Right to Information Act, 2005 in India: A Decadal Experience

Published date01 June 2017
Date01 June 2017
Subject MatterArticles
Indian Journal of Public
63(2) 228–251
© 2017 IIPA
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/0019556117699737
1 Professor, Department of Public Administration and Former Dean Faculty of Arts, Panjab University,
Chandigarh, Panjab, India.
2 Department of Public Administration, Panjab University, Chandigarh, Panjab, India.
Corresponding author:
B. S. Ghuman, Professor, Department of Public Administration, Arts Block III, First Floor, Panjab
University, Sector 14, Chandigarh 160014, India.
E-mail: ghumanbs@pu.ac.in
Right to Information
Act, 2005 in India:
A Decadal Experience
B. S. Ghuman1
Mohammad Sohail2
Right to Information (RTI) Act emerged as a powerful instrument for taming
corruption in the functioning of public authorities by promoting transparency
and accountability. The Act has completed ten years but the challenges hinder-
ing the successful implementation of the Act are still looming large. The Act is
slowly moving away from its goal owing to many factors, such as lack of aware-
ness, improper maintenance of records, poor compliance to public disclosure of
information mentioned under Section 4 of the Act, inconvenient fee depositing
mechanism, lack of sustained training mechanism for employees, misuse of the
Act, pendency of appeals before Information Commissions and lack of legisla-
tive measures for protection of whistleblowers. For making the Act a success,
it is essential to conduct massive awareness campaigns for citizens, to maintain
proper official records for facilitating provision of information under the Act,
ensuring suo motu disclosure of information mentioned under Section 4 of the
Act, use of information and communication technology in the implementation of
the Act, making available convenient fee depositing options, conducting training
programmes for officials involved in the implementation of the Act, and, finally,
enacting a strong whistleblowers’ protection Act.
Right to Information, transparency, accountability, corruption, rights-based
Ghuman and Sohail 229
Rationale for Right to Information Act, 2005
The policies and programmes of the government aimed at achieving socio-
economic development often fail to yield expected outcome due to mismanage-
ment, corruption and lack of transparency (Chand, 2006; Roberts, 2010). The
marginalised and disadvantaged strata of society especially the rural poor who lack
voice are the worst hit by the transmission losses which occur in the implementation
of development programmes. The onus for this situation is on the Indian bureaucracy
which continued its British legacy of being secretive in nature (Roberts, 2010).
The culture of secrecy embedded in the Indian bureaucracy has its roots in the
Indian Evidence Act, 1872, which prohibits the sharing of evidence from unpub-
lished official public records without the permission of the head of the Department
who enjoyed utmost discretion in this regard. The Official Secrets Act (OSA) of
1923 was another major legal enactment which further perpetuated the culture of
secrecy and confidentiality in the working of bureaucracy. Official Secrets Act
deals with matters relating to secrecy and confidentiality in the working of the
government. The enactment of the Act made confidentiality and secrecy norms in
the working of public organisations and disclosure of information became excep-
tion. The Shourie Committee on Right to Information and Transparency, 1997,
while discussing the impact of OSA on the working of administration, states, ‘It is
the Official Secrets Act that has been regarded in many quarters as being primar-
ily responsible for the excessive secrecy in government. Its “catch-all” nature has
invited sustained criticism and demand for its amendment. Section 5 of this Act
provides for punishment for unauthorised disclosure of official secrets but omits
to define secrets’ (Government of India, 2006, p. 10). The norms of secrecy and
confidentiality in the administration were further strengthened by Civil Service
Conduct Rules, 1964, and Manual of Office Procedure. Both prohibit the sharing
of any official document to anyone without authorisation (Government of India,
2006). All these developments are indeed responsible for enshrining the culture
of secrecy and confidentiality in the day-to-day functioning of the government
thereby curbing the sharing of information. The predominance of secrecy syn-
drome has been misused by the managers of government for maximisation of
their personal interests under the garb of public interest and led to widespread
corruption. In this backdrop, civil society, judiciary, citizens and media employed
concerted efforts for making the functioning of government transparent and
accountable through promotion of easy access to information available with the
Access to information empowers the citizens, especially the poor, to demand
their rights thereby leading to their welfare (Ashraf, 2008; Government of India,
2006; The Hindu, 2013c). When records and documents of public organisations
are available to public, it brings transparency in the system. By fixing somebody’s
responsibility to provide the desired information further promotes accountability
and responsiveness. Twining of transparency and effective accountability curbs
the menace of corruption and make public decisions fair and just.
In India, Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, is rooted in Fundamental
Rights, namely, freedom of speech and expression in Article 19(1)(a) and Right

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