Resurrecting the right to know
Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.
- The All Assam Students’ Union’s decision to release the High-Level Committee report.
- A High-Level Committee (HLC) was constituted by the Home Ministry in July 2019, to recommend measures to implement Clause 6 of the Assam Accordand define “Assamese People”.
- Clause 6 of the Assam Accord states that: “Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.”
- The HLC finalized its report by mid-February 2020. With the Central government apparently “sitting idle” over the report, the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), which was represented in the HLC, released the report recently based on the argument of people’s right to know.
- All Assam Students’ Union move to release the High-Level Committee report marks a significant development in the right to information campaign.
- It is the major judicial observationswith respect to the right to information.
State of U.P. v. Raj Narain case (1975):
- Though in the State of U.P. v. Raj Narain case (1975), the Supreme Court carved out a class of documents that demand protection like Cabinet papers, foreign office despatches, papers regarding the security of the state and high-level interdepartmental minutes, one of the judges held a pragmatic view that the citizens have a right to know every public act. It was argued that the right to know is derived from the concept of freedom of speech.
S.P. Gupta v. President of India case (1981):
- In the S.P. Gupta v. President of India case (1981) one of the judges had famously remarked that the current emphasis should be on the right of a citizen to know than on his ‘need to know’ the contents of official documents, recognizing the growing tendency in democratic countries to liberalise the restrictions placed on the right of the citizens to know what is happening in the various public offices.
- The Supreme Court in S.P. Gupta case also held that the observance of secrecy in the functioning of government and the processes of government could promote and encourage corruption and misuse or abuse of authority in the absence of public accountability.
Yashwant Sinha v. Central Bureau of Investigation case (2019):
- In Yashwant Sinha v. Central Bureau of Investigation (2019), the Supreme Court held that there is no provision by which the government could either restrain the publication of documents marked as secret or prevent the placing of such documents before a court of law which may have been called upon to adjudicate a legal issue concerning the parties.
- It referred to Section 8(2) of the Right to Information Act, 2005which provides that a citizen can get a certified copy of a document even if the matter pertains to security or relationship with a foreign nation, if a case is made out, thus making it clear that the right to know can be curtailed only in limited circumstances and if there is an overriding public interest.
- The court referred to the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in New York Times v. United States (1971)wherein the adjudicating judge declined to recognise the right of the government to restrain publication of the Pentagon Papers.
- The SC didn’t accept the argument from the government that the provisions of the Official Secrets Act, 1923had been violated while filing for the review petition in the Rafael case.
- The Official Secrets Act, 1923 is applicable to government servants and citizens and provides the framework for dealing with espionage, sedition, and other potential threats to the integrity of the nation.
- The law makes spying, sharing ‘secret’ information as punishable offences. If guilty, a person may get up to 14 years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both.
- The information could be any reference to a place belonging to or occupied by the government, documents, photographs, sketches, maps, plans, models, official codes or passwords.