Abhinav Garg, Charles Wallace Fellow 2009 at Cardiff University, is researching the effects of the Freedom of Information Act, since its inception in the United Kingdom. His paper attempts through a case study of UK and India’s experiences with their respective freedom of information laws to find out what are the challenges facing better access to information.
Abhinav has been a journalist with THE TIMES OF INDIA, New Delhi (India) for over 5 years. There he handled legal reporting for the newspaper. His stint with the newspaper co-incided with some of the most high profile murder trials to be heard in India and as a result reported these extensively.
Abhinav's interest in freedom of information led him to several scoops uncovering the rot within sections of the judiciary and government in India.
With the latest MP’s expenses scandal rocking the United Kingdom, freedom of information has constantly enlivened public discourse and stressed the need for immediate correctives in the approach of the government or authority towards the spirit of this Act.
For the House of Commons to block disclosure of information on how public money is being spent, for it to even take legal recourse once faced with an unfavourable ruling from the information commissioner – these are not healthy signs for a democracy supposedly manned by “representative of the people”.
Unfortunately, such an attitude is not uncommon. It is the instinctive reaction of governments in our so called open societies. For instance in my native nation India, the response to demands for greater transparency have been on similar lines as that of the UK.
Authorities have clammed up, needlessly invoked exemption clause provided for spare usage under the Act and at worst, have even fudged information!
My research is aimed at unearthing such dubious practices, anti-democratic attitudes of those in power (both UK and India) with a case study each. I also intend to come up with some suggestions – journalists are universally condemned for just criticizing – therefore a conscious effort will be made to come up with insights based on my research that help the public in easier access to information.
In India I have been involved with lawyers, activists and students at various stages of my reporting career. Sometimes it was for redressal of grievances. At other times to correct miscarriage of justice, and presently for bringing the judiciary under the ambit of the Right to Information Act – India’s version of the Freedom of Information Act.