The Evolution And Impact Of The Right To Information Act, 2005

Posted On - 15 May, 2024 • By - King Stubb & Kasiva


In the pursuit of good governance, accountability and transparency have emerged as fundamental pillars. These principles find their roots in the World Bank Report of 1992[1], which outlined seven unique elements of governance, including transparency and information accessibility. However, the journey towards appreciating and inculcating these ideals has been marked by historical struggles and legal milestones, notably resulting in the enactment of the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act)[2]. This article explores the historical background, legislative intent, and recent significant judgments pertaining to the RTI Act, highlighting its role in upholding accountability and transparency in governmental operations.

Historical Background

The dawn of the Right to Information movement can be traced back to the tumultuous period of the State Emergency of 1975-1977 in India. Public outrage over the repression of information and press censorship during this time laid the groundwork for the emergence of the citizen’s right to information. The commitment to this cause gained political traction, notably reflected in the inclusion of the Right to Information in the Common Minimum Programme of the UPA Government. Headed by the National Advisory Council under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi, significant groundwork was laid for the eventual enactment of the RTI Act.[3]

Enactment of the RTI Act

On 15th June 2005, the Indian Parliament passed the Right to Information Act, 2005,[4] a landmark legislation aimed at democratizing access to information held by public authorities. The Act, which came into effect on 12th October 2005, steered a new era of transparency, accountability, and citizen empowerment. Key provisions of the Act, such as the appointment of Public Information Officers and the establishment of Central and State Information Commissions, were set in motion immediately, reflecting a paradigm shift in governance dynamics.

Legislative Intent

The legislative intent behind the RTI Act was clear: to set out the practical regime of the right to information for citizens to secure access to information held by public authorities.[5] By promoting openness and transparency in the working of every public authority, the Act sought to empower citizens in their active participation in the democratic process. The Act aimed to pull out the traditional opacity surrounding governmental functioning and ingrain the culture of accountability and responsiveness to public scrutiny.

Recent Judicial Pronouncements

The RTI Act has been subject to extensive judicial scrutiny, resulting in several noteworthy judgments that have shaped its implementation and interpretation. These judgments have elucidated crucial aspects such as the scope of information disclosure, exemptions, and the balance between transparency and privacy concerns.

Information being bulky not a ground to deny details under RTI Act

In a recent judgment of Indian Institute of Foreign Trade v. Kamal Jit Chibber[6], passed on dated 26.04.2024, the Delhi High Court shed light on the fundamental right to information, emphasizing that authorities cannot refuse disclosure solely based on the volume of information sought. The issue centered on the denial of information under the Right to Information Act (RTI Act) by the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT) on the grounds of the voluminous nature of the requested information.

Justice Subramonium Prasad, leading the Court, observed and noted that accepting such a contention would effectively introduce an additional exemption under Section 8 of the RTI Act, contradicting its underlying principles of transparency and accountability. The RTI Act mandates disclosure unless the information falls under specific exemptions outlined in Section 8 of the Act. This ruling reiterated the primacy of the right to information and rejected attempts to deny disclosure based solely on administrative convenience or resource constraints.

Chargesheets and Final Reports:

In the case of Saurav Das v. Union of India[7], the Supreme Court clarified that chargesheets and final reports cannot be equated with First Information Reports (FIRs) and hence cannot be mandated for publication on state websites. This ruling emphasized the importance of delineating between different stages of criminal proceedings and upheld the principle of fair trial and due process.

Collegium Discussions:

In Anjali Bhardwaj v. CPIO,[8] the Supreme Court held that only final decisions of the Supreme Court Collegium are to be uploaded on the Court’s website, not the discussions leading up to them. This judgment struck a balance between transparency and the need to preserve the confidentiality of collegium deliberations, respecting the institution’s autonomy.

Right to Privacy:

In HDFC Bank Ltd. v. Union of India,[9] the Supreme Court invoked the doctrine of ex debito justitiae to hear a plea challenging RBI directions mandating the disclosure of confidential information. This ruling reaffirmed the importance of privacy rights while acknowledging the need for judicial review in exceptional circumstances.

SEBI Disclosure:

The Supreme Court, in T. Takano v. SEBI[10], emphasized SEBI’s duty to disclose relevant material to noticees, subject to redactions to protect third-party interests. This judgment highlighted the principles of natural justice and fair hearing in regulatory proceedings.

Judicial Information Access:

In Chief Information Commissioner v. High Court of Gujarat,[11] the Supreme Court clarified that information held on the judicial side of the court is deemed as personal information of litigants and thus exempt from disclosure under the RTI Act. This judgment upheld the sanctity of judicial proceedings and the privacy rights of litigants.

Third-Party Information:

The Supreme Court, in Supreme Court of India v. Subhash Chandra Agarwal,[12] emphasized compliance with Section 11 of the RTI Act concerning third-party information, particularly regarding the appointment of judges. This ruling underscored the importance of balancing transparency with privacy rights, especially in sensitive judicial appointments.

NGO Funding Disclosure:

In DAV College Trust and Managing Society v. Director of Public Instructions[13], the Supreme Court clarified that NGOs substantially financed by the government fall within the ambit of public authorities under the RTI Act. This judgment expanded the scope of the Act to enhance accountability in the non-governmental sector.

Rafale Deal:

The Supreme Court, in Yashwant Sinha v. CBI,[14] allowed the admissibility of leaked documents relating to the Rafale arms deal, underscoring the public interest in transparency and accountability in government contracts.


The Right to Information Act, 2005, stands as a cornerstone in the quest for good governance, accountability, and transparency in India. Through legislative intent and judicial pronouncements, the Act has facilitated greater citizen participation and oversight in governmental affairs. As evidenced by recent judgments, the Act continues to evolve, striking a delicate balance between transparency and privacy rights while upholding the principles of democracy and the rule of law. In an era marked by increasing demands for accountability, the RTI Act remains a potent tool for empowering citizens and fostering a culture of transparency in governance.


[2] Act no. 22 of 2005



[5] Preamble, Right to Information Act, 2005

[6] W.P. (C) -2830/2016

[7] 2023 SCC OnLine SC 58, decided on 20.01.2023

[8] 2022 SCC OnLine SC 1698

[9] 2022 SCC OnLine SC 1337

[10] 2022 SCC OnLine SC 210

[11] (2020) 4 SCC 702

[12] (2020) 5 SCC 481

[13] (2019) 9 SCC 185

[14] (2019) 6 SCC 1

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