Image source - https://rtiseva.com/

This article is written by Arundhati Roy.

Introduction

The very existence of a democratic system depends upon equal rights for its people, freedom of speech, and a fair trial and tolerating the views of minorities. In the same way, the government represents the interests of its citizens, so it becomes essential that the government or its representatives freely express their ideologies before the public. There has to be transparency in the working of the government, where the free flow of information is a must for spreading awareness regarding the rights of the citizens of a democratic society. Thus, the right to information that is part and parcel of freedom of speech and expression is indispensable for ensuring transparency and accountability of good governance.

The “Freedom of Information Act, 2002” was enacted by the Indian Parliament to promote transparency and accountability in administration. Later on, this Act was repealed by the new enactment, “the Right to Information Act,” made by the legislation of Parliament of India. The Right to Information Act was passed by Parliament on June 15, 2005, and became fully operational from October 12, 2005. Under this new law, the Indian citizens are empowered to seek any accessible information from a Public Authority, making the Government and its functionaries more accountable and responsible. This article is a guide for a layman to understand RTI and how it can be filed to seek any information from a public authority.

What is RTI?

The “Right to Information” is commonly known as “RTI.” The Right to information is a part of the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression, enshrined under Article 19(1) of the Constitution of India. The Right to Information has been made a statutory right through the Parliament’s enactment, the Right to Information Act, 2005. This Act is often termed as revolutionary, as a common man can demand any government agency to furnish information by using this right. Further, this Act mandates timely response to citizens’ requests for government information.

Section 2(j) of the RTI Act defines “right to information,” which means the right to information accessible under this Act which is held by or under the control of any public authority.

Rights available under RTI Act:

  • Seek any information which is held by any public authority.
  • Take copies of government documents.
  • Inspect works, documents, records of government.
  • Take notes, extracts, or certified copies of government documents or records.
  • Take certified samples of Government work.
  • Obtain information in the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes, or in any other electronic mode or through printouts where such information is stored in a computer or in any other device.

Objective of RTI

The motive behind making the Right to Information a statutory right is to secure access to information for the citizens which is under the control of public authorities. To empower citizens, promote transparency and accountability in the working of the Government, contain corruption, and make our democracy work in the real sense is the basic objective of the Right to Information Act. As it goes without saying that an informed citizen is better equipped to keep necessary vigil on the instruments of governance and make them more accountable to the governed. The Act is an initiative towards making the citizens well-informed about the activities of the Government and all the public authorities under it.

Which information can be sought under RTI?

As per Section 2(f) of the RTI Act, 2005, ‘information’ means 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 a public authority can access under any other law for the time being in force.

According to this definition provided by the RTI Act, citizens can seek information from any Public Authority. The power given to the citizens under the RTI Act is limitless. Yet, the Public Authority can refuse details sought through an RTI application pertaining to national security and defense or some personal information.

It must be noted that opinions cannot be sought under the RTI Act. 

Who can apply under RTI?

Section 3 of the RTI Act empowers citizens to have the right to information, but any person can avail this right to receive information under Section 6 of the Act, as the ambit of Section 6 is wider than Section 3. This was held in the matter of Chief Information Commissioner v. the State of Manipur.

Public Authority under RTI Act

Public Authority is defined under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act. It states that any authority or body or institution of self-government which is established or constituted:

  1. by or under the Constitution;
  2. by any other law made by Parliament;
  3. by any other law made by the State legislature;
  4. by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government;

and includes any-

  1. body owned, controlled, or substantially financed;
  2. non-governmental organization substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate government.

Appropriate government

Section 2(a) of the RTI Act defines the term “appropriate Government.” It reads as “appropriate government” in relation to a public authority which is –

  • established
  • constituted
  • owned
  • controlled
  • or substantially financed 

by funds provided directly or indirectly – 

  1. by the Central Government or the Union territory administration, the Central Government;
  2. by the State Government, the State Government.

