This article is written by Team LawSikho. This article discusses how to draft an RTI Application.
This aims at teaching you how to identify the department from where you can receive information, how to call for such information, how to write an effective application and the common pitfalls to avoid while drafting your application.
In 2015, the Aam Aadmi Party promised that all households shall be given free water supply up to 20,000 liters per month in New Delhi. But do you know actually transpired ten years back? In 2005, Parivartan (an NGO run by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal) had filed several RTI Applications to unravel the conspiracy between World Bank and Delhi Jal Board. It was through these well drafted RTI applications that Parivartan managed to get 9000 pages of documentation worth of information which helped it to successfully stop Delhi Jal Board from arbitrary privatization and saved the Delhites from paying exorbitant water tariffs.
Don’t you want to be a change-maker too? Did you know that even you can file RTI Applications? Are you wondering how RTI can help you address your everyday issues?
This section aims to help you in drafting your application so effectively so as to leave no room for ambiguity for the PIO and at the same time ensure that all important information sought is duly received.
How to draft your RTI Application
The Right to Information Act, 2005 does not lay down any prescribed format for RTI Application. It is entirely up to you to identify what you must include in your application. The objective of writing an effective RTI application is simple – to enable the public authority to give you the information you seek for.
- Who can make an RTI Application?
The Right to Information Act extends to the whole of India except the state of Jammu and Kashmir. All citizens including Indians living abroad possess the right to seek information. This implies that the person seeking information must be an individual and not a corporation, society or any other public authority. Neither persons of Indian Origin nor foreign nationals can avail the benefits under this Act.
- The language of the RTI Application
The application can be written in English, Hindi or any official language of the state in which the department lies. However, the RTI Act makes no provision to demand answers in the language of your choice. So sometimes, one gets troubled when the reply to the application is given in a language they cannot comprehend. For instance, you file an RTI application with the Municipal Corporation, Gandhinagar in Hindi. The PIO replies to your application in Gujarati. What do you do?
The courts and commissions have laid down in several judgments that information should be given to the Applicant in the language he understands. Therefore, it is advisable to keep two things in mind while choosing the language of your application:
- Always write your application in the language in which you wish to receive a reply. If you want the PIO to reply to you in Hindi, make sure you write your application in Hindi.
- As a precautionary measure, It is always advisable to mention in your application clearly the language in which you seek a reply.
Important Note: Please note that the documents, records, file notings etc. that you are seeking will be provided in the language in which they were originally prepared. The PIO will not translate the documents in the language you understand. It is only his reply that can be given in the preferred language and not the content of documents sought.
- IMPORTANT FIELDS TO COVERED IN AN APPLICATION
- ADDRESSEE & ADDRESS:
You must address your application to the Public Information Officer of the department which is likely to have the information you are seeking. The address of the PIO must contain the details of the department viz. name, address, and city in which it is located.
Note: Many organizations give out the name of the officers who have been designated as Public Information Commissioner on their website. It is always advisable to address the application in the name of the PIO, whenever possible to ensure that your application reaches the correct department.
- NAME & ADDRESS OF THE APPLICANT
So once you are through with writing the PIO details, your next section should cover the “NAME AND ADDRESS OF THE APPLICANT”. In this section, you must write down your name and the postal address of the place you wish to receive information at. Make sure that all the information provided is accurate as this would be the address at which PIO could be corresponding with you.
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. In such cases, it would be presumed that a citizen has sought information at the address of the Corporation etc.
- PARTICULARS OF INFORMATION REQUIRED
The next field of your application should be “PARTICULARS OF INFORMATION REQUIRED”. This is perhaps the most important segment that would define the information you are seeking for.. In this section, you must break down all the information sought in a systematic manner so as to ensure that the reader deciphers accurately what you want from his department. For convenience, you may divide this segment into 5 heads, viz:
- Subject matter of information: In this section, you must mention:
- the kind of records you are seeking for, such as file notings, communication, documents etc.,
- pertaining to what, for example– for appointment to a particular post,
- whose records you are seeking, for example– Chancellor, Vice president etc.
- concerning which department, for example– LabourDeparment, Government of West Bengal.
Please give a copy of the contract signed by the M/s. AkhilBhartiyaAmritParyavaranSamity to operate and maintain the public toilet in Jagdamba Camp in Sheik Sarai I, New Delhi -17
- The period to which the information relates: In this section, you must mention the period of which the records are sought.
Please provide copies of all communication between Kandla Port Trust and Ministry of Shipping from 2012-2013 with regard to the appointment of chairman of Kandla Port Trust.
