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The Right to Information: Empowerment through Transparency

The Right to Information: Empowerment through Transparency

“Where a society has chosen to accept democracy as its creedal faith, it is elementary that the citizens ought to know what their government is doing.” 

~Justice P N Bhagwati


As defined in Section 2(j) of the Right to Information Act of 2005, the term “right to information” signifies the entitlement to information accessible under this Act that is either held by or under the control of any public authority, and shall include the right to the following:

  1. Inspection of work, documents, records; 

  2. Taking notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records;

  3. Taking certified samples of material;

  4. Obtaining information in the the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts where such information is stored in a computer or in any other device;

The Right to Information (RTI) grants every citizen the authority to request information from the government, examine government documents, and obtain certified photocopies of such documents. Additionally, it empowers citizens to officially inspect any government work or obtain samples of materials used in such work.

Embedded within the fundamental rights enshrined in Article 19(1) of the Indian Constitution, the Right to Information is a crucial component of citizens' freedom of speech and expression. 

Article 19(1) guarantees every citizen the right to freely express their thoughts and opinions, and the RTI Act reinforces this by enabling citizens to access information vital to fostering transparency and accountability within the government.

Democracy thrives on meaningful participation from the public in public affairs. A democratic government must prioritize being responsive to public opinion, which necessitates making information readily available to the people. The Right to Information is pivotal in facilitating citizen participation in governance and administration, making it an indispensable component of a democratic society.

It empowers individuals to access information, which in turn fosters knowledge and awareness among citizens. In essence, information equates to power, and when it pertains to government and administration, it empowers individuals to actively engage in good governance and assert their rights, contributing to a culture of accountability and growth.


According to the Right to Information Act of 2005, the term "Information" can denote any material regardless of its form, such as records, documents, emails, opinions, advice, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, and data stored electronically. Additionally, it includes information pertaining to private bodies that can be accessed by a public authority under existing laws.


The primary objective of the Right to Information is to promote transparency and openness within government operations, allowing citizens to stay well-informed and engage with the state to ensure accountability and citizen-centric development. This aligns with the core dimensions of good governance, including government effectiveness, control of corruption, participation, and accountability, as highlighted by Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, who emphasized the pivotal role of good governance in eradicating poverty and fostering development.

When effectively implemented, RTI serves as a potent tool for promoting good governance. It enhances the implementation of government programs and policies, including their responsibilities in fulfilling citizens' rights, such as the right to food. National governments have a duty to uphold, protect, and fulfill the right to food, assisting those unable to access adequate food independently and providing information on available social security schemes.

In instances where governments fall short of their obligations, RTI empowers citizens to seek information regarding government actions. This enables individuals to understand the steps taken by the government and empowers them to defend, claim, and enforce their rights. Moreover, access to timely and relevant information also aids duty bearers, such as civil servants, in fulfilling their obligations concerning the right to food.

For example, in India under the National Food Security Act, citizens are entitled to subsidized food grain. If individuals do not receive the promised food, they can utilize the RTI Act to investigate the distribution process and understand the reasons behind the shortfall. This transparency ensures accountability and helps bridge gaps between policy intentions and actual implementations, ultimately contributing to more effective governance and better service delivery to citizens.


The Right to Information (RTI) is essential due to core principles such as transparency, accountability, and democracy within any society. It serves as a critical mechanism in upholding these principles for several reasons:

  • Firstly, RTI grants citizens access to information held by public authorities, thereby empowering them with knowledge and insight into governmental actions and decisions.

  • Secondly, RTI acts as a potent tool in combating corruption and preventing the misuse of power within public institutions. By enabling citizens to scrutinize and question official actions, it helps to hold public officials accountable for their conduct.

  • Thirdly, RTI promotes transparency in governmental processes and decision-making. It ensures that decisions are made openly and based on valid information, contributing to public trust and confidence in the government.

Overall, the necessity for the Right to Information stems from its pivotal role in empowering citizens, fighting corruption, ensuring transparency in government operations, and encouraging active citizen participation. It stands as a fundamental pillar of accountable and responsive governance, particularly in democratic societies.


Following the recommendations of the 77th report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee chaired by Sri Pranab Mukherjee, the Right to Information Act, 2005 ("the Act") was passed. It became effective on 12th October 2005. The preamble of the Act states that it establishes a practical framework for citizens to access information held by public authorities. 

The Right to Information (RTI) Act 2005 stands as one of the pivotal legislative tools empowering ordinary citizens to scrutinize government actions and operations. Widely utilized by both citizens and the media, it serves as a means to uncover instances of corruption, track progress in government initiatives, and access information regarding government expenditures, among other crucial insights.

At its core, the primary objective of the RTI Act is to enable citizens to exercise their right to information, fostering transparency, accountability, and combating corruption within government frameworks. This Act plays a crucial role in ensuring that democracy functions authentically for the benefit of the people. An informed citizenry is better equipped to monitor governance mechanisms and hold the government accountable to its citizens, making the Act a significant milestone in promoting government transparency.