Here is an example of all government departments or agencies or bodies under Central or State Government, who would come within the ambit of this Act. Government departments, Municipal Corporations, Government schools, Government hospitals, Government-owned companies, Ministries at the State, Central level, Public Works Departments, Public Sector Units, Government Universities, Judiciary, etc. This shall also include those universities, institutions, schools, hospitals or any other body which comes within the ambit of the definition of “public authority” under the RTI Act.

Whether private bodies are covered under the RTI Act?

Only those private bodies or organizations which are owned, controlled, or substantially financed by the Government are directly covered. Other private organizations where if the government department is allowed to access information by means of any other act, then the same can be accessed by the citizen under the RTI Act through the aid of that government department.

Who is a Public Information Officer or (PIO)?

As mandated by the RTI Act, all Public Authorities are required to appoint their Public Information Officer (PIO), who shall be bestowed with the responsibility of dealing with the public’s requests and providing them the necessary information as specified under the RTI Act. 

Following points to be considered while seeking information under RTI.

  • A request seeking information regarding any public authority, may be submitted by any person in writing to the Public Information Officer. 
  • It is the duty of the PIO to provide the information sought within 30 days of the receipt of the request. 
  • When the request is made pertaining to any another public office whether in whole or part, it is the responsibility of the PIO to transfer the concerned request to a PIO of appropriate authority within 5 working days.
  • Also, there is a proviso to Section 7(1) of the RTI Act which states if information has been sought for concerning the life or liberty of a person, the same shall be provided within 48 hours of the receipt of the request.

Whether reasons for seeking information are required?

It is to be noted that an applicant, when seeking information from the concerned public authority, need not furnish any reason for requesting the information nor is required to provide any other personal details, excluding those which are essential for contacting him.

Can request for information be refused by the PIO?

Yes, the PIO can refuse to give any information if they pertain to 11 subjects prescribed under Section 8 with proper reason for rejecting the request. Section 8 of the RTI act provides an exemption from disclosure of information. The list of exempted information includes information received in confidence from foreign governments, information the disclosure of would be prejudicial to security, strategic, scientific, or economic interests of the country, breach of privilege of legislatures, etc.

Also, the PIO can reject the request for the reason specified under Section 9 of the RTI Act as well. Then comes a list of 18 agencies as specified in the second schedule of the Act to which the Act does not apply. However, when the information asked for pertains to allegations of corruption or violation of human rights, they too have to furnish information regarding it.

Thereafter comes Section 10 of the RTI, wherein access may be provided to that part of the record that does not contain any information exempt from disclosure under this Act and can be reasonably be severed from any part that contains exempted information.

Government departments that are exempted from the Act

Total 20 organizations are exempted from the RTI Act, as Section 24 of the Act states that the Act shall not apply to certain organizations. These organizations are all concerned with the country’s defense, intelligence, such as RAW, BSF, CRPF, CISF, Intelligence Bureau, National Security Guard, etc.

Questions to be asked under RTI

When questions pertaining to any government or public authority has been asked through the RTI application, it would be preferable if the questions or the information sought for are in a statement form. It is not written anywhere whether the information sought for should be in rhetorical form or in a statement form. Below is an illustrative list of the questions which can asked to seek information rom the concerned public authority; they are:

  1. State the number of incidents of forest fires which took place in the State of Uttarakhand during the period of 2005 to 2021.
  2. State the website for filing complaint before the Adjudicating Officer under Section 46 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 for the State of Gujarat.
  3. State the online procedure for filing complaint before the Adjudicating Officer under Section 46 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 for the State of Maharashtra.
  4. State the number of trees proposed to be cut for the Central Vista Project in New Delhi.

These are a few examples of what questions can be asked, how the questions can be formed. The list is not an exhaustive one, the applicant may ask any such questions of these types or regarding funds allocated for any scheme or information about the MPs or MLAs and every such question which comes within the ambit of the definition of public authority.

How to identify ministry or department?

