementary rights that encourage individual’s right to protect them and to promote government accountability. The conflict between these two rights needs to be reconciled and harmonized .

Though the RTI is a remarkable piece of legislation yet it has issues and challenges in its execution and implementation. To ensure accountability the RTI shall target mismanagement, abuse of discretion, corruption and other administrative malpractices. One can see Right to Information as the key to strengthen participatory democracy and promoting people-centric governance. Downtrodden sections of the society can be empowered by giving them access to information so that they can demand their welfare and actually bring into operation the numerous beneficial schemes of the government, which due to lack of administrative intent to bring them in action mostly remain on paper.

[1] AIR 1973 SC 106
[2] Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain