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Right to Information - A developmental perspective.

Lack of information denies people the opportunity to develop their potential to the fullest extent and realize the full range of their human rights. Individual personality, political and social identity, and economic capability are all shaped by the information that is available to each person and to society at large.

The practice of routinely holding information away from the public creates 'subjects' rather that 'citizens' and is a violation of their rights. This was recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1946 when it is resolved: "Freedom of information is a fundamental human right and it is the touchstone for all freedoms."

Right to Information - A global Right

'Right to information' was first recognized in Article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights and then given the status of legally binding treaty obligation in Article 19of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1976 which states: "everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

This right includes freedom to hold opinion, without interference, and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." This has placed the right to access information firmly within the body of Universal Human Rights Law

Information is Best Disinfectant.

According to P. B. Sawant, "the barrier to information is the single most cause responsible for corruption in society. It facilitates clandestine deals, arbitrary decisions, manipulations and embezzlements. Transparency in dealings, with their every detail exposed to the public view, should go a long way in curtailing corruption in public life."

Thus, it is utmost necessary that the government must strike a balance between the official secrets and the information to be delivered to the public. Strategic sectors have to be kept outside the purview of delivering the information to the public. Now, a debate has been cropping up that there is a vast scale privatization of the public sector, there has been privatisation of certain necessary services that were initially instituted for only public welfare schemes.

Regarding hospitals, educational institutes and even many transportation systems being privatized, there arises the need to make them transparent. The fundamental principle of a private sector is to maximize their profits and for this many of these private players forget their business ethics and, thus, it is the public who has to suffer. Hence, it is important to make information regarding these sectors available to the public as one of the essentials of the democracy is to ensure social and public welfare.

Right to Information and Development

The connect between information regime and development is succinctly brought about by Mr. M.M. Ansari, former Central Information Commissioner, in the following manner:

"Right to information (RTI) is harnessed as a tool for promoting participatory development, strengthening democratic governance and facilitating effective delivery of socio-economic services. In the knowledge society, in which we live today, acquisition of information and new knowledge and its application have intense and pervasive impact on processes of taking informed decisions, resulting in overall productivity gains.

People who have access to information and who understand how to make use of the acquired information in the processes of exercising their political, economic and legal rights become empowered, which, in turn, enable them to build their strengths and assets, so as to improve the quality of life.

In view of this, almost every society has made endeavours for democratising knowledge resources by way of putting in place the mechanisms for free flow of information and ideas so that people can access them without asking for it. People are thus empowered to make proper choices for participation in development process.

Mr. Ansari has, in the aforesaid article, ably demonstrated that RTI can be used as a tool, amongst others, to:

(a) facilitate effective delivery of socio-economic services which may lead to poverty alleviation;

(b) create conditions for accountability of public servants and authorities insofar as effective implementation of social security and food security programmes are concerned. It may include implementation of NREGA, mid-day meals for school children, integrated child development scheme, grant of food security and pension for the poor senior citizens, etc.;

(c) ensure that there is a proper and effective delivery of services under subsidised schemes like public distribution system and shelter for poor;

(d) promote participatory governance;

(e) empower of weaker sections; and

(f) aid environmental protection.

There is a definite link between right to information and good governance as well. In fact, the RTI Act itself lays emphasis on good governance and recognises that it is one of the objective which the said Act seeks to achieve. The RTI Act would reveal that four major elements/objectives required to ensure good governance are:

(i) greater transparency in functioning of public authorities;

(ii) informed citizenry for promotion of partnership between citizens and the Government in decision making process;

(iii) improvement in accountability and performance of the Government; and

(iv) reduction in corruption in the Government departments.

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