Information is power and the right to information is fundamental to democracy.  Amidst the second national lockdown, fake news, and increasing rumours, the state has a greater responsibility in the disclosure of information. Disclosure on time is equally important to protect citizens from fake news and rumours.

Recognizing the importance of the right to information, Article 7 (3) of our Constitution explicitly guarantees this right. Compared to us, even in the most liberal democratic countries like the United States and India, there is no explicit right to information in their constitution. However, this right is indisputably recognized as a fundamental right under the freedom of speech and expression.

The Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, former Chief Justice of Bhutan, Sonam Tobgye, wrote, “information is knowledge and empowers people and removes the uncertainty and doubts.” He further mentioned that it will help build mutual trust between the government and citizens. Therefore, the right to information is a “basic tenet of democracy that where the government takes any major decision which would affect the citizens, it must inform citizens of the reasons for its actions. It is incumbent on the government to provide the reasons for constricting the citizen’s fundamental right to information.”

In fact, the sole purpose and primary objective of the freedom of media or press guaranteed under Article 7(5) of our Constitution are to ensure the right to information. The freedom of media is not the right of media, rather it is there to ensure the accountability of government through the sharing of information to the public and take public opinion to the government.

Quoting Lord Parker, the Indian Supreme Court in the landmark case of State Of U.P vs. Raj Narain & Ors (1975) said “the right to know is derived from the concept of freedom of speech. In a community under a system of representative government, there can be only a few secrets. People have the right to know every public act, everything, that is done in a public way, by their public functionaries. The responsibility of officials to explain and to justify their acts is the chief safeguard against oppression and corruption.”

So far, our government has done remarkably well and impressive in ensuring timely information on Covid-19 but not without flaws or glitches. For example, when Thimphu Thromde on Thursday declared that “all shops can be opened immediately except those shops in areas starting from India House, Hejo, Samtenling, Bebena and Dechenchholing” without assigning any reasons why some of these zones are not permitted to open the shops,  many took social media speculating reasons and many rumours on Covid-19 continue to emerge.  Similarly, when Trongsa Dzongdag was recalled by the Royal Civil Service Commission without divulging any reasons, it  lead to various rumours including corruption. The Kuensel Editorial cited that the Commission dodged questions from the media on the issue.

Yesterday Kuensel Editorial highlighted that “the biggest problem facing us today is the explosion of unfounded claims that could undermine the whole effort to deal with the unrelenting nature of the virus.” The most effective weapon to fight against such claims and rumours is the vigorous, timely, and correct information by the state agencies. In nutshell, the right to information is not just about citizen’s rights but to build a strong trust between those who are governed and those who govern the nation.

Sonam Tshering 

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.