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Right to Information in the Private Sector.

Right to Information is an act passed by the Parliament of India devised to provide for a practical regime of Right to Information to secure information under control of public authorities, with a view to enhance and promote transparency and accountability in the working of the State.

Introduction

So, now the question arises, what basically is the Right to Information Act, and what purpose does it serve? The Right to Information Act replaces the erstwhile Freedom of Information Act of 2002 and it provides the citizens of India with a right to request any instrumentality of the State for any information and the State is required to reply expeditiously or within a stipulated period of time.

The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI) is indubitably a breakthrough step taken by the country for setting up anchorage for institutions and impart more depth to the public response function of the State and its instrumentalities. It is a tool which helps us ensure the transparency and openness factor of the State. Its proper implementation will ensure good governance and eradicate corruption and thereby move up the ranking of the country in the index of honesty and transparency in the governmental and institutional operations. Right to Information means that the citizens of the nation get free and reasonable access to most of the information related to governmental decisions, policies, and schemes. It implies that the subjects of the state enjoy reasonable free access to certain information pertaining to the operations and decisions of the government. In other words, it means the enhancement of the Government’s transparency and openness factor.

The law was passed by the Parliament of India on 15th of June, 2005 and came into effect on 12th of October, 2005. As per the data of the Central Information Commission, highest RTI applications were filed in the year 2017-18 and the lowest rate of rejection since 2005. The data from the CIC annual report, shared by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions showed that during 2017-18, 12.33 lakh RTI applications were received by the registered central public authorities (higher by 26% than what was reported during 2016-17 and also, the central public authorities rejected 4% of the total RTIs processed during 2017-18 showing a downward trend in rejections which have come down by 2.59% from the 6.59% reported in 2016-17.

The purview of the Right to Information Act, 2005

RTI Act was enacted in order to ensure smoother, greater and more effective access to information and provide a robust framework for effectuating the right of information recognized under article 19 of the Constitution. The preamble to the Act declares the object sought to be achieved by the RTI Act thus: 

“An Act to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority, the constitution of a Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. Whereas the Constitution of India has established democratic Republic; and whereas democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information which are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and to hold Governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed; and whereas revelation of information in actual practice is likely to conflict with other public interests including efficient operations of the Governments, optimum use of limited fiscal resources and the preservation of confidentiality of sensitive information; and whereas it is necessary to harmonize these conflicting interests while preserving the paramount of the democratic ideal.” 

The Right to Information Act covers the whole of India except the state of Jammu and Kashmir, where J&K Right to Information Act is in force. It covers all authorities powered by the Indian Constitution, along with the executive, legislature and judiciary; any institution or body established or constituted by the Parliament or a state legislature.

Now the question arises, does the Private Sector fall within the ambit of the Right to Information Act?

Does the Private Sector fall within the ambit of the Right to Information Act?

The Indian Legislature did not include private entities under the Right to Information Act directly. But in the landmark judicial pronouncement of Sarabjit Roy v. Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission, it was reaffirmed by the Central Information Commission that privatized utility companies are also included under the umbrella of the RTI Act, regardless of their privatization. One of the common misunderstandings among the general public is that only those entities which are a subsidy to the government or are funded by the government are under the purview of the RTI Act, but the fact is that private bodies also fall under this act irrespective of the type of funding by the government.

Private entities are not talked of under Section 2(a) of the Act according to which “appropriate government” refers to a public entity which is constituted, owned, established, substantially financed (directly or indirectly) or controlled by the-

  • Central Government
  • State Government
  • Union Territory Administration

The private entities are talked of under Section 2(f) of the RTI Act which states that information means any material in any form including any document, form, memo, email, logbook, circular, sample, contracts, models, papers or any data help in electronic form and any information related to a private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any law in force for the time being.

Reading it with Section 8 (1)(j) of the Act which states that information which can’t be denied to the State Legislature and the Parliament can’t be denied to any person, it can be interpreted that private bodies also falls under the RTI Act, albeit indirectly.

In case somebody wants some information from any private body, it becomes absolutely necessary for him to recognize the instrumentality with which the private entity has registered itself. Therefore, it gets all clear that the private entities do fall under the purview of the Right to Information Act through the instrumentality of the state with which it is registered.

Why is the Right to Information Act necessary?

  • Right to information makes administration accountable to its subjects.
  •  It bridges the gap between administration and people.
  • Right to Information spreads awareness regarding administrative decision-making.
  • It facilitates the efficient delivery of goods and services to people by public servants.
  • It facilitates constructive criticism.
  • Right to information enhances people’s participation in administration.
  • It makes administration more responsive to the people.
  •  It lowers the chance of abuse of authority.
  • It reduces the chances of corruption in the state machinery.

Case Laws

Bennett Coleman & Co. v. Union of India

It was held that the Right to Information was included within the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19 Clause 1 (a) of the Constitution.

Sarbjit Roy v. Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission

The court held that the Central Information Commission also reaffirmed that privatized public utility companies fall within the purview of RTI.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we can say that the Right to Information Act 2005 is an effective and efficient tool in our fight against corruption and also holds the State and its instrumentalities accountable to its subjects. This act helps in preventing arbitrariness and sets the hallmark of responsible and true democracy. Indeed, the Act itself highlights the importance to preserve the paramount of the democratic ideal by way of careful, reconciled and harmonized sharing of information to the public and securing the information intrinsic to the security and economy of the Nation.

Source: EconomicTimes

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