Please provide Daily Stock Register and Daily Sale Register of Fair Price Shop No. 343 situated in Raigad dist., Maharashtra from January 2014 to January 2015.
- Whether information is required by post or in person: You must mention whether the information sought by you should be furnished to you in person or by post.
- Whether inspection of the documents is sought: If you wish to view the documents, you must explicitly write so in this column. If you say yes to taking inspection of the documents, it then becomes the duty of PIO to give you a suitable time and date to come and take inspection. Therefore, you must ALWAYS expressly mention whether you wish to inspect documents or not.
For instance, you want to view a letter which has been sent under your name by a public authority to another organization in bad taste. In that case, you can file an RTI application and expressly mention that you want to conduct the inspection of some particular documents.
- BPL STATUS: The next paragraph of your application must set out whether you lie above or below the poverty line. A person is said to be living below the poverty line if he spends less than Rs. 32 a day in villages and less than Rs.47 in cities. Thus, in this paragraph, you should clearly state whether you belong to below the poverty line category. If your answer is YES, then you should submit proof in support of your claim that you belong to the below poverty line. No fee is required to be paid by persons falling below the poverty line. However, if you do not belong to the below poverty line, you must undertake to pay appropriate costs for furnishing required information.
- Many times the nature of the information sought by you from a particular PIO might be such that it is more closely connected to another public authority or that it is held by another department which you may be unaware of. Section 6(3) of the RTI Act lays down provision for transfer of such application to the relevant public authority within 5 days of receipt of application. Thus, it is always advisable for you to state in your last paragraph that if any part of the information sought is held by another public authority, the same may be transferred to the relevant public authority.
- You must provide the place from where your application is written and date on which it is written. You must end the application with your signature and contact details. It is necessary that you give correct phone numbers and email address so as to allow the officers to get in touch with you regarding your application if need be.
Lastly, you must write down the details of your enclosures. For instance, if you are Below Poverty lines, then you must enclose Below Poverty Line Certificate with your application. Along with your application, you need to also enclose an amount of Rs. 10 which you may pay by cheque, demand draft or cash.
Please note that Section 6(2) of the RTI Act clearly states that an applicant making a request for information shall not be required to give any reason for requesting the information or any other personal details except those that may be necessary for contacting him
Example: Let’s take an example of an application made to track the status of a passport.
When it comes to documents such as passports, many of us hear our relatives relentlessly crying about how they cannot make foreign trips as their passports have failed to arrive despite many months have gone by. Some of us struggle to get an appointment with the passport officers to push our passport application forward. Few of the lucky ones, get their scheduled appointment and documents verified but still do not get their passport and are endlessly running from pillar to post desperately.
SAMPLE RTI APPLICATION TO KEEP TRACK ON PASSPORT
We are often running from TCS’ Passport Seva Kendra to the Regional Passport Office to the police office to find out the status of our passport. In such cases, it filing an RTI application would not only save you from running around everywhere but is also likely to increase your chances of obtaining passport much sooner. For checking the status of your passport application you may file your RTI application in writing or through electronic means by visiting the Online RTI Portal https://rtionline.gov.in. The official website http://passportindia.gov.in prescribes the following format for filing RTI application and the same is discussed below:
SAMPLE APPLICATION FORMAT FOR INFORMATION TO PASSPORT OFFICE UNDER RTI ACT 2005
(taken in the context of passport applications)
The Chief of Public Information Officer/ Public Information Officer
CPV Division/ Regional Passport Officer/ Passport Officer [●]
- Full Name of the Applicant (in capital letters) [●]
- Father’s/Husband Name (in capital letters) [●]
- Complete address and pin code: [●]
- 4. Telephone No.: Office [●] Res.[●] Mobile [●]
- Whether belong to BPL category (if yes, please attach a copy of the BPL/Antyodaya ration card (please tick): Yes /No to claim a waiver of the application fee)
- Details of Application Fee/Addl. Fee:- (Application Fee – Rs.10/-; Addl. Fee – @Rs.2/- per page for A-4 size paper created or copied, by Cash, DD/BC/IPO to be drawn in favour of ‘Accounts Officer, Ministry of External Affairs, if the application is submitted at the CPV Division, Patiala House, New Delhi or Passport Officer ’ payable at local office where the application is submitted Cash Receipt/ DD/Bankers Cheque / IPO No Date Name of the issuing Bank/Authority Amount (Rs.) [●]
- Particulars of information required (please enclose separate sheet, if required, indicating specific details of information required and the preferred medium i.e. inspection, photocopy, softcopy,etc.) [●]
DECLARATION: I state that the information sought does not fall within the restriction contained in Section 8 & 9 of the RTI Act and to the best of my knowledge it pertains to your office.
