The Right to Information is a Fundamental Human Right
Lack of information denies people the opportunity to develop their potential to the fullest and realise 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 than ‘citizens’ and is a violation of their rights. This was recognised by the United Nations at its very inception in 1946, when the General Assembly resolved: “Freedom of Information is a fundamental human right and the touchstone for all freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated”. Enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right’s status as a legally binding treaty obligation was affirmed in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions 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.
The right to access information underpins all other human rights. For example, freedom of expression and thought inherently rely on the availability of adequate information to inform opinions. The realisation of the right to personal safety also requires that people have sufficient information to protect themselves. In Canada, a court has recognised that the right to security creates a corollary right to information about threats to personal safety which would be violated if the police force knew of a threat and failed to provide that information to the threatened individual. The right to food is also often reliant on the right to information. In India for example, people have used access laws to find out about their ration entitlements and to expose the fraudulent distribution of food grains. Quite simply, the right to information is at the core of the human rights system because it enables citizens to more meaningfully exercise their rights, assess when their rights are at risk and determine who is responsible for any violations.
It is important that access to information is recognised as a right because it:
- Accords it sufficient importance, as being inherent to democratic functioning and a pre-condition to good governance and the realisation of all other human rights.
- Becomes part of the accepted international obligations of the state. This means that the right to access information attracts the guarantee of protection by the state.
- Distances it from being merely an administrative measure by which information is gifted by governments to their people at their discretion since a legally enforceable right cannot be narrowed or ignored at the whim of government.
- Creates a duty-holder on the one hand and a beneficiary of a legal entitlement on the other. Non-disclosure of information is therefore a violation and the beneficiary can seek legal remedy.
- Signals that information belongs to the public and not government. The idea that everything is secret unless there is a strong reason for releasing it is replaced by the idea that all information is available unless there are strong reasons for denying it. The onus is on the duty-holder to prove its case for refusing to disclose documents.
- Sets a higher standard of accountability.
- Gives citizens the legal power to attack the legal and institutional impediments to openness and accountability that still dominate the operations of many governments. It moves the locus of control from the state to the citizen, reinstating the citizen as sovereign.
The right to information holds within it the right to seek information, as well as the duty to give information, to store, organise, and make it easily available, and to withhold it only when it is proven that this is in the best public interest. The duty to enable access to information rests with government and encompasses two key aspects: enabling citizens to access information upon request; and proactively disseminating important information.
Right to Information is a part of fundamental rights under Article 19(1) of the Constitution. Article 19 (1) says that every citizen has freedom of speech and expression. The Supreme Court of India has held in several cases that RTI is implicit in the constitutionally enshrined rights. It empowers citizens to secure access of information from public authorities in order to ensure transparency and accountability in Government administration. Access to information ensures a participatory democracy, tackles the malaise of corruption, strengthens people’s trust in the government, supports equitable, just and people – centric development. Freedom of information lies at the root of the rights discourse. Failure of the State to provide access to information to the realization of rights as well as effective democracy, which requires informed participation by all.
1. What is the Application Procedure for requesting information?
- Apply in writing or through electronic means in English or Hindi or in the official language of the area, to the PIO, specifying the particulars of the information sought for.
- Reason for seeking information are not required to be given;
- Pay fees as may be prescribed (if not belonging to the below poverty line category).
2. What is the time limit to get the information?
- 30 days from the date of application
- 48 hours for information concerning the life or liberty of a person
- 5 days shall be added to the above response time, in case the application for information is given to Assistant Public Information Officer.
- If the interests of a third party are involved then time limit will be 40 days (maximum period + time given to the party to make representation).
- Failure to provide information within the specified period is a deemed refusal.
3. What is the fee?
- Application fees to be prescribed which must be reasonable.
- If further fees are required, then the same must be intimated in writing with calculation details of how the figure was arrived at;
- Applicant can seek review of the decision on fees charged by the PIO by applying to the appropriate Appellate Authority;
- No fees will be charged from people living below the poverty line
- Applicant must be provided information free of cost if the PIO fails to comply with the prescribed time limit.
4. What could be the ground for rejection?
- If it is covered by exemption from disclosure. (S.8)
- If it infringes copyright of any person other than the State. (S.9)