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RTI Act: Everything about your right to information

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WHEN WAS THE ACT PASSED?

The Right to Information Act (RTI) 2005 was passed by Parliament on 15 June 2005 and came fully into force on 12 October 2005.


WHAT DOES THE ACT ENTAIL?

  • Under this Act, any citizen can request information from a “public authority” or a government body, who are required to reply within 30 days.
  • The information seeker is not required to provide a reason for the information request.
  • The Act also requires every public authority to computerise their records and publicly make available certain categories of information, spreading them as widely as possible without it having being requested.
  • Prior to the Central RTI Act coming in place, only 8 states and 1 Union Territory had right to information laws, which may differ slightly in the provisions:

– Delhi – Right to Information Act 2001
– Assam – Right to Information 2002
– Goa – Right to Information Act 1997
– Jammu and Kashmir – Right to Information Act 2004
– Madhya Pradesh – Jankari Ki Swatantrata Adhiniyam 2002
– Rajasthan – Right to Information Act 2000
– Tamil Nadu – Right to Information Act 1997
– Karnataka – Right to Information Act 2000 (repealed)
– Maharashtra – Right to Information Act 2002 (repealed)

  • However, the new Central RTI Act covers all central government as well as state and local level public authorities, except Jammu & Kashmir, which is not covered by the Central legislation due to its special status. So, every Indian citizen from every Indian state will be able to demand information under the Central RTI Act.
  • A Public Information Officer (PIO) must be appointed by each agency which the RTI Act covers. It is he who caters to the information requests from the applicants. Assistant Public Information Officers (APIOs) receive the RTI requests and appeals and forward them to their respective PIOs.

 

WHAT IS THE NEED FOR THIS ACT?

  • It keeps citizens informed, helps them understand what information can be accessed and how to seek it, and minimizes the time, effort, and money required by the public to access routine information.
  • The Act empowers citizens, helps them keep a vigil on the Government, and makes the Government more accountable to the governed.
  • It promotes transparency on the Government’s working and helps contain corruption, as through demands of information, citizens can expose fraudulent practices by government officials or get the police to act.


WHICH BODIES ARE COVERED UNDER THE RTI ACT?

When making an RTI application, one needs to check which body holds the required information and whether they are covered by the RTI law.

According to Section 2(h) of the Central RTI Act, the bodies covered under the Act are:

  • All the Central, State and local level bodies set up under the Constitution or under any other State or Central statue, including the President, the legislature, the judiciary, and all related Ministries, departments, and agencies fall under the Act.
  • Anybody owned, controlled, or financed directly or indirectly by the Government, including private bodies receiving Government funding fall under the Act. However, most of the State RTI Acts do not cover private bodies.
  • The Central Information Commission (CIC) initially categorised political parties as public authorities, who would thus be answerable to citizens under the RTI Act. However, the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, passed in December 2013, removed political parties from the scope of the law.
  • Those Central Intelligence and Security agencies specified in the Second Schedule such as the IB, Directorate General of Income tax(Investigation), RAW, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Central Economic Intelligence Bureau, Directorate of Enforcement, Narcotics Control Bureau, Aviation Research Centre, Special Frontier Force, BSF, CRPF, ITBP, CISF, NSG, Assam Rifles, Special Service Bureau, Special Branch (CID), Andaman and Nicobar, The Crime Branch-CID-CB, Dadra, and Nagar Haveli and Special Branch, Lakshadweep Police, etc. are excluded from the provisions of the Act.

The section 24(1) of the Central RTI Act, which excludes some bodies from the RTI law, also allows the Government to keep adding to the list of exempt agencies. So, one must check the section for latest updates before submitting the RTI application.

In case the required information seems to be related to multiple bodies, the applicant must find which agency has the closest connection to the information. Even if the application reaches the wrong body, it is transferred to the body which holds the specific information.

 

WHAT TYPES OF INFORMATION CAN BE AVAILED?

After identifying the specific body which holds the information, one needs to identify the type of information and find out whether it is covered under the RTI Act. The various formats of required information are:

  • Obtaining information in the form of floppies, diskettes, tapes, video tapes, tapes, or any other electronic mode.
  • Obtaining certified copies of documents or records;
  • Inspecting records;
  • Taking notes and extracts;
  • Inspecting public works;
  • Taking samples of material from public works;

The State laws for RTI may differ in the kinds of information the public is allowed to access.

One must be as specific as possible when asking any information from a Public Information Officer. The person needs to see if the search can be limited by date, area or amount, as any vagueness or ambiguity might result in the application being rejected by the PIO.

 

WHAT TYPES OF INFORMATION CANNOT BE AVAILED?