Under the purview of the Act fall all constitutional authorities, government agencies, organizations owned or substantially financed by the government, and public authorities at the union or state level. The Act mandates these entities to respond promptly to citizens' requests for information, emphasizing the importance of timely and transparent communication between the government and its constituents.

Furthermore, the Act imposes penalties on authorities failing to provide information within the stipulated time frame, reinforcing the urgency and importance of maintaining transparency and accountability in government proceedings.


The Right to Information Act represents a significant milestone in keeping citizens informed about government activities. Its objectives are multi-faceted, aiming to empower citizens, promote transparency, openness, and accountability in administration, prevent administrative arbitrariness, corruption, and ensure the proper functioning of democracy. The Objectives of the Act are as following-

  1. Right to Information: Granting citizens the right to access information.

  2. Transparency: Making information more accessible and visible to the public.

  3. Openness in Administration: Encouraging a culture of openness and clarity in governmental operations.

  4. Preventing Administrative Arbitrariness: Establishing guidelines to prevent unjust or arbitrary decisions in administration.

  5. Accountability: Holding public officials accountable for their actions and decisions.

  6. Preventing Corruption: Creating mechanisms to deter and expose corrupt practices.

  7. Informed Citizens and Democracy: Recognizing the importance of informed citizens in maintaining a healthy democracy.

  8. Government Responsiveness: Ensuring that the government and its agencies respond promptly and responsibly to citizen inquiries and concerns.

In essence, the Act aims to bridge the gap between the government and its citizens by promoting a culture of transparency, accountability, and responsiveness within public administration. This fosters a stronger democratic framework where citizens can actively engage in governance and hold authorities accountable for their actions.


Section 8 of the RTI Act outlines specific categories of information that are exempt from disclosure:

  1. Information whose disclosure would adversely affect India’s sovereignty, integrity, security, strategic, scientific, or economic interests, relations with foreign states, or the prevention of incitement of an offense.

  2. Information prohibited from publication by a court of law or any other competent authority, or disclosure of which may amount to contempt of court.

  3. Information that could violate the privilege of the State Legislature or Parliament if disclosed.

  4. Information such as commercial confidence, trade secrets, or intellectual property, the disclosure of which could harm a third party's competitive position, unless it is determined to be in the public interest to disclose.

  5. Information accessible to a person in a fiduciary relationship, unless disclosure is justified in the greater public interest as determined by the competent authority.

  6. Information received in confidence from a foreign government.

However, a public authority may still disclose information falling under these exemptions if the public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interests mentioned above. This provision ensures that transparency and accountability are maintained while safeguarding crucial interests and relationships.


To initiate an RTI application, individuals can utilize the online RTI Portal by following a series of straightforward steps:

  1. Begin by visiting the official website https://rtionline.gov.in and registering by creating a username and password.

  2. Once registered, locate and click on ‘Submit Request’ at the top left corner of the website. A page detailing the guidelines for filing an RTI will appear; accept these terms to proceed.

  3. Access the RTI application request form at https://rtionline.gov.in/request/request.php. Provide the necessary information by selecting the relevant department.

  4. In the next step, fill in the required information within 3000 characters in the ‘text for RTI application’ box. If necessary, upload supporting documents if the text exceeds the character limit.

  5. Upon submission, a unique registration number will be generated for future reference.

  6. Pay a nominal fee of Rs 10 using internet banking or a Debit Card.

  7. After completing the payment process, you will receive confirmation via email and SMS indicating the successful submission of your application.


  1. Bennett Coleman vs. Union of India (1973)- The recognition of the right to know as a Fundamental Right marked a significant milestone when the Supreme Court acknowledged that the right to freedom of speech and expression, as guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a), inherently encompassed the right to information.

  2. State of UP vs. Raj Narain (1975)- The Supreme Court held that in a responsible government like ours, where all public officials are accountable for their actions, there should be minimal secrecy. The citizens have a rightful expectation to be informed about every public deed, every official action, conducted openly by those in public office. They are entitled to full disclosure of all public dealings and their implications.

  3. S.P. Gupta vs. Union of India (1982)- The Apex Court of India illustrated the right of the people to know about every public act and the details of every public transaction undertaken by public functionaries.

  4.  People’s Union for Civil Liberties vs. Union of India (2003)- The right to information was further elevated to the status of a human right, recognized as necessary for ensuring transparent and accountable governance.

  5. Govt. of India vs. The Cricket Association of Bengal (1995)- The Supreme Court ruled that freedom of speech and expression encompasses the right to seek and share information. This allows individuals to participate in discussions about social and moral issues. The right to freedom of speech and expression includes the rights to access education, convey information, provide entertainment, and receive education, information, and entertainment. Therefore, the right to broadcast falls under the scope of Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution.

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