A Great and Revolutionary Law? The First Four Years of India’s Right to Information Act


Alasdair Roberts is the Jerome L. Rappaport Professor of Law and Public Policy at Suffolk University Law School, Boston. His latest book is The Logic of Discipline: Global Capitalism and the Architecture of Government (Oxford University Press, 2010).


India’s 2005 Right to Information Act (RTIA) is among dozens of national laws recently adopted similar to the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. Drawing on several large studies examining the act’s implementation, the author finds that Indian citizens filed about 2 million requests for information under the RTIA during its first two and half years. However, use of the law was constrained by uneven public awareness, poor public planning, and bureaucratic indifference or outright hostility. Requirements for proactive disclosure of information are often ignored. The necessary mechanisms for enforcing the new law are also strained by a growing number of complaints and appeals. Nonetheless, RTIA advocates demonstrate its transformative potential and continue to press energetically for more effective implementation. Public authorities and civil society organizations have developed a number of practical innovations that may be useful for other developing countries to adopt when considering similar laws.