What is RTI?
Right to Information Act is an act to empower the citizens of a country to seek information held by the government. In our country, the RTI was enacted on the year 2005. The aim of the act is to make the functioning of the government as transparent as possible. It also enables the citizens to know how the taxpayers’ money is spent. Any citizen with no exemption can seek information under this act.
What sort of right is RTI?
RTI is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution of India. It comes under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution which reads as follows:
19. Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech etc
1.All citizens shall have the right
(a)to freedom of speech and expression;
Who is barred from asking RTI Question?
The RTI Act says that ‘any citizen’ of this country can use RTI to get information. No one has been expressly excluded by the act from using this act i.e., the RTI act does not specifically mention that these people are barred from using this act. Even if you a government servant you can ask questions under this act. It is generally good not to mention your designation or place of working. Instead give your address of residence.
Can personal information be asked under this act?
No. If the personal information you seek for does not relate to public activity or interest or if the information sought for intrudes into the privacy (again privacy too is a fundamental right) of a person, it cannot be disclosed under this act. For example, ‘Annual Confidential Reports’ of an employee cannot be disclosed under this act. But if you are of an opinion such that the personal information you ask for serves a large public interest, you must satisfy the PIO or Appellate Authority or the Information Commission as to how the information does so.
Can information about third party be asked under this act?
According to this act, “third party means a person other than the citizen making a request for information and includes a public authority”. Regarding disclosure of information relating to or provided by the third party, the act under section 11 stipulates following conditions:
The PIO must give a written notice to the third party (about whom the question is being asked) within five days of receipt of the application
The PIO must in his written notice mention that he intends to disclose the information or a part of it and ask the third party to make submission either orally or in writhing whether the information sought for may be disclosed or not
The PIO while taking decision regarding disclosure of third party information must take into consideration the submission of the third party.
The PIO may disclose if the public interest in disclosure outweighs in importance any possible harm or injury to the interests of such third party except in the case of trade or commercial secrets protected by law.
Should I give RTI application only in English language?
No. You can your RTI application in English or Hindi or the official language of your area. If a person is illiterate, he can approach the PIO of the office (from which he wants information) and orally tell him the RTI question and PIO must help him in all reasonable means to make his oral question into writing. As far as possible, the RTI request may be in the form of questions which are precise and concise instead of vague lengthy paragraphs to get the exact information you need. It is also a good method to send a RTI application either in a Speed Post or Registered Post with acknowledgement due so that you may be sure that the RTI application has been received and the acknowledgement would also serve the purpose of proof in further appeals. Even if you give an RTI application, get an acknowledgement that your application has been received by the concerned authority.
Which are all the entities bound to reply under RTI?
The required information can be obtained from any ‘public authority’ which includes almost any entity constituted under the authority of the Constitution of India, or by the laws enacted by the state or central legislatures or by any notification issued by the government.Almost any government departments and organizations including corporation, municipalities, panchayats and public sector undertakings except the organisations mentioned in the second schedule to the act like IB, RAW, DRI, para-military forces etc., (download RTI Act in this page http://rti.gov.in/rti-act.pdf).
Information can be obtained through this act from even non-governmental organisations or any other organisation whose substantial fund comes from the government (either by the state or central government).
To whom I should address? And how?
State governmental departments / organisations have ‘State Public Information Officers’ and the Central governmental departments / organisations have ‘Central Public Information Officers’. The application can be sent through post and should have your questions, address and a fees of Rs.10 in the form of Indian Postal Order, DD, or if you give application in person by paying Rs.10 in cash (but don’t forget to get the receipt). Some state governments have prescribed different fees which can be obtained from the concerned public authority of state government. Even though the application can be sent on e-mail, it is necessary to send a hard copy along-with the prescribed fees. So, it is better to apply either in person or post.
Should we state the reason for asking information under RTI?
The good thing about this act is that you need not state the reason to ask for any information.
What is the next course of RTI Application not pertaining to the authority to whom it was sent?
Another good part of this act is that if a RTI application is sent to a wrong public authority i.e application seeking information is not pertaining to the authority to whom application is sent, it becomes the responsibility of that particular public authority to send the application to the correct place and also to intimate the applicant on this.
Who is Public Information Officer?
Every central and state government departments and organisations have designated ‘Public Information Officer’ (PIO) to answer the queries made under this act.
What if I do not know the details of Public Information Officer of the department from which I require the information?
