Hon'ble Chief Minister - Ch. Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Finance, Labour & Employment Minister- Ch. Birender Singh; Education Minister - Sh. Phool Chand Mullana; members of the legal fraternity; other officers of the Government; ladies and gentlemen.

                   We have assembled here for release of the book ''The Right to Information Act, 2005'' authored by Smt. Dheera Khandelwal and Krishana Kumar Khandelwal. Both are I.A.S. Officers.

                   Authors have rightly mentioned at page 18 to the effect that ''there is a pervasive culture of secrecy and arrogance within the bureaucracy; and in India bureaucrats place serious difficulties in the way of public's legitimate access to information'', is an example of articulation of ground realities perceived by the author bureaucrats themselves about their peer group.

                 Man's advent on earth has been a great event; equally monumental has been proliferation of information as also ways and means of communicating it. The history of information is older than even the history of writing in the world. It is believed that need of writing arose in response to the need of storage and retrieval of such information. In recent times, information has become a potent force. Information sustains and supports every activity in life. Processed data is information. Collection and retention of information becomes knowledge and knowledge is power. Consequently information is the lynch pin of the political process. The right to information forms the crucial bedrock of participatory democracy. It is essential to ensure accountability and good governance. Greater the access of citizens to information, higher is the responsiveness of the government to answer community needs. The people's right to know is intrinsic; it is necessary for meaningful  debate which is crucial to democracy.

                   Hitherto, secrecy and claim of privilege in parting with information has been the rule. In Indian context, The Officials Secret Act, 1923, Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 and certain provisions of the Central Civil Service Conduct Rules, 1964 are some examples of restrictive legislative framework. There has been culture of privacy and secrecy coupled with arrogance within the functionaries of the government. Even after independence, mindset of the government officials has not changed to the extent it ought to have changed.

                   The primary foundation for insisting upon openness in government, rests upon the sovereignty of the people. However, the people cannot directly run the government. This task is delegated to their elected representatives. In that sense, the government can be perceived as representative of the people performing the task and exercising the powers, which have devolved on it, in trust of the people. In short, the information sought to be accessed belongs not to the rulers, but to the people as a whole. In S.P. Gupta v. Union of India, AIR 1982 SC 149, the Supreme Court held that right to know is implicit in the right of free speech and expression, as envisaged in Article 19(1)(a).

                   Freedom of information is a fundamental human right. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 provides for it. Again in Article 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, Article 7 of International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination, 1966; Article IV of American Declaration of the Rights of Man, 1948, Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights (Pact of San Jose Costa Rice) 1969 and Article 9 of African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, 1981, and Article 10 of Rome Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, 1950 articulate right to information.

                   Democracy and right to information

                   Effective operation of any representative democracy depends on its people. Democracy requires informed citizenry and transparency of information. Only informed people are able to discuss and contribute to government decision making. In Meneka Gandhi v. Union of India, AIR 1978 SC 597 Justice Krishna Iyer rightly said: ''A government which revels in secrecy.... not only acts against democratic (tenets) but busies itself with its own burial.

                   Having received the assent of President of India, enforcement of the Right to Information Act, 2005 on 15.6.2005, is a landmark development. The public has the right to have access to information with the government or other public instrumentalities. This legislation secures to citizens of India access to information under the control of public authorities. The aim is to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority. This legislation covers Central, States, Local and other governmental agencies, as also instrumentalities of the States. Right to information means right to access information held by or under the control of any public authority and includes inspection of documents, records and taking notes or copies in any form including electronic mode or through print outs. Information means any material in any form including records, documents, memos, E-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, log books etc. or material held in any electronic form.

                   Right to information of citizens of India has a corresponding obligation on public authorities to properly maintain the records to facilitate accessibility to such records. Time framework has been provided for updation and correct maintenance of records.

                   Exemptions from Disclosure

                   However, implementation of this legislation poses a great challenge. Disclosure of information in actual practice is likely to conflict with public interest including efficiency of the government, preservation of confidentiality of sensitive information etc. In such events, harmonization of conflicting interests while maintaining the paramountcy of democratic ideals is going to be the touch stone.

                   The government, its instrumentalities as also other public authorities are exempt from disclosure of information in such situations. Information affecting sovereignty and integrity of India, security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, information forbidden by court of law to be disclosed or which causes breach of privileges of Parliament or State Legislature, trade secrets, information from Foreign governments, information which endangers life or physical safety, impedes investigations, prosecution of offenders, cabinet papers, about fiduciary relationships etc. provide restrictive regime or exemptions from disclosure.

                   Sun light is best disinfectant. But it is equally important to be alive to dangers that lie ahead. In U.S., Britain, Australia, Netherlands, France, Canada and Ireland, it has been found that untrammeled disclosure through Right to Information law seriously inhibits free, fearless and frank advice on the official files.

                   Though freedom of information is to be broadly construed and right to access to information is to be subjected only to statutorily provided restrictive regime, mis-user of information for ulterior ends is an area which needs attention. Benefit of imparting information to information seeker citizens is to be viewed in the interface of larger benefit to the society. If information sought for, does not serve larger public interest, but only seeks to achieve personal ends, such request is to be declined. A caution needs to be exercised against mischief mongers. The machinery established in the Act has also to develop ethos of decency and serenity so that personal biases, inter departmental or individual egos do not mar the smooth and meaningful working of the legislation. Only the time would tell how the machinery under the Act wins confidence of all i.e. big or small, mighty and the destitutes.

                   The authors have taken pain for extensively quoting the judgments of the Supreme Court and High Courts in basing their comments in this lucid  commentary. Good governance is open governance. Khandelwals have done extensive research by tracing the case law right from S.P. Gupta's case and I am particularly impressed about their dealing in Part-VIII ''GUIDELINES ON THE RIGHT TO KNOW PROMOTING OPEN GOVERNMENT COMMON WEALTH PRINCIPLES''.  They have taken out in the context of benefits of freedom of information that it facilitates public participation in public affairs by providing access to relevant information to the people who are then empowered to make informer choices and better exercise their democratic rights. It enhances the accountability of government improves decision-making, provides better information to elected representatives, enhances government credibility with its citizens and provides powerful aid in the fight against corruption. It is also a key livelihood and development issue, especially in situations of poverty and powerlessness.

                   In the last, thanking the authors for bringing this book for benefit of all sections of society, be it the lawyers, the bureaucrats or the people at large, I wish price of the book should have been within reach of each and everyone. The authors may venture an objective type hand book for all on this vibrant law which is lowly priced and is handy.