What has been the purpose and objective behind the passing of the Right to Information (RTI) Act? Has it come at the right time, or it has come early or it should have come long time ago?
The Right to Information (RTI) is an intrinsic part of democracy. From that point of view, to answer your question whether it has come early or late, I would say it has come a little after than it should have come. It should have come soon after we became a democracy. But there are reasons why it could not be there because we were a new democracy; we did not have a long tradition of democratic governance.
This tradition had to be established which took time. Now I think that we can claim to be among the more advanced democracies like anywhere in the world. We have our weaknesses; every democracy has its own weaknesses. But this is something that adds strength to the democracy, which leads towards public participation in governance. The public can participate in governance if it knows what the government is doing, and why it is doing what. Once they know what and why, public can either give its recommendations, vote for somebody whom they feel can do what they want, change the government if it feels it needs to be changed, it can raise questions in the parliament, it can raise questions in the street. There are so many means to participate. But first the public needs to have the information and only then it can participate. Therefore, this Act is considered more important than the Constitution itself because it makes the democracy real, makes it for the people of this country. It extends to every citizen of India, gives the right to every citizen of India.
It is not that the government did not give this right before. Article 19 of the Constitution of India also gives the right to freedom of speech; and freedom of speech and right to information go together. But there was no mechanism earlier through which citizens could access the information. Now that mechanism is there.
The other point is when I am talking about why is it important for democracy. In a democracy, as per the classic definition of democracy, Government is of the people, by the people and for the people; and if this is so, that means that the money which is collected by the government is public money. It is literally public money because they pay the taxes, and therefore own this money. The government is only holding it on behalf of the public. It is not an imperial system where the emperor has taken money for his own durbar. So, when the money is given to the government in trust, the people have the right to know what the government has done with this money. And therefore, this Act extends to all the public authorities. Public authorities are all those organizations, which have accepted public money