Types of questions that can be asked (see entry 7):
We have analyzed different kinds of situations you could land up in with respect to tracking a passport application, and have accordingly suggested the questions you could ask in those situations. Feel free to think of any other relevant questions. You can perform a similar exercise in any other area where you are seeking information.
You may consider asking some or all of the following sample questions in your application if you want to know the status of your passport application:
- Progress made on my application till date of your reply.
- Names, designations and office addresses of the officials with whom my application was lying during this period and date-wise period with each official and action taken by him/her.
- Please give evidence of receipt and dispatch of my application in the offices of each of these officials.
- Please inform me, according to your rules or citizens charter or any other order, number of days in which such a matter should have been dealt with and resolved. Please also provide a copy of these rules.
If your passport has not arrived within the prescribed limit set, you can also ask for the following information in your applications:
- As the officials have not adhered to the time limit mentioned in rules and are guilty of violating these rules, please give a copy of their conduct rules and details of action taken by the RPO against erring officials.
- In case no action has been initiated for dereliction of duties against erring officials, the reasons are made known to me.
It is always helpful to know the details of the police department handling your verification process as you may want to file RTI Application with them for checking the status of your verification process. In that case, you can add the following question to your application:
- Please inform me the name of the police station/dept to whom the application was referred for police verification with the outward number, date of dispatch and date when a reply was received by you. Photocopy of the letter addressed to the police for verification and proof of mailing be submitted to me.
Further, if you want to understand the usual process and timelines of the passport office or want to collect statistical data for some purpose, you can ask these questions as well:
- Please inform me days taken by your office in issuing/renewing passports in the last 25 applications excluding days required for police verification.
- Please inform me the number of complaints for the delay in issuing/renewing passports was received against your office in the last one year or last financial year.
THE DOS AND DON’TS OF WRITING AN EFFECTIVE APPLICATIONWhen we write RTI applications, our primary focus should be to get information from the Public Authority. But often times we lose track of what it is we seek and start focusing on how to stop wrongdoings, how to penalize officials and corrupt contractors, how to make the authorities “answerable” for negligence, or asking the authorities about their opinions on a particular issue, application or on the law itself. If we mention such issues, our application then turns into long stories full of allegations and accusations and focus on the information that we seek gets lost in the voluminous draft. Also, the RTI authority is not the decision-making authority, nor the authorized spokesperson of the public authority from which the information is required. Hence, no useful information can be gained by asking questions about legal or other kinds of opinions. Of course, our ultimate goal is to curb corruption, stop the continuance of offense or some other bigger need, however, when writing application we must first ensure that we get the information and only then process it to meet our needs. Here are some tips that will help you to draft your application precisely and effectively –
- GIVE THE DETAILS OF DOCUMENTS SOUGHT CLEARLY
Your application should clearly mention the nature of the documents you are seeking.
In absence of specific details, the PIO may choose to give you documents as per his discretion which may or may not provide you the information you want. For example, if you want X, say X and don’t say Y.
Otherwise, it is difficult to predict whether the PIO has understood your question, and he may be able to use more discretion while deciding what documents to include and what to leave out. Be specific and name the documents that you want to be copied. When you are writing your application, think about how to word language in a manner that makes it difficult for the PIO to loosely interpret or misunderstand your request. Think about wordings very carefully. For example, you can call for file notings if you want to know the basis of the decision of a government action/policy. You can call for letters and emails if you want to know the correspondence between two bodies. You can even call for a contract to know the terms on which a particular project is undertaken by or for a public authority. You can call for Engineering drawings, budgets, financial projections which were the basis of a particular decision, consultants’ studies, etc.
Important tip: Name documents using words from the provisions of the RTI and only after exhausting these should you use other similar names. In case this information is denied, the similarity of wording will help you to convince appellate authorities that your requested information is “records” and “information” that must be mandatorily given.
- ALWAYS, ALWAYS KEEP YOUR APPLICATION SHORT AND SPECIFIC
When writing an application, always think from the point of PIO. What would you do if you see a lengthy RTI application that asks long and endless questions? Well, I would definitely want to postpone looking at the application, and then go out of my way to justify the delay or denial. Wouldn’t you?
Keeping the above in mind, you must try to put your information in points as breaking information into simple and direct language avoids ambiguity and would make it simpler for the reader to disseminate information.
Remember: Section 5 (3) of the RTI Act provides that the PIOs shall render reasonable assistance to the applicants in seeking information. So, whenever you feel stuck while drafting the application, you can always reach out the PIO. The contact details of the concerned PIO are usually given on the official website of the Public Authority.
