The Right to Information Act 2005 is a much needed Act to increase the accountability of the government and its personnel and their records with the citizens. RTI Act is known to be an improvised version of the Freedom of Information Act that was enacted in the year 2002. The main reason behind enactment of Right to Information Act was to provide information about the State or Central government office or department to the citizens. As per the provisions of the Act, it is mandatory for the government to respond and reply to the request of the citizen regarding any such information within a given period of time. RTI Act is considered to be one of the most commanding legal regimes of India, wherein people have been given the right to question the public authority and their working.
The questions can be regarding anything, it can be concerning the poor maintenance of roads and transportation facilities in your area or issues regarding hygiene and cleanliness or water problems or it can be with respect to processing of pension or other government services. In short, it is helpful in availing any information that concerns the public sphere. The RTI Act also vows and promises for transparency in the functioning of every department or office of the government along with the accountability of their work. The Act was enforced under the initiative of Department of Personnel and Training, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions in order to deliver an RTI Gateway to all its citizens for quick search of their required information from the respective PIO, Appellate Authority etc.
The Right to Information Act 2005 extends to all the States and Union Territories of India except for the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The Act permits the citizens to seek information regarding any public authority’s office or any other institution, including any such non-governmental organizations which are significantly sponsored and funded by the government. The main objective of this Act is to deliver precise information as requested by the citizens of India, to keep hold over the growing corruption within these public authorities and promote accountability among such public authority towards its people.
Importance of RTI Act, 2005
As it was stated above, RTI Act is one of the most powerful legislations of India, as it gives right to the citizens to question our public authorities, their activities and working. This Act holds an essential place among all the other legislations as it empowers people to ask for information about Central, State government including the non-governmental organizations also which are majorly funded by government, and the government is bound to provide the requested information, particularly if it affects the public domain.
With the help of this information, the citizens can have substantial evidence to prove that corruption exists in that particular department or office, and use the information as tools to fight this growing menace. Apart from curing corruption, the citizens can also use this information to keep hold over the government organizations and make them liable towards their people. The Act also allows the citizens to analyse and choose on the basis of their information, whether their constitutional rights are being met or not. Lastly, this Act not only empowers the citizens but also makes them capable so that they can advocate for themselves.
Important Definitions Under RTI Act
- Section 2(f) of the RTI Act, defines Information, “It means that any material in any form, including records, memos, documents, e-mails, advices, opinions, circulars, press releases, logbooks, reports, papers, samples, data material, models held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force.”
- Section 2(5)(1) of the Act states, Public Information Officers (PIOs) are “to provide information to the persons requesting the information under this Act.”
- Section 2(j) of the Act defines, Right to Information which means, “It includes right to-
- Inspect works, documents, records of any public office or department
- Take notes, certified copies or extracts of documents or records
- Seek certified samples of material
- Obtain information in form of printouts, diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode.
- Section 2(h) defines Public Authority, “It means that any authority or institution or body of self-government established or constituted-
- By or under the Constitution
- By any other legislation made by Parliament
- By any other law made by State legislature
- By notification issued or order made by appropriate government
And it also includes any institution owned, controlled or significantly financed directly or indirectly by the appropriate government, it also includes non-governmental organizations that are funded majorly by the government.
Before understanding the working of Appellate authorities, let’s know the difference between RTI Request and RTI Appeal.
RTI Request is the first step of filing the application, where the request is made by the citizen to one person i.e. PIO seeking for the concerned information. This step includes only the citizen and the PIO.
RTI Appeal is the second step of Request, where the appeal is made before the senior officer against decision of PIO or where the request has been refused. Appeal is usually done before the third person i.e. Appellate Authority who comes between the citizen and PIO. Usually an appeal is filed only when the citizen is not satisfied with the information that is provided by the PIO or the PIO has rejected the citizen’s request to provide the concerned information.
Now that, the difference between RTI Request and RTI Appeal is clear, the function of Appellate Authorities is as follows-
- An Appellate Authority inspects the complaints of people with regard to :-
- Their inability to reach out to Central or State Public Information Officer
- Refusal of access to the requested information
- No response given to the application made within the prescribed time limit
- Unreasonable fee amount to be paid
- Any other matters with respect to requesting or obtaining an access to information
- How appeals are made ?
- The first appeal is made before the senior ranked Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer and it should be made within 30 days from the expiry of the application or receipt of decision
- Even the third-party appeal against the decision of PIO should be made within period of 30 days starting from the date of decision
- Section 5(19)(3) of the Act states that the second appeal can be made to the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission within a period of 90 days from the date on which decision should have been made or when it was actually received.
- When the application is denied, the PIO is responsible for proving the reason behind the denial of request. (section 5(19)(5)).
- The appeal should be disposed of within 30 days from date of receipt, further an extension of 15 days can be granted to dispose of the said appeal. (Section 5(19)(6))
Ground for Rejection of Application and Penal Provisions
Right to ask for information from public authority or government is one of the primary rights of every citizen but it is not an absolute right and as per the RTI Act 2005, there are certain information which have been excused from the ambit of RTI. These exemptions are mentioned under section 8, 9 and 2nd Schedule of the Act 2005. No information shall be mentioned under these sections and schedule to the applicants. Nevertheless, any information that is in relation to accusation of corruption or human right violation cannot be excluded.
