Courts On Right To Information

Introduction :-

The Indian Justice System is one of the world’s oldest legal systems. It is part of the parentage India received from the British after more than 200 years of colonial rule, and the same is apparent from the many similarities that the Indian legal system shares with the English legal system. The Indian Constitution has laid down the foundation for the new legal system, and the judiciary draws its authority from it. India’s constitution is the country’s supreme law, the country’s fountain source of law. It not only laid down the foundation of the Indian judiciary, but it also specified people’s fundamental rights and duties and guidelines, which are the duties of the states of India. 

In a democratic system, the body of the judiciary is undoubtedly one of the most crucial institutions because it is charged with the great responsibility of administering justice, one of the core needs of a citizen. As the guardian of the rights of a country’s citizens, the judiciary is entrusted with the task of fully realizing the constitutional values in furtherance of the constitutional makers’ vision. The preamble to the Constitution enshrines the ideals of social, economic, and political justice for all its citizens. Justice, not enforced in a reasonable way, jeopardizes civil society rights, vitiating the rule of law concept. An independent judiciary could be declared the cornerstone of democracy. It is unnecessary to say that, over the years, the judiciary and judicial decisions have shaped the Indian polity to a significant extent. The position of the judiciary has been crucial in ensuring a mechanism of justice in governance and administration. Thus, be it the substantive understanding of Article 19 or Article 21 or the preaching of equality doctrines, the judicial decisions in India have entered every tier of society. As one knows, the judiciary is the edifice of a strong democracy. It strives not only to interpret the black letter of the law but also to adopt an activist stance of interpreting it creatively to suit society’s needs.

The Right to Information (RTI) is an act of the Parliament of India which sets out the rules and procedures regarding citizens’ right to information. It replaced the former Freedom of Information Act, 2002. Under the provisions of RTI Act, any citizen of India may request information from a “public authority” (a body of Government or “instrumentality of State”) which is required to reply expeditiously or within thirty days. In case of matter involving a petitioner’s life and liberty, the information has to be provided within 48 hours. The Act also requires every public authority to computerize their records for wide dissemination and to proactively publish certain categories of information so that the citizens need minimum recourse to request for information formally.

The RTI Bill was passed by Parliament of India on 15 June 2005 and came into force with effect from 12 October 2005. Every day on an average, over 4800 RTI applications are filed. In the first ten years of the commencement of the act over 17,500,000 applications had been filed.

Although Right to Information is not included as a Fundamental Right in the Constitution of India, it protects the fundamental rights to Freedom of Expression and Speech under Article 19(1)(a) and Right to Life and Personal Liberty under Article 21 guaranteed by the Constitution. The authorities under RTI Act 2005 are called public authorities. The Public Information Officer (PIO) or the First Appellate Authority in the public authorities perform quasi judicial function of deciding on the application and appeal respectively. This act was enacted in order to consolidate the fundamental right in the Indian constitution ‘freedom of speech’. Since RTI is implicit in the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, it is an implied fundamental right.

RTI and judicial interpretation of freedom of speech and expression :-

Every person has the right to be aware of the true facts of their country’s government as it is one of the essential facets of democracy. People can only play a significant role in a democracy if there is an open government where there is complete access to knowledge on how government works. A citizen can not attain knowledge unless he has certain fundamental freedoms such as freedom of thought, information, conscience, speech, expression, and locomotion.

As one of the members of the Constituent Assembly said, freedom of information is one of the terms in which the greatest and bitterest constitutional struggles were fought in all countries where liberal constitutional prevails. Everyone has the right to freedom of speech, freedom of expression requires the right to hold views without interference and to try and obtain knowledge and ideas through any media and irrespective of the borders declared as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In the preamble to the Constitution, the people of India proclaimed their determination to ensure freedom of thought and speech for all citizens. In the Preamble to the Constitution, the Indian people proclaimed that they gave themselves their determination to ensure freedom of thought and speech for all citizens. This resolution is expressed in Article (19)(1)(a) in Part III of the Constitution enumerating the Fundamental Rights. Such freedoms embody the basic values of life in a democratic society, and our Constitution has given them a position of pride. Our Constitution does not use the term ‘information freedom’ in Article 19, but the judiciary declares that it is included in Article 19(1)(a) which guarantees freedom of speech and expression.

Landmark cases :-

Ramesh Thappar v. State of Madras

In Ramesh Thappar v. State of Madras, the petitioner had challenged an order issued under Section 9(1-A) of the Madras Maintenance of Public Order Act, 1949, by the then Government of Madras, imposing a ban on the circulation of the petitioner’s journal. Such a ban order was laid down as a violation of the right to freedom of speech and expression provided for in Article 19(1)(a).

 

Hamdard Dawakhana v. Union of India

In Hamdard Dawakhana v. Union of India, the Supreme Court had declared that the right to information is a part of Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. Although advertising is undeniably a means of expression, its true character is expressed in the object it is used to promote. It assumes the characteristics and elements of the operation pursuant to Art. 19(1) that it intends to help by bringing it to public attention.

State of U. P. v. Raj Narain

In the case of the State of U. P. v. Raj Narain,  it was reiterated that it is the responsibility of the government like ours where all public officials have to be accountable for their actions. The people of this country have the right to know about every public act, all that the public functionaries do in a public way. The facts of this case were that Raj Narain, who questioned the legitimacy of Mrs Gandhi’s election, needed Blue Books to be revealed containing the tour program and the security steps taken for the Prime Minister. Though disclosure had not been approved, Justice Mathew had held that the people of the country have the right to know the details of each public transaction during all its hearings. 

