THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT 2005 AND ITS ROLE IN DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE

1. Introduction : The free flow of information is essential for a democratic society to thrive and maintain constant debate and discussion among its citizens. No democratic government can exist without accountability, and the basic premise of accountability is that the public should be informed about how the government operates. Gone are the days when public interactions were kept strictly confidential, a practice that frequently resulted in corruption, misappropriation, and abuse of statutory and administrative power. Freedom of information encourages openness in government, which helps to promote transparency, hold the government more responsible, and eventually minimize corruption. The public must have access to information about government activities as a rule, with secrecy being the exception. The Right to Information Act of 2005 was passed to make the government more open and accountable in the long run and to decrease corruption. In a responsible administration like ours, where all public officials must be held accountable for their acts, there can be no secrets. Until today, citizens have had no way to influence the political system. The Right to Information has shown promise in enabling citizens to demand accountability and serve as enforcers of good governance in a system rife with corruption and increasingly insensitive to the plight of the poor. 2. Right to Information Act, 2005, its objective and features : Valid and reliable data is critical for monitoring government and authority administrative actions, and making data available to the general public promotes transparency and accountability. Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution recognizes the right to information as one of the most essential human rights. Individuals must have access to relevant knowledge about government and administrative policies and activities to live a decent life. The "Right to Information Act, 2005," which replaced the "Freedom of Information Act, 2002," came into effect on October 12, 2005. This is a pioneering law that allows individuals to acquire any information from public authorities and to monitor the actions and functioning of government entities. The RTI Act of 2005 defines the right to information as "the right to information held by or under the control of any public authority that is accessible under this Act." The RTI Act's ultimate aim is to make government agencies more open and responsible, and it legally compels administrative entities to ensure that citizens have access to information. It promotes democratic governance by allowing individuals to observe how the government and its officials operate, increasing citizen participation in policymaking. It also avoids corruption and ensures that citizens are well-informed on the activities of the government and agencies. The following are some of the features of the 2005 Right to Information Act: Section 2(f) of the RTI Act, 2005 defines "information" as "any material in any form, including records, papers, notes, e-mails, views, recommendations, press releases, circulars, orders, and logbooks." Contracts, reports, documents, samples, models, data material in any electronic form, and anything belonging to any private entity that can be accessible by a public authority under any other legislation in force at the time. According to Section 4 of the RTI Act of 2005, public authorities must keep records in a regulated form and computerize them within a reasonable time frame. Section 5 of the RTI Act, 2005 specifies that "central public information officers" or "state public officers," as the case may be, should be designated in all administrative units or offices under it as may be essential to give information to anyone requesting information under the Act. Section 7 of the RTI Act, 2005 stipulates that the request shall be handled within thirty days and that it should be handled within 48 hours if the information sought affects a person's life or liberty. Sections 8(1) and 9 of the RTI Act offer exemptions from providing information under the Act. Unless the public authority can show that the requested information comes under one of the exempted categories of information, it is required to furnish it, and grounds for denial of requests for information must be properly stated. The non-obstante requirement of Section 8 (1) of the RTI Act supersedes all other provisions of the RTI Act. Sections 12 and 15 of the RTI Act of 2005 refer to the establishment of a "central information commission" and a "state information commission," respectively. 3. Right to Information as a Fundamental Right: The right to information, derived from Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, is now a well-established basic right. The Supreme Court has regularly decided in favor of citizens' right to know throughout the years. In various instances, the Supreme Court has explored the nature of this privilege and the constraints that apply to it: The development of the right to information as a part of the country's Constitutional Law began with press petitions to the Supreme Court seeking enforcement of certain logistical implications of the right to freedom of speech and expression, such as challenging government orders for newsprint control, bans on the distribution of papers, and so on. The notion of the public's right to know developed as a result of these cases. Bennett Coleman and Co. v. Union of India, a landmark decision in Indian press freedom, found that the right to information was included within the right to freedom of speech and expression provided by Art. 19 (1). (a). The Supreme Court specifically declared in Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain that it is not in the public interest to "cover with a veil of secrecy the usual everyday business - the obligation of officials to explain and defend their activities is the fundamental protection against oppression and corruption." The right of the people to know about every public act and the facts of every public transaction conducted by public authorities was described in SP Gupta v. Union of India. In Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Pvt. Ltd. vs India, the court stated, "The basic aim of freedom of speech and expression is that all members should be permitted to develop their views and freely convey them to others." In a nutshell, the fundamental concept at issue is the people's right to know." Justice K.K. Mathew went on to remark in State of U.P. vs. Raj Narain that the people of this nation have a right to know every public act, everything that their public workers perform in public. They have the right to be fully informed about all public transactions. The right to know, which stems from the concept of free speech, should raise red lights when secrecy is sought for transactions that have no influence on public safety. The Delhi High Court held in the case of Secretary General, Supreme Court of India vs. Subhash Chandra Agarwal that the CJI is a public authority under the RTI Act, and the information supplied by the CJI on assets is public information. The contents of an SC Judge's asset declaration are to be regarded as personal information and may be accessed in line with Section 8(1)(j) of the Act since it constitutes 'information' under Section 2(f) of the Act. Furthermore, the CJI, in collaboration with the Supreme Court Judges, may develop universal rules for the sort of information, applicable forms, and, if necessary, the frequency with which the declaration must be made. The Delhi High Court ordered that the Supreme Court of India's CPIO give the information requested by the respondent regarding asset declaration. 