This article is written by Vedika Goel of OP Jindal Global University, Haryana. This article discusses the importance of the right to be informed along with a brief of different perspectives associated with it. The article also undertakes a brief study of the Right to Information Act, 2005.
It has been published by Rachit Garg.
The right to information is indispensable as it forms the bedrock of trust between an individual and a government. It is pertinent to note that over 90 countries have acknowledged it as one of the crucial rights of the modern human race. It is a basic human right to demand information from the government and for the consumers to have information on the product or service they intend to buy. Democracy is based on the very idea of consent and this consent can only be present if the government authorities are transparent and the citizens are kept informed about the activities of the authorities.
This article discusses various perspectives of the right to be informed. The article also discusses the Right to Information Act, 2005 which has been instrumental in giving the right to information a legal backing in India.
What is the right to be informed
Right to be informed simply means being transparent and allowing someone to access the information that it requires. Right to be informed can be seen from different perspectives. For instance, the consumers must have the right to be informed about the product or service that is being bought by them. Not only this but the citizens also have the right to know how their personal data is used by the government. A citizen should be able to access any information that it may require from any public authority.
Importance of the right to be informed
Right to be informed comes from the basic idea that people should be at the centre of governance in a democratic country. In a participative democracy, it becomes crucial to ensure accountability as well as transparency for good governance. It also gives the citizens a sense of confidence and trust towards the government authorities. If access to information is denied, citizens might feel alienated and powerless. This undoubtedly goes against the spirit of a democratic country. Without information, citizens are not only denied their basic rights but are also denied the opportunity to make an informed choice. It is also believed that the right to information can act as a safeguard against corruption.
Right to be informed as a consumer right
Right to be informed is one of the most important consumer rights. This means that all details regarding the quality, price, quantity, ingredients/contents, side effects, purity and potency must be provided or made available to the customer. This is expressly defined as right to information under the The Consumer Protection Act, 1986. Therefore, before customers proceed to buy the good or service, they have the right to know all the information related to it. The main objective of providing such information to the customers is to protect them from unfair trade practices. A customer will also be able to make an informed choice regarding the good or service. For instance, a consumer must be made aware of the contents as well as the potential side effects of a pharmaceutical drug. Without knowing the quality, ingredients, purity, and other factors associated with the product or service, a consumer might not be able to make the right choice. The right information will also prevent the consumer from falling prey to high-pressure selling techniques that are commonly used in markets.
The consumers can get information through different types of sources. These may include the following:
A label can be described as a tag that is mainly attached to the product. A label must ideally contain elaborate information that describes the product. A label may contain information such as ingredients, nutritional information (calorie count, sugar contents, protein content etc), expiry date, or ‘use-by’ date. An ideal label must also contain details pertaining to the name and address of the manufacturer, processing techniques, health claims, date of manufacturing, batch number, and quantity. Therefore, a label should act as a source of information for the customers. It must be ensured that a label does not mislead a customer, i.e., it must not make any statement or claim that is false or misleading to the customers.
Advertisements and electronic media
Advertisement is a powerful technique to make a product known to the customer. It keeps the customers informed about the availability of the product in the market. Effective advertising ensures that a customer is aware of the product’s details pertaining to its safety, nutritional information, and even potential side effects. Moreover, other sources like newspapers and magazines are also good sources to access any additional information on the product.
A citizen has the freedom to seek information from any public authority. A citizen charter is a written document that includes a declaration of the standard, accessibility as well as transparency by the service provider. Public undertakings must use the citizen charter to keep the information transparent and accessible to the consumers. A consumer can seek information on proper use or even the risks associated with a particular product. It must be ensured that there is a free flow of information from the public undertakings to the customers at all times. It is the right of the consumers to request for any information they might need before buying a product or service.
Right to be informed under the Right to Information Act, 2005
The Right to Information Act, 2005 was enacted with the objective of providing information to the citizens by the public authorities. It is directly derived from Article 19 of the Constitution of India which provides the fundamental right of freedom to speech and expression. The underlying idea is that one cannot form a free opinion or speech without knowing how the government and public authorities operate or function. It also entitles the citizens to receive information on public authorities. This not only creates a fear in the minds of those authorities who have corrupt motives but also creates a sense of transparency between the citizens and the public authorities. Any administrative action or even a quasi-judicial judgement taken by such authorities that directly impact or affect the citizens can fall under the purview of this Act. Under this Act, the authorities are also bound by a time limit of 30 days to provide the requested information. Moreover, if the information is denied by the authorities at any time without a justified cause, the citizens have the right to approach the appellate courts to enforce their rights under this Act. Some of the important considerations under this Act are as follows:
Kind of information that can be accessed
Under Article 2(f) of the RTI Act, 2005, the citizen can access various types of information. This information may include materials such as E-mails, circulars, memos (in the form of correspondence), advice given in official matters that form a part of the record, orders issued by authorities, press releases and reports on official matters, opinions given by government officials in official public dealings or matters, logbooks of any official public authority, models of any official projects undertaken, official contracts entered into by the public authorities, circulars notifying public policy decisions, etc.