Apex Court on RTI

The SC plays a major role in protecting the democratic rights of the citizens, these rights are granted by the constitution which also includes providing fair justice. Justice must be administered without fear or favour, which is the soul of a democratic society. India’s Supreme Court is the highest court of law, and it controls the country’s entire judicial system. The Right to Information Act, 2005, has influenced all government organs the judiciary, the executive and the legislature. As is evident from the pro-disclosure judgments which come not only from the information commissions but also from the higher judiciary. Slowly but gradually, there is a growing awareness that access to knowledge is of long-term value to one and all. This act analyses different landmark decisions concerning important and at times controversial issues related to the Right to Information law. Some of the rulings on a specific issue indicate the information commissions and courts current stance on it. Judiciary is to be considered to be the backbone of India’s Right to information. It has consistently and strongly advocated the ideals of openness and accountability in all fields of governance.

Landmark cases :-

LIC v. Manubhai D. Shah

Importance of freedom of speech and expression was discussed in LIC v. Manubhai D. Shah, It was held that Freedom of speech and expression forms an integral part of freedom of information. A human being conveys his thoughts and feelings to others through speech. Freedom of speech and of expression is, therefore, a natural right acquired by a human being by birth. It is a fundamental right. The Court underlined that freedom of expression means the right to express one’s opinion by word of mouth, writing, printing, photography, or otherwise. It would, therefore, include freedom of communication and the right to publicise or propagate opinion.

D.K. Basu v. State of West Bengal

It was held in D.K. Basu v. State  of West Bengal ,  that the detainees have the right to know the framed charges or reasons for arrest, the right to inform the relatives of the arrest and to have one’s own choice of lawyer. In this above-mentioned case, the Supreme Court set out some guidelines on the rights of the arrested person, and Justice Anand, who delivered the decision on behalf of the Bench Division, implemented a few fundamental rights that encompass the right to information. In all cases of arrest or detention, the Supreme Court considers it appropriate to issue certain requirements until legal provisions are made in that name as preventive measures.

People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India

In People’s Union for Civil Liberties, v. Union of India,  the court said that a democratic system can not exist without the right of the people to vote in the affairs of the country’s government. The right to take part in the domestic business is meaningless unless citizens are well informed on all sides of the issues they are asked to express their views. 

Indira Jaising v. Registrar General, Supreme Court of India

In Indira Jaising v. Registrar General, Supreme Court, the Supreme Court refused disclosure with its bold declarations in the past, reasoning that is difficult to reconcile. A report made on such an inquiry that if the advertising is issued would only result in more damage than good to the institution. In such a case the only course to the parties concerned is to invoke the provisions of Article 124 or Article 217 of the Indian Constitution if they have material. The said report is by its nature purely preliminary, Ad-hoc and not final. The only source of authority from which the Chief Justice may exercise this investigation power is if it is morally ethical or not in exercising its powers according to any law.

The exercise of such power on the basis of moral power by the Chief Justice of India can not be made the subject of a written petition for disclosure of a report made to him. Definitely, the public has the right to know the dignity of those who grant justice. It was a fact that the Supreme Court had instituted an investigation into the incident that was permitted to be widely publicised. That was a measure that encouraged and was intended to encourage public trust. So, the report itself was made public in the fitness of things. Quite apart from the public interest, it was in the interests of the judges concerned to have the report made public; the more so if its the non-guilty was confirmed.

Supreme Court under RTI

The Right to Information is a landmark legislative Act within the Indian parliamentary system in the Indian history of governance. The Right to Information aimed at increasing the level of transparency and accountability in government, as well as the dual role of empowering the common man to know about different administrative processes and, at the same time, to put pressure on the executive to act legitimately. Some departments were left outside Right to Information’s reach as it would compromise security and secrecy, that is constitutionally and legally. 

While secrecy is essential to avoid unnecessary delays and unwanted interruptions, it is paramount to be transparent. It increases a citizen’s confidence and illustrates the conviction that our founding fathers held in the judiciary when they declared it the guardian of our supreme Constitution. The tussle between the executive and the higher judiciary is not new. Successive governments and critics blamed the judiciary as a roadblock in bringing transparency into the present system. The invalidation of the National Judicial Appointments Commission and subsequent unconstitutional attempts have only weakened the reputation of the Honourable Judiciary.

Higher judiciary in the light of RTI

Vacant seats will become transferable in various judicial constituencies, and recruitment for those posts will take place at a pace. It will give people more power to easily get their answers without any delay and informal paperwork. Increasing lucidity will check corruption. Courts for pending cases have always been questioned. Right to Information can set the standard for the timely decomposition of justice among the judiciary. Judiciary as a constitutional watchdog has drawn several boundaries for public officials. 

It will compromise judicial independence as stipulated by the constitution. It will challenge the Supreme Court’s decision-making powers. It will create an extra-judicial burden as each file will be accountable to the judiciary. In some cases, it will compromise the secrecy and security involved. This is potentially detrimental to our country. Judiciary will become a puppet in people’s hands, instead of being the country’s sole justice provider. It will enhance judicial involvement in political matters. Challenging Supreme Court decisions means pointing a finger at the constitution each time. Delay in judicial appointments and transfers may be adopted as an over conscious approach to avoid conflicts.

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