In a democratic country like India, transparency is the key of efficient governance. Before 2005, we Indians were “forced” to accept any order / work of Government as it is. We could not ask anyone “why”, “how”, “when” etc. type of questions. If someone is not getting his ration card or passport, the only solution was sit and wait. If your MLA is not spending money, allotted to him by Centre or state Government, for the welfare of society, you just pray to God.
But with the introduction of Right to Information (RTI) act, people can now ask questions from concerned person or department and you’ll get written answer.
This has reduced corruption upto some extent in India.
It extends to the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
Now, let us see the act in detail.
What is Information?
Information is any material in any form. It includes records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form. It also includes information relating to any private body which can be accessed by the public authority under any law for the time being in force.
What is a Public Authority
A “public authority” is any authority or body or institution of self government established or constituted by or under the Constitution; or by any other law made by the Parliament or a State Legislature; or by notification issued or order made by the Central Government or a State Government. The bodies owned, controlled or substantially financed by the Central Government or a State Government are also public authorities. Non-Government organisations substantially financed by the Central Government or a State Government also fall within the definition of public authority. The substantial financing by the Central Government or a State Government may be direct or indirect. The Act does not define substantial financing. Various courts/Information Commissions have been deciding on this issue on case to case basis, depending upon the merits of each case.
Public Information Officer
Public authorities have designated some of its officers as Public Information Officers. They are responsible to give information to a person who seeks information under the RTI Act.
Assistant Public Information Officer
These are the officers at sub-divisional level to whom a person can give his RTI application or appeal. These officers send the application or appeal to the Public Information Officer of the public authority or the concerned appellate authority. An Assistant Public Information Officer is not responsible to supply the information.
The Assistant Public Information Officers appointed by the Department of Posts in various post offices are working as Assistant Public Information Officers for all the public authorities under the Government of India.
Right to Information under the Act
A citizen has a right to seek such information from a public authority which is held by the public authority or which is held under its control. This right includes inspection of work, documents and records; taking notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records; and taking certified samples of material held by the public authority or held under the control of the public authority. It is important to note that only such information can be supplied under the Act that is available and existing and is held by the public authority or is held under the control of the public authority. The Public Information Officer is not supposed to create information that is not a part of the record of the public authority. The Public Information Officer is also not required to furnish information which require drawing of inference and/or making of assumptions; or to interpret information; or to solve the problems raised by the applicants; or to furnish replies to hypothetical questions.
A citizen has a right to obtain information from a public authority in the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through print-outs provided such information is already stored in a computer or in any other device.
The information to the applicant should ordinarily be provided in the form in which it is sought. However, if the supply of information sought in a particular form would disproportionately divert the resources of the public authority or may cause harm to the safety or preservation of the records, supply of information in that form may be denied.
In some cases, the applicants expect the Public Information Officer to give information in some particular proforma devised by them on the plea that they have a right to get information in the form in which it is sought. It need be noted that the provision in the Act simply means that if the information is sought in the form of photocopy, it shall be provided in the form of photocopy, or if it is ought in the form of a floppy or in any other electronic mode, it shall be provided in that form, subject to the conditions given in the Act. It does not mean that the PIO shall re-shape the information.
Some Information Seekers request the Public Information Officers to cull out information from some document(s) and give such extracted information to them. A citizen has a right to get ‘material’ from a public authority which is held by or under the control of that public authority. The Act, however, does not require the Public Information Officer to deduce some conclusion from the material’ and supply the ‘conclusion’ so deduced to the applicant. It means that the Public Information Officer is required to supply the ‘material’ in the form as held by the public authority, but not to do research on behalf of the citizen to deduce anything from the material and then supply it to him.
Fee for Seeking Information
A citizen who desires to seek some information from a public authority is required to send, along with the application, a demand draft or a bankers cheque or an Indian Postal Order of Rs.10/- (Rupees ten), payable to the Accounts Officer of the public authority as fee prescribed for seeking information. The payment of fee can also be made by way of cash to the public authority or to the Assistant Public Information Officer, against a proper receipt. The payment of fee to the Central Ministries/departments can also be made online through internet banking of State Bank of India or through Master/Visa Debit/credit cards.