Make sure that you do not introduce more than one subject in your RTI application. What constitutes one subject is subjective and there is no toolkit to determine what would be one subject. However, one can assume that same information can be deemed to belong to one subject when the queries are linked logically to one another, or form chain of events, or in some sense are consequences of each other or are geographically linked. For example – Writing an RTI application was filed with the Ministry of External Affairs asking for information of all the MNCs having pharmaceutical business in India. In the same application, expenses incurred on foreign travels of ministers and members of parliament were also sought. Such application an application is liable to be either returned or answered only partially.
Secondly, your information at the cost of being precise must not ever be short of requisite details. The details of the subject matter for which information is sought must be set out clearly.
For example, if you want to know the information about the repair work of a particular road, you must mention all the details in the following manner:
Please provide with certified copies of all documents and contracts related to the construction of lead drains and formation of the road at Ashwini Layout, Ejipura, Bangalore, Ward No. 68 entered into between 2012 to 2014.
Oftentimes, the RTI applications are returned back because either the application is incomplete or it does not give important details of the documents sought. Therefore, you should always give important details such as geographical location, the period for which information is sought, the name of the project etc.
- Be minimalistic so that the PIO is not overburdened and happy to give information
It is advisable to mention the time period for which the information is sought. There is a tendency to use general words such as ‘all communication’, ‘all documents’, etc. in the application to satisfy yourself that the information will be contained in one or the other document. When you mention the time frame, keep the period of information minimal to ensure you get what you need, without overburdening the public authority. Many times, RTI Applicants easily ask for information like copies of all liquor licenses issued from January 1985 till date.For the PIO, this means searching 30 years of files and records. Older files may have been put into basements or buried under tons of old dusty files. Therefore, please ask yourself whether you really need data that is so old, or whether you are just trying to satisfy an academic curiosity. Don’t request for 30 years’ data if five years’ data will suffice for your purposes. Don’t ask for five years’ data if six months’ data is sufficient.
- YOU CAN ASK FOR INFORMATION BUT NOT REASONS
Framing your questions correctly is perhaps the most important part of the application. Try to keep the language simple and each question relatively brief. Also, do not ask questions as to why, how, etc. Instead, ask for certified photocopies of records which contain the information required by you.
For example, do not ask “why my application is not attended so far?” Instead, ask “Please provide me reasons and the certified copy of records containing reasons for the delay in attending my said application”.
Many people are not in the habit of writing and tend to ask long-winding questions, whose meaning is not clear. This is a recipe for disaster – if needed try to get your questions proof-read and ask others as to whether they are inferring the same meaning from them as you are trying to communicate.
- KNOW WHEN TO ASK FOR INSPECTION, AND BE EXPLICIT
Your application must clearly state that you wish to inspect documents records of the information you are seeking. When you make such a statement in your application, you communicate your desire to see the documents physically and enable the PIO to give you the date, time and place for conducting the inspection. Usually, inspection is sought when the nature of the information is voluminous and/ or too intricate and complex to be understood easily. Sometimes, the information sought comes from various sources and physical inspection increases the authenticity and credibility of such documents. However, even if you do not desire to carry out the actual inspection of records of govt office, it is always advisable to make a request as under in the application: “On receipt of information under this application, I intend to carry out the actual inspection of records at your office. I may be permitted such inspection.” Additionally, if you are not very conversant with the language of record, please add the following sentence to your inspection request: “I may also be permitted to seek the assistance of my relative/ friend during the inspection, as I am not fully conversant with the language in which your records are maintained”
- DO YOUR HOMEWORK AND COMPLETE ALL FORMALITIES
While it is easy for you to expect all the papers sought to come to you and for the information to reach to you within 30 days, it is necessary that you ensure that you leave no work unfinished from your end. Therefore, you must ensure that all steps have been diligently followed by you to file the RTI application successfully and your application does not get rejected on some silly pretext.
So, first – READ AND KNOW
You must always check the information of the Public Authority from whom you are seeking information from their website and read any latest news on them. It always gives you a better hand at drafting your information.
Second – PAY THE REQUISITE AMOUNT OF FEE!
Pay the correct amount of fee by proper mode of payment as prescribed in state RTI rules. For central govt pay by postal order of Rs.10/- in favor of “Accounts officer”
And, last – SEND THE APPLICATION!
Send application with fee by registered post AD or speed post. Avoid submitting in person. Avoid courier also. RTI Applications can be filed online as well. Make sure you fill all the requisite details and attach all the relevant documents with your application.
- DON’T WRITE VEXATIOUS OR FRIVOLOUS APPLICATIONS!