An applicant seeking information has to find out the Ministry or the Department of the Government to whom the RTI application shall be made. In order to determine the Ministry or Department of the Government, the applicant seeking information related to any particular Ministry or Department should first try to find out circulars or notifications related to the topic of the questions asked, as these circulars or notifications specify the Department or Ministry by whom they are issued. For example, an applicant asking questions on the number of forest fire incidents should find out any circular or notification in relation to the forest fire of that State.

This will enable him to identify the Ministry or Department to whom the RTI application has to be made. Similarly, if a question pertains to the RTI itself and anyone wants to know about the working of the Central Government’s RTI portal, then that person has to find out RTI is an initiative of whom. When one visits the website www.rti.gov.in, information has been provided about the RTI Act and that it’s an initiative of the Department of Personnel & Training. In this way, an applicant demanding any public authority to furnish information shall be able to send it to the correct department, which will save his time and provide him the details of the information asked for without delay. Also, this will make sure the RTI application doesn’t get returned because the request has been made to the incorrect department.

Steps to file RTI

  1. Write an application in writing, or if you want, you can get it typed as well on a paper in English or Hindi or in the official language of that State. The format of writing the application has been attached with this article as Annexure -A. Even though there is no prescribed format for writing an application, some states have prescribed their format for RTI applications to be followed accordingly.
  2. Address the application to the Public Information Officer (PIO) of the concerned public authority or department.
  3. Ask questions to any Government Department or ask any public authority to furnish any information. When asking questions, make them specific. The questions should be clear and complete. 
  4. Avoid asking vague questions as it will be difficult for the concerned PIO to supply information.
  5. Write your full name along with your contact details and address in your application.
  6. There is no need for the applicant to state the reasons for seeking the information from any government department.
  7. Such a fee shall accompany the RTI application as the prescribed fee. A fee of Rs 10/- has to be paid if the information pertains to Central Government Departments. However, different states have prescribed their own fees under the RTI rules formed by such states, which must be paid under the prescribed amount. Otherwise, the application might get returned for not fulfilling the conditions stipulated.
  8. If the request cannot be made in writing, the PIO of the Central or the State Government department must provide all the reasonable assistance to the person making the request orally and reduce the same in writing.
  9. Remember to keep a copy of the application filed with the PIO with you for your own reference.
  10. Then go to the post office and submit your application accompanied by the requisite fee to issue you a receipt and acknowledgment of the same.
  11. In the case of all the Central Government Departments, 629 post offices have been designated as Assistant Public Information Officers or APOs. The list of these post offices can be accessed through this website: http://www.indiapost.gov.in/rtimanual16a.html
  12. This is the procedure for filing an RTI application offline with the aid of the postal service.

How to deposit the application fee?

When information has been sought concerning any State Government department, then the applicant requesting such State Department has to pay a fee prescribed by RTI Rules formulated by the concerned State Government. The application fee can be deposited in the following ways:

  1. In person by paying cash, and you shall receive a receipt for such payment.
  2. By Post through:
  • Indian Postal Order
  • Demand Draft
  • Money orders (For Some States only)
  • Affixing Court fee Stamp (For some States only)
  • Banker’s Cheque
  • Also, some states prescribe their accounts in which you have the deposit fee. For that, you can either go to any branch of SBI and deposit the requisite fee in that account and attach the deposit receipt with your RTI application.
  • Or you can also send a postal order or a DD drawn in favor of that account along with your RTI application

To get complete information about the prescribed fee of various states, read the respective State RTI Rules carefully.

It must also be noted that no affidavit or stamp duty has to be paid. This is a common misconception. 

How to file RTI online?

The Central and few of the State Governments have their own websites for filing the RTI online. Among the States which provide for the online facility, the applicant gets an option for filing the RTI. However, the facilities offered by State Governments for filing online RTI face some issues as some of the websites are not working properly. As a result, the only option left with an applicant is to file an RTI offline when dealing with the State governments’ departments until the websites or portals provided by them work as smoothly as those run by the Central Government.