The applicant may also be required to pay further fee towards the cost of providing the information, details of which shall be intimated to the applicant by the PIO as prescribed by the Right to Information Rules, 2012. Rates of fee as prescribed in the Rules are given below:
(a) rupees two (Rs. 2/-) for each page ( in A-3 or smaller size paper) ;
(b) actual cost or price of a photocopy in larger size paper;
(c) actual cost or price for samples or models;
(d) rupees fifty (Rs.50/-) per diskette or floppy; and
(e) price fixed for a publication or rupees two per page of photocopy for extracts from
(f) so much of postal charges involved in supply of information that exceeds fifty
A citizen has a right to inspect the records of a public authority. For inspection of records, the public authority shall charge no fee for the first hour. But a fee of rupees five (Rs.5/-) for each subsequent hour (or fraction thereof) shall be charged.
If the applicant belongs to the below poverty line (BPL) category, he is not required to pay any fee. However, he should submit a proof in support of his claim as belonging to the below poverty line category. The application not accompanied by the prescribed fee of Rs.10/- or proof of the applicant’s belonging to below poverty line category, as the case may be, shall not be a valid application under the Act. It may be pointed out that there is no bar on the public authority to supply information in response to such applications. However, provisions of Act would not apply to such cases.
Format of Application
There is no prescribed format of application for seeking information. The application can be made on plain paper. The applicant should mention the address at which the information is required to be sent. The information seeker is not required to give reasons for seeking information.
Time Period for Supply of Information
In normal course, information to an applicant shall be supplied within 30 days from the receipt of application by the public authority. If information sought concerns the life or liberty of a person, it shall be supplied within 48 hours.
If an applicant is not supplied information within the prescribed time of thirty days or 48 hours, as the case may be, or is not satisfied with the information furnished to him, he may prefer an appeal to the first appellate authority who is an officer senior in rank to the Public Information Officer. Such an appeal should be filed within a period of thirty days from the date on which the limit of 30 days of supply of information is expired or from the date on which the information or decision of the Public Information Officer is received. The appellate authority of the public authority shall dispose of the appeal 10 within a period of thirty days or in exceptional cases within 45 days of the receipt of the appeal.
If the first appellate authority fails to pass an order on the appeal within the prescribed period or if the appellant is not satisfied with the order of the first appellate authority, he may prefer a second appeal with the Information Commission within ninety days from the date on which the decision should have been made by the first appellate authority or was actually received by the appellant.
If any person is unable to submit a request to a Public Information Officer either by reason that such an officer has not been appointed by the concerned public authority; or the Assistant Public Information Officer has refused to accept his or her application or appeal for forwarding the same to the Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be; or he has been refused access to any information requested by him under the RTI Act; or he has not been given a response to a request for information within the time limit specified in the Act; or he has been required to pay an amount of fee which he considers unreasonable; or he believes that he has been given incomplete, misleading or false information, he can make a complaint to the Information Commission.
Third Party Information
Third party in relation to the Act means a person other than the citizen making a request for information. The definition of third party includes a public authority other than the public authority to which the request has been made.
Disclosure of Third Party Information
Information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party, is exempt from disclosure. Such information should not be disclosed unless the competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information.
Department of Personnel & Training has launched a web portal namely RTI online with URL www.rtionline.gov.in for all Central Ministries/Departments. This is a facility for the Indian citizens to file RTI applications and first appeals online to all Central Ministries/Departments. The prescribed RTI fees can also be paid online. Reply to the RTI applications and first appeals received online can also be given online by the respective PIOs/FAAs.
Compilation of OMs and notifications on RTI
Department of Personnel and Training has launched an online compilation of its Office Memorandums and Notifications on Right to Information Act, 2005, with topic based search facility. This compilation is available on the website of the Department namely www.persmin.nic.in and is beneficial to all the stake holders.