“Right to know” is considered a basic human right. Freedom of information as a part of freedom of speech and expression owes its origin in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948. Constitution of India adopted this principle under Article 19(1)(a) at the time of its inception. Thus Right to Information is an inherent right under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. Honorable Supreme Court of India has decided and confirmed the same in various cases. I have provided in this article excerpts of few important supreme court judgements on right to information act.
Important Supreme Court Judgements on Right to Information Act:
Honorable Supreme Court of India considered various cases on right to information, and decided that right to information is part of right to freedom of speech and expression granted by article 19(1)(a) of the constitution. I have provided relevant excerpts of various supreme court judgements on right to information act below.
This is one of the earliest supreme court judgements on right to information act. In this case Honorable Supreme Court struck down the newsprint control order with observation that it directly affected the petitioners’ right to freely publish and circulate their paper. The court observed: “The constitutional guarantee of the freedom of speech is not so much for the benefit of the press as it is for the benefit of the people. The freedom of speech includes within its compass the right of all citizens to read and be informed”. This clearly shows the importance and need of right to information to the citizen.
This is one of the earliest and important supreme court judgements on right to information act.Honorable Supreme Court observed: “In a Government of democracy like ours, where all the agents of the public must be responsible for their conduct, there can be but few secrets. The people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in a public way by their public functionaries. They are entitled to know the particulars of every public transaction in all its bearing. Their right to know, which is derived from the concept of freedom of speech, though not absolute, is a factor which should make one wary when secrecy is claimed for transactions which can at any right have no repercussion on public scrutiny. The responsibility of officials to explain or to justify their acts is the chief safeguard against oppression and corruption”.
This is one of the most important supreme court judgements on right to information act. Honorable Supreme Court observed: “Now, if secrecy were to be observed in the functioning of government and the processes of government were to be kept hidden from public scrutiny, it would tend to promote and encourage oppression, corruption and misuse or abuse of authority for it would be all shrouded in the veil of secrecy without any public accountability. But if there is an open government with means of information, available to the public, there would be a greater exposure of the functioning of the government and it would help to assure the people of a better and more efficient administration. There can be little doubt that exposure to public gaze and scrutiny is one of the surest means of achieving a clean and healthy administration”. The court upheld the truth that an open government is clean government and a powerful safeguard against political and administrative aberration and inefficiency. Thus, the right to information has a solid constitutional foundation in a developing country like India.
This is one of the most important supreme court judgements on right to information act. Honorable Supreme Court observed: “The basic purpose of freedom of speech and expression is that all members should be able to form their beliefs and communicate them freely to others. In sum, the fundamental principle involved here is the people’s right to know.” The court held that Article 142 of the Constitution enables the Court in the exercise of its jurisdiction to make such order as is necessary for doing complete justice in any cause or matter pending before it. The court ordered that the petitioners and others who are engaged in newspaper business shall make available to the Government all information necessary to decide the question.
Honorable Supreme Court pointed out that when factual information is collected as a result of interview the same should usually be cross-checked with the authorities so that a wrong picture of the situation may not be published. The court noted that as and when reasonableness of restrictions is disputed it would be a matter for examination and tape-recording should be subject to special permission of the appropriate authority. The court ordered that interviews cannot be conducted under forceful circumstances but the willingness of the prisoners to be interviewed would always be insisted upon.
Honorable Supreme Court observed that pending determination of the issues raised, any court will order interim relief to such applicants by way of grant of such refunds. The court held that the petitioner will be liable to make any such refund only if it is ultimately decided by this court or any other court that the issue of debentures is invalid and that the application moneys have to be refunded. The court ordered that there was no cause for apprehension on the part of the petitioner that the publication of any such article could abort the debenture issue in the manner it could have done.
Honorable Supreme Court observed: “The basic purpose of freedom of speech and expression is that all members should be able to form their beliefs and communicate them freely to others”. The court held that Doordarshan being a State controlled agency funded by public funds could not have denied access to the screen to the respondent except on valid grounds. The court accepted the point of view of the petitioners who submitted that the film faithfully brought out the events that took place at Bhopal on that fateful night. The court also noted that the respondent cannot be accused of having distorted the events subsequent to the disaster. The court ordered that Doordarshan being a State controlled agency funded by public funds could not have denied access to the screen to the respondent except on valid grounds.
Honorable Supreme Court observed in para 44 as: “The freedom of speech and expression includes right to acquire information and to disseminate it. Freedom of speech and expression is necessary, for self-expression which is an important means of free conscience and self-fulfillment……….. The right to communicate, therefore, includes the right to communicate through any media that is available whether print or electronic or audio-visual such as advertisement, movie, article, speech etc……. This fundamental right can be limited only by reasonable restrictions under a law made for the purposes mentioned in article 19(2) of the Constitution”.
Honorable Supreme Court observed: “To ensure the continued participation of the people in the democratic process, they must kept informed of the vital decisions taken by the Government and the basis thereof. Democracy, therefore, expects openness and openness is a concomitant of a free society”.
Union of India vs Association for Democratic Reforms (2002) 5 SCC 294
This is one of the latest supreme court judgements on right to information act that led to passing of Freedom of Information Act. Honorable Supreme Court observed that the voters’ right to know the antecedents of the candidates is based on the broader interpretation of Article 19 (1) (a). The foundation of healthy democracy is to have well informed citizens. Free and fair election is the basic structure of the Constitution and for that, information about the candidates, e.g., whether the candidate is literate, what is his asset and liability, whether he is charged with any criminal offence, these must be known to every voter.
Honorable Supreme Court remarked: “It is no doubt true that in a democratic framework free flow of information to the citizens is necessary for proper functioning particularly in matters which form part of public record. There are several areas where such information need not be furnished. The inquiry ordered and the report made to the Chief Justice of India being confidential and discreet is only for the purpose of his information and not for the purpose of disclosure to any other person”. The court ordered that information which belongs to exceptional category need not be disclosed to anybody under the existing principles and practices. That position in law is very clear. Thus, the only source or authority by which the Chief Justice of India can exercise this power of inquiry is moral or ethical and not in exercise of powers under any law. Exercise of such power of the Chief Justice of India based on moral authority cannot be made the subject-matter of a writ petition to disclose a report made to him.”
People’s Union for Civil Liberties vs Union of India AIR 2004 SC 1442 : (2004) 2 SCC 476
This is one of the most important supreme court judgements on right to information act. Honorable Supreme Court held that “45. Right to Information is a facet of the freedom of ‘speech and expression’ as contained in Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India. Right to Information, thus, indisputably is a Fundamental Right.” Here it is also recognized that a reasonable restriction on the exercise of the right is always permissible for the security of the state.
Apart from these leading cases there are many supreme court judgements on right to information act in which people’s right to know and right to information have been upheld. The purpose of discussing all these cases is to show that we already had right to information a Fundamental right as an extended part of the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. Our Constitution allowed us go to the Supreme Court under Article 32 or to the High Court under Article 226 directly on violation of Fundamental Right (denial of information). But after passing of the Right to Information Act, 2005, this Fundamental Right becomes only a statutory right, prohibiting us from directly going to Supreme Court or High Court.