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Asha Kanta Sharma

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Evolution of Right to Information in India.



Evolution of Right to Information in India.

In Ancient India, traditionally man is inquisitive and from the
time immemorial he has been busy in his mission of knowing and
discovering the truth in whatever field his aptitude and imagination
ventured. In this context there is ample evidence in this context in
our great Vedic erudition where it is written- ― Life is a perennial
search for the truth. The restless swan (soul) is on journey infinite to
find the truth.
The Indian history starts right from the post glacial
epoch i.e. from about 8000 BC, ―The Rig Veda is considered to be
the first recorded utterance of mankind.‖ Indians from the time
immemorial, worshipped knowledge in the form of Saraswati‘, the
Goddess of knowledge, Let noble thoughts come to us from every side‘

is the eternal message of the Rig Veda given several millennia ago
signifying the freedom to inform and be informed. The Upanishads
also expound a fearless quest of free and frank exchange of views.

The Rig Veda states: 'ekam sat viprah bahudaa vadanti'
meaning truth or god is one but learnt men describe it in many
ways. Hinduism is based primarily on the Vedas. 'Veda' literally
means knowledge or wisdom. It is also called 'Shruti' which means
'what is heard or revealed'. All other scriptures go under the omnibus
term of 'Smriti' ('what is remembered'). Shruti being divinely revealed
to the great Rishis of yore in the depths of their mystical experience,
its authority is supreme. Smritis are the secondary scriptures which
derive their authority from the Shruti. Their business is to explain,
elaborate and illustrate the fundamental teachings of the Shruti.

Hindu scriptures state, ―Sathya meva Jayathe‖ meaning ―Truth alone
triumps never falsehood.‖ So Hindu scriptures allow free flow of
thoughts and actions. Hindu authors knew that by allowing
absolute freedom of expression of thoughts and actions, everyone will
finally end up attaining truth. They preached, "Ignorance is the root
cause of all evils and knowledge eradicates ignorance.

Since the beginning of human civilisation, the need to
communicate with each other has brought the homosapines into
cohesive groups. Communication is not only an exchange of news and
information, it lies in sharing facts, ideas, thoughts and message and
other social activities. The desire to communicate has resulted in the
birth of language the basic mode of communication.
During the middle ages in Europe the concept of the divine right
of kings developed. This right held that because kings were
answerable only to God, they were exempt from criticism from the

public. Freedom of information generally means access to

information about any governmental entity involved in the operation

of government. This includes access to reports, budgets,

correspondence, and other documents related to the operational
aspects of a governmental body, whether it is legislative or executive.
In the early twenty-first century the concepts of freedom of
information and access to information are closely aligned with
democracy. Throughout history democracy and freedom of
information have been limited. Public discourse and exchange of
information and ideas about government were common in the
development of Greek democracies beginning in the fifth century (BC).
Greek citizens were welcome to attend open forums, debate issues,
make proposals, and hear about matters of public debate. Around

the same time the Roman Senate was a public body. Originally it was
composed of the 100 leading citizens of Rome who advised the
executive authority. Neither the Greeks nor the Romans practiced
democracy in the modern sense, and neither society recognized
equality among its citizens. Nonetheless, each saw the need for
public participation in government and, in order for that government
to prove effective, for citizens to be aware of the issues of the day and
understand the workings of government, with kings enjoying such an
exalted position and insulation, public participation in government
was limited. Because kings did not answer to the public, there was
little necessity for them to communicate information to the public or
respond to public requests. Laws prohibiting criticism of the
government or government officials, known as insult laws, still exist in
many countries around the world. Although these laws are not always
enforced, their existence, which limits speech and information, is
considered a major hindrance to freedom of expression and freedom of

Ideas related to freedom of information are freedom of the press
and freedom of expression. Shortly after Johannes Gutenberg
invented printing in the mid-fifteenth century, the Catholic Church
imposed censorship on any books not approved by the Church. In
England, beginning with 1530, censorship and the repression of ideas
and information were common.

English poet John Milton in his famous essay argued
passionately for freedom of ideas and information and against the
licensing and printing monopoly common in England at that time. In
some of the most famous lines in Western literature Milton wrote:
"And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the
earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and
prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple;
who ever knew truth put to the worse, in a free and open
encounter. The concept of the marketplace of ideas was thus born,
one in which people would have access to all information and
individuals would be free to publish their own ideas and opinions
without fear of retribution. The fundamental belief behind the
marketplace of ideas is that the people, not government, the church,
or any other group, should decide what is the truth.

The founders of the U.S. Constitution were inspired by the
marketplace of ideas in the eighteenth century and sought to include
it in the formation of a representative democracy and guarantee the
free flow of information. James Madison (1751–1836) was the
primary author of the Bill of Rights, in an frequently quoted letter to
W. T. Barry (1785–1835) written in 1822, Madison said: "A popular
Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring
it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps, both.
Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be
their own governors must arm themselves with the power which
knowledge gives"

Although general openness and access to information were
traditions early on in the United States, laws in the twentieth century
made the process more formal and outlined specific procedures for
securing information. The Federal Freedom of Information Act was
passed in 1966 and signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–
1973). During that time period many individual states enacted open
records and open meetings acts, part of a so-called sunshine law
movement. "Government in the sunshine" became an expression of
openness and accessibility to government just as the United States
was making major reforms in civil rights and improving opportunities
for women.

The access to information law in Sweden is the oldest in the
world, dating from 1766. Freedom of the press and freedom of
information received a major push from various international
organizations during the mid-twentieth century. Article 19 of the
United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights, adopted in
1948, states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and
expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without
interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas
through any media and regardless of frontiers."

As of 2004 more than fifty countries around the world had laws
specifying access to information.That number continues to
increase, as there is an active movement to enact such laws. Among
those countries enacting access laws in the early twenty-first century
is India, the world's second most populous country. Access to
information laws are common in Europe, and about half the
countries in Latin America have some type of law regarding citizens'
right to information. Mexican President Vicente Fox (b. 1942)
signed such a bill into law in 2002. In the first year of its existence the
law in Mexico was used by thousands of citizens and journalists
seeking specific types of information from the government.

Sweden was the first country to grant to its people the right of
access to government information. In Sweden, all governmental
information is public unless certain matters are specifically listed as
exemptions from the general rule. This right is made formal by a
provision for a system of appeal against the wrongful withholding of
information by public officials. What is more, this law dates back to
the year 1766. Sweden has thus been practising openness in its
public administration for an uninterrupted period of 215 years,
apparently without any harm occurring to it or loss suffered by it.
This only proves that legitimate national interests can as well be
safeguarded under conditions of administrative openness.
Swedish legal culture treats access to government departments
and documents as a right and non-access as an exception. In this
context, Donald C. Rowat writes as under:-

"To my amazement, all incoming and outgoing documents and
mail were laid out in a special press room in each department for an
hour every morning for reporters to examine. If any reporter wanted
further information on a case, he simply walked down the hall to look
at the departmental files. No special permission was needed. Such a
system of open access is so alien to the tradition of secrecy elsewhere
as to be almost unbelievable. Sweden's long experience with the
principle of openness indicates that it changes the whole spirit in
which public business is conducted. It causes a decline in public
suspicion and in distrust of the officials, and this in turn gives them a
great feeling of confidence. More important, it provides a much more
solid foundation for public debate, and gives citizens in a democracy a
much firmer control over their government.


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