There is no fixed definition or criteria to define what would amount to the vexatious application. Vexatious application, in general, would imply the use of accusatory or defamatory language or the making of threat in the Application. So, what this means is that the question/ requests in your application MUST NEVER be accompanied by foul language. For e.g. – An applicant asserted that there was gender bias in government posting and asked for information relating to this. In another application, a complaint was lodged against an officer but no action was taken despite follow up. The applicant asked which MEA officers had helped the officer.
- DON’T PLEAD TO GET INFORMATION!
Right to Information is a fundamental right given under Article 19 of our constitution and the Government of India is obliged to respect your right. Be direct and straightforward. You don’t have to use excessively polite and servile language (e.g. ‘We humbly request you to please furnish, It is our most humble request to the Honourable PIO to supply us copies of X to seek information that you are rightfully entitled to in a democratic nation.
- DON’T ASK QUESTIONS REQUIRING VOLUMIOUS RESPONSE!
Don’t write applications requiring the furnishing of voluminous records/data. You should avoid asking for information covering a wide range of topics. Don’t seek information covering a long span of time, or information which requires detailed processing – e.g. it may not be advisable to ask an average of 20 years’ pension expenses, or where a lot of calculation and extrapolation is required. Ask for data they already have/are likely to keep. It may require skill to carefully choose. Otherwise, it may be rejected.
Restrict your application to one subject and ensure that all questions are asked in a systematic manner so as create a link. For eg. How many police stations are there in Saket? How many constables are appointed to each of these police stations? What is the total number of cases registered with these police station? How many male and female constables are appointed at these stations? How are cases allotted to the constable?
- DON’T WRITE DOWN YOUR COMPLAINTS OR GRIEVANCES – SEEK INFORMATION!
Right to Information Act does not lay down provisions for setting up of grievance redressal agency. Don’t draft your applications in the form of the complaint where you are criticizing some official or identifying some department for its inactions or deficiency in the services provided. Don’t make your application sound like a letter of complaint or a letter-to-the-editor. Don’t preface it with a covering letter or an introductory paragraph. RTI applications should be emotionless and bland. Common complaints/grievances filed under the garb of RTI Application contain questions such as – When will the work be done? Why has it not been done yet? Who is responsible for the delay? Etc.
- DON’T INFRINGE THEIR PRIVACY!
The RTI Application should seek information which falls within the ambit of public works or information, the revelation of which affects the society at large. You must not ask for information to avenge some civic officer or to execute some personal vendetta. Don’t ask questions like how many sons does the President of India have and where do they reside? Or details of bank account and bank code of all applicants who were allotted DDA flats?
- DON’T ASK FOR OPINION, ASK FOR INFORMATION
The information that is sought under the Right to Information Act must be factual. The applications should not be written to seek the opinion of some government official or PIO. Rather, it should aim for asking for documents that have lead to specific decision making. Don’t ask questions like why was this road not constructed? Why did the 5th pay commission give only a 10% raise etc.
- DON’T CONFUSE WITH VAGUE EXPRESSIONS AND TERMS!
What is the status of my complaint? What further action has been taken on my complaint/letter? Give me an action-taken report.” Words like “status” and “action” are open to interpretation, and usually fail to point towards any particular document; they can mean different things to different persons like applicant, PIO, APIO and appellate authorities. The right way is to ask for signed and stamped copy of all correspondence till date in the matter of your complaint, including memos, emails, covering letters for forwarding your complaint etc. Ask for a copy of all their remarks, feedback, reports etc. If the case on your complaint is closed, ask for the closing remarks of the officer concerned.
- DON’T PUT THE INFORMATION OFFICER TO SLEEP!
To say that you will ask – a PIO has multiple ways of justifying not providing information. A single lengthy application may scare and overwhelm the PIO, and tempt him to provide an ineffective response, despite the penal consequences (i.e. fine of up to INR 25,000) for . He will hesitate and postpone searching for the information. Instead, send a small, manageable RTI application with only 3-4 questions. Then, after you receive a reply to that, send another one and another. This strategy also has another advantage: If the PIO fails to answer more than one of these applications, he feels the threat of being eligible to a larger fine (Rs 250 x days of delay x no. of unanswered RTI applications) Even if he escapes penalty after denying information to one application, there is always the recurring chance that other pending applications will get him penalized or reprimanded.
- Don’t send out your first draft immediately
After you have written down your first draft of RTI application (or complaint or anything else), let it cool down in your drawer for a couple of days. Then take a re-look and think about making improvements. Ask a friend or colleague to have a look and give you suggestions.