If the designation of the PIO is not known, simply the application can be addressed to ‘SPIO / CPIO (State / Central Public Information Officer), C/o. the Head of Department’ (for example ‘SPIO, C/o. the Superintendent of Police’ or ‘CPIO, C/o. the Cabinet Secretary’). Then it becomes the responsibility of the concerned head of the department to forward the application to the concerned officer.
Is there any prescribed format for asking the information?
There is no prescribed format for asking information. Questions can be written on a plain paper addressing to the designation of the PIO of the concerned state or central government departments.
What is the time limit for providing the reply?
The information must be provided within thirty days of receipt of the application by the concerned department and within 48 hours if it concerns life or liberty of a person.
Can I ask the information in electronic form? In other words, as a data file of a particular format in CD?
You can also ask information in electronic form if the same is available with the authority concerned.
What are all my other rights under this Act apart from getting reply in letter form?
Not only you can ask information under this act, you can inspect the documents, records and also can take photo copies of the documents / records with the amount of fees prescribed under this act. You can take samples from the material by paying the prescribed fee.
What is the procedure for asking more fees than the prescribed amount of Rs.10/- for providing information?
If extra fee is solicited by a PIO for providing information other than the prescribed fee then the applicant must be intimated in writing with calculation details of how the figure was arrived at. The fee is not applicable if the same is intimated after the expiry of the prescribed time and also to the people living below poverty line for which they must provide a certificate from the concerned government authority.
Whether the PIO can reject the RTI application without providing the information?
No. Except for the information that is excluded from being provided under Section 8 of the RTI Act, any other information must be provided. Also, the Organisations which are mentioned to the Schedule II to the Act need not also provide information. But these organisations must also provide information to those queries if those queries relate to corruption or human right violations. The information to the questions relating to violation of human rights must be provided by these organisation only with the approval of Central / State Information Commission.
Following information cannot be obtained:
the information compromise the integrity, sovereignty and security of the country
the information demanded affect the economic, scientific interests of the country
the information that would affect the relationship of the country with other countries
the information that could be used to incite an offence
the information which could cause breach of privilege of legislatures i.e., parliament / state assembly or state legislature
In such circumstances RTI application can be rejected. Then the PIO must provide the reasons for the rejections, the particulars of appellate authority and the time limit for filing appeal.
What is appeal Procedure?
The applicant must first appeal to the appellate authority (specified in the rejection letter of the PIO) along-with your original application. Again there is no prescribed format and no fees for this. The Second Appeal lies either to State Information Commission or Central Information Commission if the subject department / organisation fall under the purview of state or central government as the case may be. We can also launch complaint / appeal to Central Information Commission through the following link http://rti.india.gov.in/.
Can I approach any other court regarding RTI issue?
Yes. As said earlier, RTI being a fundamental right, you can approach Supreme Court (under Article 32 of the Constitution) or High Court (under Article 226 of the Constitution) and file Writ Petitions and get remedy. Getting remedy from the Supreme Court or High Court itself is a fundamental right.
How does RTI become fundamental right according to this article?
The Supreme Court held in the case of ‘Raj Narainvs State of UP’:
“People cannot speak or express themselves unless they know”.
It is the view of the Supreme Court that if a citizen of a country does not know how the government that rules that too with the money of taxpayers functions, he cannot speak or express effectively because his knowledge is restricted as he has no knowledge of how the government is functioning. So to ensure that the fundamental right 19 (1) (a) enshrined by the constitution is enjoyed by the citizens, it becomes implicit that the government is bound to part with the information it has. Thus the right to information is indirectly guaranteed by the constitution.
What if the RTI is a fundamental right or legal right?
If a particular right is a fundamental right then there is a good advantage. Unlike any other right like natural right or legal right, you can approach Supreme Court or High Court if you are denied of a fundamental right. Writ Jurisdiction of either the Supreme Court or High Court can be invoked to get remedy if there is an infringement of fundamental rights.
Official Secrets Act Vs. RTI. Which Act overrules?
Official Secrets Act, 1923 (a legacy of the colonial regime) still exists and the information whose disclosure is not permitted under that Act cannot be disclosed under the RTI Act too. The RTI activists want amendments in the Official Secrets Act to make it synchronise with the RTI ACT. The Official Secrets Act restricts the full functionality of RTI.
The text of RTI Act can be downloaded from this link http://rti.gov.in/rti-act.pdf
The following Slide Show would provide overview of RTI Act, 2005