For filing online RTI application with any of the departments of the Central Government visit the website: www.rtionline.gov.in

Procedure to be followed for filing online RTI:

  1. The website itself states that Indian citizens can use it to file RTI applications online and make payments for RTI applications online.
  2. When the website opens up, click on “Submit Request,” then a page will appear wherein the applicant has to fill in the required details.
  3. The fields marked * are mandatory, while the others are optional.
  4. The text of the application may be written in the prescribed column, and read the note just above the column for writing the text. If the characters are not used as per the instructions provided, you may not be able to file the application.
  5. The text of an application in the prescribed column is restricted to 3000 characters only.
  6. In case an application exceeds 3000 characters, it can be uploaded as an attachment by using the column provided.
  7. Select the Department or Ministry with whom you want to file your RTI application.
  8. Then fill in your other contact details as asked.
  9. After filling the first page, the applicant has to click on “Make Payment” to make payment of the prescribed fee.
  10. Following modes are provided for online payment.
  1. Internet banking through SBI;
  2. Using credit/debit card or Master/Visa;
  3. Using Rupay Card.
  1. The fee for making an application is as prescribed in the RTI Rules, 2012.
  2. After paying the requisite fee, the application is submitted.
  3. No fee is required to be paid by an applicant who is below the poverty line and has to attach a copy of the certificate of “BPL.”
  4. After submitting the application, a unique registration number would be issued, which may be referred by the applicant for any future references.
  5. The application filed through the Web Portal would reach electronically to the “Nodal Officer” of the concerned Ministry/Department, who would transmit the RTI application electronically to the concerned CPIO i.e., the Central Public Information Officer.
  6. If an additional fee is required for providing the information sought, the CPIO will intimate the applicant through this portal. This intimation can be seen by the applicant through Status Report or through his/her e-mail alert.

Appeals

In case the applicant doesn’t receive the information sought for or is unsatisfied with the information so received, he/she may file an appeal with the First Appellate Authority as provided under Section 19(1) of the RTI Act. The first appeal has to be filed within 30 days of receipt of information or within 60 days of filing the RTI application where no information is provided within the prescribed time limit. Further, suppose you do not receive information even after filing the first appeal or aggrieved with the First Appellate Authority order. In that case, you can apply for a second appeal.

Conclusion

The Right to Information Act, 2005 is indeed an effective initiative to create transparency and keep a check on the working the public offices. Through RTI, these public authorities come under the scrutiny of the public, and the citizens get to know more about the system of the Government by having access to the information under the RTI Act. It makes the government accountable and helps in constraining unbridled corruption, which takes place in the offices of the public authorities. Corruption is a menace; there can be no welfare of society if it is not curbed. Thus, RTI is a powerful tool for the citizens to get information about the working of the Government departments, know where the funds are being used, paid in the form of taxes, and so on. Yet, there is a long way to go, as the online portals of the States need to function appropriately for facilitating this service. 

ANNEXURE-A

Date: _____________________

 

To,

The Public Information Officer,

Department of______________

____________________________

_______________, Pin Code – ____

 

Subject: Information under Section 6(1) of the Right to Information Act, 2005

 

Name of the Applicant: __________________________________________

Address of the Applicant: __________________________________________

Email address of the Applicant: ______________________________________

Contact no. of the Applicant: _________________________________________

 

Details of the information sought:

  1. _____________________________________________________________________
  2. _____________________________________________________________________
  3. _____________________________________________________________________
  4. _____________________________________________________________________

 

I, ________________________________ state that the information sought does not fall within the restriction contained in Section 8 and 9 of the Right to Information Act and to the best of my knowledge and belief pertains to your office.

Please transfer the said Application under section 6(3) of the Right to Information Act, 2005, if it does pertain to some other office.

A fee of Rs. ______________ has been deposited in the office of the Competent Authority vide Postal Order numbered ____________________ and the same is attached herewith.

Information requested via e-mail as well as registered speed post.

Date:

 

Signature of the Applicant: _______________________

Postal Address: _________________________________

Contact no: ______________________________________


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