Maintenance of public records
Section 4 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 requires the public authorities to maintain records and publish the name of the officer who would be required to give information within 120 days. This information may include the following-
- Powers and duties of the officers along with its employees.
- Categories of documents held by the officials.
- The procedure that may be followed in the decision-making process.
- Details of an organisation including its functions and duties.
Circumstances in which information can be denied/exemptions
It is important to note that along with giving the citizens the right to information, this Act also gives a list of circumstances wherein the information requested can be denied. Section 8 provides for such exemptions from disclosure. Some of the exemptions include disclosures that affect the sovereign integrity of India along with an impact on the strategic and economic interests of the state and its relation with foreign states. It also exempts certain information that is expressly barred by the court or tribunal including information that can endanger public safety, and life or is against security reasons. This section also prohibits the disclosure of information that can hamper the investigation process of offenders or accused persons. Moreover, information such as trade secrets, Intellectual property rights that could have a bearing on the competitive power of third parties is also prohibited from disclosure.
Important case laws on Right to Information in India
In the case of S.P Gupta v. Union of India (1981), the Supreme Court held that citizens have the right to access information from public authorities and the public must be authorised to have access to certain public transactions. Further, in the case of RP Ltd. v. Indian Express Newspaper (1988), the Supreme Court clearly held the right to information as a basic right under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. In the case of R.K Jain v. Union of India(1993), the Supreme Court held that information pertaining to sanctions, and penalties against an employee is not information that is required for public interest but is a matter that must stay between the employee and the employer.
In the landmark case of Pinki Ganirewal v. Union Public Service Commission(2010) wherein the petitioner had requested the selection list of certain deputy directors by the Service Commission. The personal information of the selected candidates was rejected by the Commission and the Supreme Court held this to be a ‘grave error’. The court reasoned that this information was in the public interest and therefore should not have been denied. The court also opined that the benefits of such information outweigh the harm. However, there have also been instances where the courts have denied the right to information to citizens. In the case of Central Board of Secondary Education v. Aditya Bandopadhyay(2011), the Supreme Court held that students have the right to be informed regarding the evaluation of answer sheets and that an examining body and a student are not under a fiduciary relationship. In the recent case of the Central Public Information Officer, Supreme Court of India v. Subhash Chandra Agarwal(2019), the Supreme Court directed the Central Public Information Officer to furnish details of information regarding the collegium decision process and the personal assets of the judges.
Right to be informed under GDPR
GDPR(General Data Protection Regulation) of the EU aims at providing information to people regarding what is being done with their personal data. The information provided must be clear as well as concise. Articles 13 and 14 of the GDPR provide the list of information to which a person must have access. This information is also known as ‘privacy information’. The processing of information regarding personal data should always be fair, transparent and lawful. The right to be informed under Articles 13 and 14 is an integral part of an organisation’s obligation to be transparent. The underlying principle of transparency is that information regarding personal data should not only be accessible but also comprehensible. When personal data is collected from an individual, it can access various types of information. This may include the following-
- The details of the data collector to whom the personal data is given.
- The purpose for processing the data.
- The legitimate interests of the third party or controller or any other recipients.
- The retention period (the time limit for which the personal data can be held) or the standard used to determine the retention period.
- In case the processing is based on consent, information on the right of withdrawal of such consent must also be given.
- Right to lodge a complaint with a supervisory authority.
- The possible consequences of failure to provide the personal data, i.e., whether the obligation to give personal data is statutory or contractual.
- Existence of other rights such as the right to data portability, right to rectification, right to access, right to object, right to restrict processing etc.
The right to be informed is the most fundamental in ensuring good governance. Every citizen has the right to information, i.e., the right to be informed. The Right to Information Act, 2005 was one of the biggest steps taken by the Indian legislature toward keeping the citizens informed about the activities of the government. It makes the government more accountable for its actions. Consumers must also be fully aware of their right to be informed about the ingredients, shelf life, expiry, manufacturing, safety warnings, and other important details regarding the product or service they are intending to buy. Therefore, the right to be informed can be understood from different perspectives.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is the right to be informed legally recognised in India?
The right to be informed is legally recognised under the Right to Information Act, 2005. The Consumer Protection Act of 1986 also recognises the right to information as a legal right of consumers.
Are there any restrictions under this right?
Not every kind of information is required to be disclosed. Section 8 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 lists out certain categories of information that cannot be disclosed.
How can consumers get information about the product/ service?
Labels are a good source of information. Every product must have a label to ensure that consumers are informed about the good. However, there are other sources such as advertisements, newspapers, electronic media, and official records from which more information can be accessed.
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