Transparency is a significant feature of good governance. It is the right of the citizens to question the government on its varied policies and initiatives and access information about governmental issues to exercise this right and hold the government accountable for its actions. This right is also enshrined under Article 19 (a).
Government secrecy encourages citizens’ distrust in government, but transparency removes the wall of secrecy created by those in power against the common people. Accountability extends beyond the simple responsibility of completing a task or providing a service. For this very purpose, the Government of India has laid out various provisions and measures to practice the principle of transparency and accountability. One law that provides an opportunity for people to gain information is the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI).
The aim of this act is to inform the citizens on government matters, ensuring the citizen’s active participation in the functioning of democracy at all times, not just when voting. RTI is a measure of a country’s progress and development. But this begs the question, can a foreigner seek information under the RTI Act? In this article, we will try to answer this question and give insight into the Right to Information Act itself.
Right to Information Act, 2005
The RTI Act, or the Right to Information Act, of 2005, allows individuals to gain information on government issues and policies. This act was passed on 15th June 2005 and came into force on 12th October 2005. This act replaced the RTI Act of 2002.
In the case of Raj Narayan v. the State of Uttar Pradesh, the petitioner challenged the legitimacy of the victory of Indira Gandhi in the Lok Sabha elections. He demanded that the Blue Books outlining the itinerary of the trip and security arrangements for the Prime Minister be released.
Although the disclosure of this information was not allowed, the Honorable Supreme Court ruled that the right to information is a fundamental and constitutional right, and it is the right of the citizens to know and seek information on the workings of the government. This right has been enshrined under Article 19 (1) (a) – Right to Freedom and Expression.
In a landmark decision in Union of India v. Association for Democratic Reforms, (2002), Article 19(1)(a) was expanded and the Supreme Court confirmed the rights of the voter to know the background of candidates who are running for elections in various forms of government. People have a basic right to know the background of the persons whom they are electing to run for crucial posts in a democracy. Later, the government issued an ordinance, followed by an act, to negate the verdict’s consequences.
Objectives of the Right to Information Act
The objectives of the RTI Act, of 2005 are as follows:
- To establish a practical framework that permits individuals to gain access to information under the authority of governmental bodies.
- To encourage the principles of accountability and transparency in the functioning of the government.
- To establish Information Commissions at national and state levels to carry out the functions and powers granted by the act.
- To keep corruption in check.
- To lay out provisions for exemption of disclosure of information because the released information is likely to cause conflict with other public entities and to balance these conflicting interests while maintaining the primacy of democracy.
Does RTI Act allow foreigners to seek information?
Recently, in the case of A.S Rawat v, Dawa Tashi the Delhi High Court touched upon the question of whether the Right to Information Act extends to non-citizens as well. Tashi is a postgraduate professor and is a Tibetan born in India. In July 2014, Dawa filed an RTI application requesting a confirmation letter as a CTSA employee and also inquired about the perks to which he was entitled. On the grounds that he was a Tibetan national, his application was denied and his appeal was also rejected.
The Delhi High Court declared that foreigners are not banned from accessing information from government entities under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, and also the belief that this right only belongs to the citizens of India would be per se inconsistent.
The court highlighted that imposing a complete prohibition on the publication of information to foreigners would be counter to the RTI Act’s aim and objective. The RTI Act places a high value on access to information concerning a person’s life or liberty, and denying access to non-citizens would also be contrary to the fundamental values. The court stressed that the right to information might also apply to non-citizens, including foreigners, OCI card holders, NRIs, and others.
The court ruled that the decision to disclose information requested by a non-citizen should be left to the will of the relevant authority. It emphasized that the Right to Information should be accessible to both citizens and foreigners, taking into account the nature of the information pursued and the rights granted to such individuals under the Constitution of India.
To conclude, the Right to Information is a significant law in our legislation. It empowers the citizens to access information ensuring transparency and accountability of the government. While the act primarily focuses on the citizens of India and fails to distinguish between a ‘person’ and ‘citizen’ the recent judgment of the Delhi High Court in the case of A.S. Rawat v. Dawa Tashi clarified that foreigners are not stripped from the right to seek information under the RTI Act.
The judgment highlights that the RTI Act’s intention is to promote transparency and accountability, and therefore, non-citizens’ right to access information should be considered depending on the type of information sought and the rights guaranteed to them under the Constitution. This ruling can be seen as a positive step in providing fundamental rights guaranteed to all, irrespective of the status of citizenship. However, it is possible that this issue might need a final ruling by the Supreme Court of India to clarify and settle the matter authoritatively.
- Ayush Tiwari, “Right to Information Act, 2005”, iPleaders Blog, 5 November 2022, available at: https://blog.ipleaders.in/right-to-information-act-2005/#:~:text=A%20public%20body%20may%20provide,sub%2Dsection%20(1) (last visited on 22 July 2023)
- “Non-citizens not barred from seeking information under RTI Act: Delhi HC”, Indian Express, 20 March 2022, available at: https://indianexpress.com/article/india/non-citizens-not-barred-from-seeking-information-under-rti-act-delhi-hc-8508243/ (last visited on 22 July 2023)