Certain sensitive pieces of information, if disclosed, might create more harm than good to the public interest. So, according to the section 8(1) of the Central RTI Act, some “exemption provisions” have been provided. A proper understanding of these clauses is necessary as they are often abused by officials who want to purposefully keep their actions a secret. The exemptions are:

  • Any information, which if disclosed, may affect the “strategic, scientific or economic” interests of the State, its foreign relations, or lead to incitement of an offense.
  • Any information, the disclosure of which is forbidden by the Court or any tribunal.
  • Any information, the disclosure of which can cause a breach of privilege of the Parliament or the State Legislature.
  • Any information regarding trade secrets, commercial confidence, or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party (unless the particular authority wants to disclose the information for a wider public interest).
  • Any information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship (unless the particular authority specifically wants to disclose the information for a wider public interest).
  • Any foreign Government information received in confidence.
  • Any information, the disclosure of which can put an individual’s safety or liberty at risk, such as ‘whistleblowers,’ or anyone who has provided certain information required for law enforcement.
  • Any information, the disclosure of which can impede investigation, apprehension, or prosecution of offenders.
  • Cabinet papers, including deliberation records of the Council of Ministers, Secretaries, and other officers.
  • Personal information not related to any public activity or interest, which would create an unwarranted invasion of the individual’s privacy.

It however must be known that according to a “Public Interest Override” (see section 8(2) of the Central RTI Act), even if the requested information is covered by an exemption, it must still be disclosed if the public interest in the specific case is greater than the harm in disclosing it.

 

WHAT IS THE APPLICATION PROCEDURE?

  • The information seeker can fill up the RTI application form available here. The following link provides detailed guidelines with screenshots on how to fill up an RTI application through the online portal: https://rtionline.gov.in/um_citizen.pdf
  • The information seeker must send along with the RTI application, a nominal fee of Rs 10 via a demand draft, a bankers cheque or an Indian Postal Order, payable to the Accounts Officer of the public authority.
  • The information seeker may be required to pay a further fee as required for delivering the requested information, which will be intimated to him by the PIO.
  • The time required between the PIO’s reply and the deposit of the further fees is excluded from the allowed time period for information receipt.
  • If the required information is not provided within the expected time period, it must be provided free of charge.
  • In such a case, it is also treated as a refusal, which may be ground for complaint or appeal, according to circumstances.
  • In cases where the Central or State PIO is not appointed or refuses to receive the application for information request, the Central Information Officer (CIC) intervenes and acts upon the complaints.

 

DRAWBACKS:

  • There are major obstacles to implementing the law such as the lack of adequate public awareness, especially in rural areas, lack of a proper system to store and distribute the information, lack of capacity of the PIOs to deal with the requests, bureaucratic mindset and attitude etc.
  • The Act is also applicable specifically to Indian citizens only. So, foreigners, travelers and refugees are not allowed to use the law to get information.
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RTI Act 2005: All You Need To Know About The Right To Information Act

Right to Information Act, 2005 codified the fundamental right of 'Right to Information'

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Logo of Right to Information Act, 2005. Facebook
  • RTI Act 2005 mentions exemptions to access to information that may put stakeholders at risk
  • RTI Act 2005 applies to private companies through the government body they are registered with
  • RTI Act 2005 is considered one of the best legislation in the history of Indian parliament

Right to Information Act (RTI Act 2005) codifies a fundamental right of citizens. Under the provisions of the RTI Act 2005, any citizen of India can request information from a ‘public authority’. The concerned instrumentality of State must reply within the time of thirty days. The Right to Information Act also requires each governmental body to computerize their records for wide dissemination, so that the citizens need minimum recourse to request for information formally.

RTI Act 2005 serves as a replacement for Freedom of information Act, 2002. The Act was passed by the Parliament of India on 15th June 2005; it provides the ‘right to information’ to citizens of India. The Right to Information Act also relaxes restrictions on disclosure of information mentioned in the Official Secrets Act 1923.

ALSO READ: Supreme Court Declares Right to Privacy as a Fundamental Right in Indian Constitution

The RTI Act 2005 stands as a powerful milestone in Indian legislation. Wikimedia Commons
The RTI Act 2005 stands as a powerful milestone in Indian legislation. Wikimedia Commons

RTI Act 2005: Section 8

The right to information is not absolute. Not all information that the Government generates will or should be given out to the public. There are some pieces of information, which are so sensitive that if they were released to the public, they might actually cause serious harm to more important interests.