4. Role of RTI Act in Democratic Governance : Citizens' equal participation in the operation of government and power is referred to as democratic governance. Furthermore, democracy allows citizens to scrutinize government plans or programs aimed at enhancing citizen welfare, as well as publicly criticize the government and administrative officials for their arbitrary actions or inefficiency. The free flow of information from public authorities to citizens is critical in democratic governance, which is why the Right to Information is enumerated as a fundamental right in the Indian Constitution, and after the enactment of the Right to Information Act, 2005, citizens have full power to obtain information about the government and its authorities, promoting transparency. Responsiveness, accountability, and openness are essential for democratic governance. Citizens who have appropriate knowledge of the workings of representatives can sensibly pick their representatives in elections depending on whether or not they have worked for the welfare of citizens during their previous term. The right to information as a tool for effective governance: 1. Promotes good governance and transparency: Citizens’ right to information allows them to see how governments and public officials operate. The people should be informed about what is about to happen and what has already occurred. The cornerstone of every good governance is transparency. The public has a right to know about the government's policies and initiatives. The public must have access to all government communications. Transparency refers to the availability of information to the general public and clarity about how government institutions operate. Access to information is a key facilitator of transparency. The purpose of the Right to Information Act is to increase government accountability and transparency by making the decision-making process more transparent. 2. Participation: Participation is the cornerstone of effective administration, and both men and women must participate. Representative democracy does not entail the rule of a select few; it must take into account the needs of all members of society, especially the most vulnerable. The Right to Information Act empowers individuals to participate not only once every five years, but daily and question any decisions made. The right to information act allows ordinary citizens to participate in government, reducing power imbalances, offering a tool for combating injustice and allowing the collective spirit to make democracy work for all. Citizens' participation in local governance and development is also strengthened by the right to information legislation. 3. Promotes Accountability: A crucial need of successful governance is accountability. Without accountability, it is impossible to pinpoint the source of any development failure. Not only should the government be accountable to the public, but so should private sector entities. Information is power, and the Right to Information Act ensures that the government is accountable and transparent. Accountability entails the continued existence of a framework that ensures that both politicians and officials are held accountable for their acts, performances, and use of public funds. Their influence and authority will be stripped away if they fail to maintain accountability. People can now use the RTI Act to obtain specific information about their work or lack thereof from government authorities. As a result, accountability always leads to government officials' effectiveness and sense of duty. 4. Accessibility: The Right to Information Act allows all members of the public to readily get information from government departments, including papers, records, services, finances, and policies. By allowing simple access to information, the Right to Information Act bridges the gap between individuals and government, assisting in the nation-building process. The right to know and easy access to government information assist citizens in understanding government limitations at various levels. Information availability also aids in the development process, and it is a sign of a true and mature democracy. 5. Empowerment: Participation in political and economic processes, as well as the opportunity to make informed decisions, were limited to India before the passage of the Right to Information Act. As a result, ordinary people are uninformed of many schemes and are unable to resist when their rights are infringed. Individuals, on the other hand, are uninformed of the legal procedures via which they might get their legal rights from the respective agencies. With the passing of the Right to Information Act, citizens may now participate in the decision-making process and learn about government decisions. The Right to Information Act gives individuals more influence by reducing unnecessary secrecy from government decision-making. 6. Equity and inclusiveness: Another important aspect of effective governance is equity. It indicates that everyone is involved in government and that they are not isolated from society. The Right to Information Act does not discriminate between wealthy and poor inhabitants of India, and it applies to all Indian citizens. It is always ready to resist injustice, inequity, and inhumane behavior. Conclusion : The Right to Information Act of 2005 is a significant piece of law aimed at improving the responsiveness and accountability of government and public agencies, and it is critical for democratic governance. The RTI makes government officials more accountable to the public. People become more aware of administration, which allows them to participate in decision-making. It offers citizens enormous ability to get information about the workings of administrative agencies and prohibits the government and its authorities from acting arbitrarily against the welfare of citizens. Rather than waiting for the general public to seek information, governments should willingly make all information available to them. It will encourage effective administration while also increasing trust between the government and the people it rules. References : 1. https://theleaflet.in/right-to-information-act-2005-an-introduction-to-one-of-indias-most-significant-transparency-legislations/ 2. https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/schools/right-to-information-law-a-tool-for-good-governance-150522 3. https://jlrjs.com/right-to-information-act-2005-and-its-role-in-democratic-governance/ http://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/2511/Right-to-Information-and-Impact-on-Administration.html 4. https://blog.ipleaders.in/approach-towards-good-governance/ 5. https://www.onlinelegalindia. 6. https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/schools/right-to-information-law-a-tool-for-good-governance-150522 7. https://rti.gov.in/RTI%20Act,%202005%20(Amended)-English%20Version.pdf 8. https://blog.ipleaders.in/analysis-of-the-right-to-information-act-2005/ 9. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2343109 10. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/234674433.pdf 11. https://cic.gov.in/sites/default/files/Impact%20of%20the%20Right%20to%20Information%20Act.pdf By:- NAVEEN TALWAR

THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT 2005 AND ITS ROLE IN DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE