A Democracy is popularly defined as a Government of the people, by the people
and for the people. This was the definition given by Abraham Lincoln, former
President of the United States of America, in one of his speeches. This
definition points to a form of Government where people select who will represent
them and these representatives must work for the welfare of the people. When
people themselves have such a big role to play in the functioning of the
Government, it should be well known that they have a right to know about the
affairs of the Government, and secrets should not be kept from the people,
This Right to know helps to keep a check on the Government and
ensures the absence of any maladministration. If this Right to Know is taken
away from the people, it would be a direct form of disempowerment. Thus, the
Right to Information is extremely important for the proper functioning of a
democracy and this has even been appreciated by the Courts in India.
Right To Information Under Constitutional Law
The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India through various judgments has interpreted the
right to freedom of speech and expression as given under Article 19(1)(a) of the
Constitution of India to include the right to form and express opinions as
well. One such case is that of Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Pvt. Ltd v.
Union of India, where it was held that the ability to form opinions and
communicate them freely is the basic purpose of the right to freedom of speech
It is only a matter of common sense to say that the formation of a valid opinion
is based on some information. This would mean that, for an opinion to be formed
about the Government or any of its actions, proper information must be provided
about the same. Justice Mathew, in the landmark judgment of State of U.P v. Raj
Narain, held that in a democracy, all agents of the public are responsible
for their conduct, and there can’t be too many secrets.
It was held that the
people have a right to know everything about any public act, done through any of
its functionaries. This right is derived out of the right to freedom of speech
and expression and only that information can be a secret which may pose a threat
to public security. Even after this judgment, the legislature failed to enact a
legislation giving force to the same.
After the judgment delivered in the above case, the Right to Information was
upheld in a plethora of judgments delivered by the apex court. In S.P. Gupta v.
Union of India, known better as the Judges Transfer Case, it was held that
disclosure of information about appointment of judges had to be done in order to
respect the Right to Information implicit in the right to freedom of speech and
The Apex Court in Union of India v. Association for Democratic Reforms, it
was held that voters had the right to know about the criminal background of any
candidate, as this is essential to free and fair elections.
Further, in the case of Essar Oil Ltd v. Halar Utkarsh Samiti, a PIL filed
in order to obtain information about the basis of permission granted for a
pipeline being constructed through a wildlife sanctuary, it was held that the
Right to Information was also implicit in the Right to Life and Personal Liberty
as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. This is
because, a secret government decision could greatly affect the lives and
livelihood of the people.
Thus, it is clear that the Courts advocate the right to information, and
continued to do so for a very long time, even without a legislation describing
the terms of such a right.
The Right To Information Act, 2005
The preamble of the Act states that the very purpose of the Act is to promote
transparency and accountability in the functioning of the democratic Government,
by providing the citizens the right to secure access to information about the
functioning of public authorities, and establishment of Central and State
Information Commissions for the same.
Section 4 of the Act provides that it is the duty of public authorities to
maintain records of its functioning and make it easily accessible to the people.
Section 6 and 7 give out the procedure to obtain such information.
Section 8 of the Act gives out the information exempt from the provisions of
the Act. This is where interpretation of the statute plays a big role. These
exemptions are subject to the public interest test.
In CBSE v. Aditya Bandopadhyay, the main issue before the court related to
right to evaluate answer books after giving a public examination. CBSE contended
that this was not required in fiduciary relationship as under Section 8(1)(e) of
the Act. It was held that corrected answer sheets must be provided under RTI.
In the case of RK Jain v. Union of India, the information requested was
inspection of adverse confidential remarks against ‘integrity’ of a member of
tribunal and follow-up actions taken on issue of integrity. The exemption was
claimed on the basis of Section 8(1)(j).
The Court interpreted Section 11 of the Act as an exemption to give information
when it is considered confidential by a third party, while it only gives the
procedure to inform the third party before giving out such information. This may
be possible even if the third party denies it, if the information pertains to
larger public interest.
Thus, various loopholes have been found in RTI Act, 2005 that may be exploited
and misused. Interpretation of the Statute plays a very big role here, as this
legislation directly related to a fundamental right guaranteed by the
Constitution of India.
 Article 19(1)(a), the Constitution of India
Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Pvt. Ltd v. Union of India, (1985) 1 SCC
 State of U.P v. Raj Narain, AIR 1975 SC 865
 S.P. Gupta v. Union of India, AIR 1982 SC 149
 Union of India v. Association for Democratic Reforms, AIR 2002 SC 2112
 Essar Oil Ltd v. Halar Utkarsh Samiti, AIR 2004 SC 1834
 Article 21, the Constitution of India
 Section 4, Right to Information Act, 2005
 Section 6, Right to Information Act, 2005
 Section 7, Right to Information Act, 2005
 Section 8, Right to Information Act, 2005
 CBSE v. Aditya Bandopadhyay, (2011) 8 SCC 497
 RK Jain v. Union of India, (2013) 10 SC 430