RTI trumps Official Secrets Act, says SC

Prelims level : Supreme Court Mains level :
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  • An all-out effort by the government to claim privilege and push the Rafale jets’ pricing details back into the dark zone was met with a stoic counter.
  • The government’s reasons to hush the Rafale prices ranged from national security to not upsetting a “solemn undertaking” given to France to keep the price of the jets a secret.


  • One of the three judges, asked the government to read out Sections of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005 as the law has revolutionised governance and overpowered notions of secrecy protected under the Official Secrets Act, 1923.

Right to Information Act 2005

  • This law was passed by Parliament on 15 June 2005 and came fully into force on 12 October 2005.
  • It mandates timely response to citizen requests for government information by various public authorities under Central Government as well as the State Governments.
  • The law imposes penalty for wilful default by government officials.
  • Citizens can ask for anything that government can disclose to Parliament.
  • Objectives of RTI are to empower citizens (as right to information is fundamental right of the citizens under Article 19), promote transparency and accountability in working of Government, check corruption and make our democracy work for the people in real sense.
  • Public authorities defined under this law are required to reply expeditiously or within thirty days of the request.
  • The law also mandates every public authority to computerise their records for wide dissemination and proactively certain categories of information so that citizens need minimum recourse to request for information formally.

Exceptions from RTI

  • Information that can prejudicially impact internal security, relations with foreign countries, intellectual property rights, breach of parliamentary privilege and impedes investigations cannot be shared with public under RTI.
  • Cabinet papers are exempted from RTI until decision has been implemented.
  • However, discussions within Cabinet are never disclosed under RTI.
  • Non-Resident Indians (NRI) cannot file Right to Information (RTI) applications to seek governance-related information from Central government departments.
  • Only citizens of India have the right to seek information under the provisions of RTI Act, 2005 and NRIs are not eligible to file RTI applications.

About Official Secrets Act, 1923:

  • The Official Secrets Act is a British era legislation enacted in 1923 to suppress spying of the British Government.
  • This act clearly states that actions which involve helping an enemy state against India are strongly condemned.
  • It also states that one cannot approach, inspect, or even pass over a prohibited government site or area.
  • Punishments under the act range from three to fourteen years imprisonment.
  • This act is controversial to the modern RTI act, 2005.
  • In the clause 6 of OSA, information from any governmental office is considered official information, hence it can be used to override Right to Information Act, 2005 requests. This has drawn harsh criticism.
  • The Union Home Ministry in 2017 agreed to amend the OSA to make it more transparent and in line with the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Rafale Aircraft

  • It is a 4th generation, twin-engine, multi-role fighter aircraft.
  • It is capable of carrying out all combat missions:air defence,interception,ground support,in-depth strikes, reconnaissance, anti-ship strikes and nuclear deterrence.
  • An active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar which enables the pilot to look 200 to 400 kms away. It gives long range precision strike capability, the pilot can detect enemy aircraft and share the information and also destroy the targets.
  • The weapons package includes Meteor radar guided Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missile considered the best in the class with range of over 150 km and Scalp long range air to ground missiles. The Rafale will also be fitted with MICA missiles, an Air to Land precision missile of more than 300 km range.
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