The basic objective of the Right to Information Act is to empower the citizens, to promote transparency and accountability in the working of the Government, and public authority. The act helps to mitigate the corruption, and to enhance people’s participation in democratic process, so that our democracy work for the people in a real sense. The act equipped the citizens to keep necessary vigil on the instruments of governance and make the government more accountable to the governed. Implication of the Act is a big step towards making the citizens informed about the activities of the Government.

Introduction of the Act: This law was passed by Parliament on 15 June 2005 and came into force on 12 October 2005. The Act covers the whole of India . This law is very comprehensive and covers almost all matters of governance. This Law has a wide reach, being applicable to Government at all levels- Union, State and Local as well as to the recipients of substantial government funds.

 Which type of Information can be demand under the Act? 

Information is any material in any form. It includes:

  • records, documents, memos;
  • e-mails, opinions, advice;
  • 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.

 Who is a Public Authority?
  1. 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.
  2. The bodies owned, controlled or substantially financed by the Central Government or a State Government are also public authorities.
  3. A Non-Government organisation 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.
  4. 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.

 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.
  • A citizen has aright to inspection of a 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.
  • 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 aright 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 sought 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.

Supply of Information to Associations etc.: The Act gives the right to information only to the citizens of India. It does not make provision for giving information to Corporations, Associations, Companies etc. which are legal entities/persons, but not citizens. However, if an application is made by an employee or office-bearer of any Corporation, Association, Company, NGO etc. indicating his name and such employee/office bearer is a citizen of India, information may be supplied to him/her.

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 Banks 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 the publication.

 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.

 Format of Application: There is no prescribed format of application for seeking information. Theapplication 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.

 Information Exempted From Disclosure: The Act lists certain categories of information that is exempted from disclosure. These include: 

  1. Information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interest of the State, relation with foreign state or lead to incitement of an offence;
  2. information which has been expressly forbidden to be published by any court of law or tribunal or the disclosure of which may constitute contempt of court;
  3. Information, the disclosure of which would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or State Legislature; or
  4. cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers,secretaries and other officers subject to the conditions given in proviso to clause (i) of sub-section(1) of Section 8 of the Act.
  5. Information, the disclosure of which would endanger the life or physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purposes;
  6. Information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders;
  7. Information received in confidence from foreign government;

In respect of item listed at (a), (c), and (d), the information if relating to any event which occurred or happened 20 years before the date on which the request is made shall be provided to the person making a request.

 Record Retention Schedule and the Act: The Act does not require the public authorities to retain records for indefinite period. The records need to be retained as per the record retention schedule applicable to the concerned public authority.

Assistance Available to the Applicant: If a person is unable to make a request in writing, he may seek the help of the Public Information Officer to write his application and the Public Information Officer should render him reasonable assistance.

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.

Appeals: 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 30 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 within a period of 30 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 90 days from the date on which the decision should have been made by the first appellate authority or was actually received by the appellant.

Complaints: 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.

Imposition of Penalty: An applicant under the act has a right to appeal to the Information Commission and also to make complaint to the commission. The Information Commission has power to impose a penalty of Rs.250/- each day information is furnished subject to the condition that the total amount of such penalty shall not exceed Rs. 25000/-. Where the Information Commission at the time of deciding any complaint or appeal is of the opinion that the Public Information Officer has without any reasonable cause, refused to receive an application for information or has not furnished information within the time specified or malafidely denied the request for information or knowingly given incorrect, incomplete or misleading information or destroyed information, it shall impose a penalty.

The Public Information Officer shall, however, be given a reasonable opportunity of being heard before any penalty is imposed on him.

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.

RTI ONLINE: 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 stakeholders.

 For Public Authorities: Public authorities are the repository of information which the citizens have a right to access under the Right to Information Act, 2005. The Act casts important obligations on public authorities so as to facilitate the citizens of the country to access the information held under their control.

Maintenance and Computerisation of Records: Proper management of records is of utmost importance for effective implementation of the provisions of the Act. A public authority should, therefore, maintain all its records properly. It should ensure that the records are duly catalogued and indexed in such a manner and form that it may facilitate the right to information.

 Protection for Work Done in Good Faith: Section 21 of the act provides that no suit, prosecution or other legal proceeding shall lie against any person for anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done under the act or any rule made there under. A Public Information Officer should, however, note that it would be his responsibility to prove that his action was in good faith.

Books Written by Abinash Mandilwar