For example, at a time of conflict, if someone wanted to know how many troops were being deployed and where they were being sent, the Government might legitimately want to keep these details secret because if this information fell into the wrong hands, it could pose a great risk to the national security of India. Nevertheless, if someone requested the same information two years after the war, it would be less clear that the information should be kept secret because the likelihood of harm being caused by disclosure would probably be less.

The key issue is that information can legitimately be kept secret in some circumstances, but only where disclosure would be likely to cause serious harm to specific, important public interests. All right to information laws include provisions that allow certain types of information to be withheld from the public. These provisions are commonly called “exemption provisions” or “exclusion clauses”.

Unfortunately, although exemption provisions can serve a useful function, experience has shown that they are often abused by officials who are determined to keep their actions hidden from the public. This is not acceptable. Information should not be withheld just because it ’embarrasses’ the government, or because it will get officials into trouble. Recognizing that exemption clauses are often misapplied to protect government interests, it is important that you have a good understanding of the exemptions provisions that might apply to your application so that you can check to see if they have been properly applied.

Information that may put the following mentioned below ‘under risk’ is exempted under Section 8(1) of the RTI Act 2005:

  • National Security or Sovereignty
  • National Economic Interests
  • Relations with the Foreign States
  • Law Enforcement and the Judicial Process
  • Cabinet and Other Decision-Making Documents
  • Trade Secrets and Commercial Confidentiality
  • Individual Safety
  • Personal Privacy 

Section 8(1)(J) or Personal Privacy provision of the RTI Act 2005 states:

“Information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information: Provided that the information, which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person.”

Definition of ‘invasion of privacy’ by Central Information Commission (CIC):

“One, who intentionally intrudes, physically or otherwise, upon the solitude or seclusion of another or his private affairs or concerns, is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy if the intrusion would be highly offensive to a reasonable person.”

Is the Right to Information Act Applicable to Private Companies?

In the landmark judicial pronouncement of Sarabjit Roy v. Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission, the Central Information Commission (CIC) cleared that privatized utility companies are also under the RTI Act 2005. One of the common misunderstandings among the general public is that only those entities which are a subsidy to the government or are funded by the government are under the purview of the Right to Information Act. However, the fact is that private bodies also falls under the RTI Act 2005 whether or not they are substantially funded or aided by the government.

Section 2(f) of the RTI Act 2005 states: 

“‘Information’ means any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e‑mails, opinions, advice, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force;”

ALSO READ: Right to privacy—what it entails and what not

Ideal Road Builders (IRB) is a private body that collects tolls on highways in the state of Maharashtra. However, it is not possible to obtain information about the amount of toll collected by them. Though, when the applicant approached Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), IRB was compelled to provide information about the tolls. Wikimedia Commons
Ideal Road Builders (IRB) is a private body that collects tolls on highways in the state of Maharashtra. However, it is not possible to obtain information about the amount of toll collected by them. Though, when the applicant approached Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), IRB was compelled to provide information about the tolls. Wikimedia Commons

MM Ansari stated that “As long as the private bodies and companies were answerable to a regulatory body or any department of the government, they also fall within the purview of the law.”

For instance, if a person wants any information about the telecom companies, they can access the information through the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, and any information relating to the banking sector can be accessed through the RBI.

How To File A RTI Application?

Steps to file a Right to Information application: 

1. Identify the department you want information from.

2. On a sheet of white paper, write out the application by hand, or type it, in English, Hindi or the official language of the area. You can also ask the public information officer to put it in writing

3. Address the application to the State/Central Public Information Officer. Write the name of the office from which you seek information. Also, clearly mention ‘Seeking information under the RTI Act, 2005’ in your subject line

4. State your request in the form of specific, detailed questions, and mention the period/year your request falls into. Ask for documents or extracts of documents, if required. The applicant has to make a payment of Rs. 2 per page to obtain documents

Right To Information Act Application Fee: Pay Rs. 10 to file the plea

Note: Applicants below the poverty line (BPL) need not make the payment but have to attach a copy of the BPL certificate along with the application

5. Provide your full name and address, contact details, email address and sign the application clearly. Put in the date and the name of your town

Right To Information Act Application Format: https://www.iist.ac.in/sites/default/files/rti/RTI-application-format.pdf

6. Take a photocopy of the application and keep one with you for future reference. Send your application by post or hand it in person to the department concerned. Don’t forget to get an acknowledgment

7. The law mandates that information be provided in 30 days. If this does not happen, you can file an appeal. The first appeal should be addressed to ‘The Appellate Authority’ with the name of the department and the address. The concerned authority is required to revert within 30 days from the date of receipt of the appeal. If it fails to reply, further appeals lie with the Information Commission, the Chief Information Commissioner, State/Central Information Commission