There are certain grounds under which the information cannot be disclosed to the citizens of India. The request can be denied if the revelation of information-
- Disturbs the sovereignty and integrity of India, its security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of India or would lead to provocation of an offence (Section 2(8)(a))
- Is forbidden to be published by any court, tribunal and in case of disclosure of such information it shall lead to contempt of court (Section 2(8)(b))
- Includes certain secretive information like trade secrets, intellectual property, commercial confidence (Section 2 (8)(d)).
There can be a penalty imposed on the Public Information Officer in case he fails to abide by his duty of providing with concerned information. The penalty can range from Rs 250 to maximum of Rs 25000 depending upon the following grounds-
- Denying to receive an application for information
- Not delivering the information within the stipulated time
- Refusing the request for information in bad faith
- Destroying the requested information
- Creating obstruction to get an access to the information
How to File RTI Offline
RTI can be filed in two ways, either by online means which is much prevalent and faster means to avail the information and the other is offline means which is for those who don’t have access to different online modes. Thus, the steps to file an RTI via offline mode are-
- First identify the department where one wishes to file the RTI application and find out whether it comes under the scope of local authority, state or central government.
- Then either write or type the application in any English, Hindi or any recognized local language of the area and one can also ask the PIO to write the application on your behalf.
- Then address the application to the correct State or Central Public Information Officer and mention in the Subject- “Seeking information under the RTI Act 2005.”
- The request made should be in form of a detailed and specific question with all the necessary information like the year the plea falls in, and the person can also ask for a document or extract of that piece of information at the charge of Rs 2 per page.
- To file the application, the applicant has to pay Rs 10 either in cash or through bank draft or money order or court fee stamp. For people who are below the poverty line, they need to show proof and they shall be exempted from fee.
- The applicant can send the application through mail or hand it over personally to the office and should keep a copy of the same and also receive an acknowledgment from the office. The request should be responded within 30 days.
- Failing which, the person can make an RTI appeal to the “Appellate Authority” which also needs to be responded within 30 days. The person can also make a plea to the Information Commission, Chief Information Commissioner and State/Central Information Commission.
How to File RTI through the Online Portal
Online mode is the easiest and fastest way to file RTI. The steps to file an RTI through online mode are as follows-
- Go to the official website of the RTI, i.e. rtionline.gov.in
- Then to submit your RTI, click on the Submit request and it will show the guidelines for using the online portal of RTI. Read the guidelines properly and then scroll down and put tick on “I have read and understood the above guidelines” and then click on the Submit option as shown below.
- As you click the Submit button, a form shall be projected for submitting your application of RTI as shown below.
- First you need to fill the complete form, and in case you are not aware of the exact public authority, then search it with the help of “search public authority” given on the right side of the form to get the appropriate public authority.
- If you have any document to support, then it can be uploaded, although it is not mandatory
- If the applicant belongs to below poverty line and has a BPL card, then his/her application fee shall be waived off and he/she shall upload the scanned copy of their BPL certificate or card.
d. once the above shown form is filled, then click on the submit button and move ahead to make payment option.
- In the payment section, the applicant needs to pay the prescribed fee i.e. Rs 10 which can be paid through any digital way like credit/debit card or net banking. Once the details of the payment section are filled, then click on the pay button as shown below.
- After the payment is done, a registration number shall be given to the applicant and the applicant shall note it down, as it can be used to check the status of your RTI application. Once the procedure is finished, then you will receive an email and SMS on your registered number regarding the updates of your application.
How to File a RTI First Appeal ?
In case, if the RTI request is not answered by the respective public authority or PIO, then the applicant can file appeal in the Appellate Authority by following the given steps-
- For submitting, the first appeal application again you need to go on the official site of RTI click on “Submit first appeal” option and then “guidelines for use of RTI online portal” screen will be presented.
- The person shall read them and click on the option “I have read and understood the above guideline” and click on submit option.
- Then online RTI first appeal form screen will be shown and the applicant is required to fill the registration number, email id and security code in the given form
- On clicking the submit option, the online RTI first appeal form will be shown and applicant has to select the purpose for filing of appeal from the option “ground for appeal” from the dropdown field.
- After choosing the reason, the applicant should type the RTI first appeal and it should not be more than 3000 characters and if the text goes beyond 3000 characters, then application can be uploaded in supporting document field. (note- there is no fee for RTI first appeal)
- After the submission of application, a unique registration number is issued to applicant which can be referred by applicant for checking status.
This application filed shall reach the nodal officer of respective Ministry/ Department via web portal who will further transmit the application to the concerned appellate authority.
Therefore, one should note that RTI Act 2005 was a major need of the hour, to keep control over the system as well as make them accountable towards their work and people. It also empowers people and with the online portal of RTI, it has been made accessible to a larger extent of our population, who want to acquire information regarding any of the public authorities of India. This helps in building the faith of people on its government and also curbs corruption as people are afraid that their records, material has to be revealed to the general public if asked for in future. Even filing of RTI Request and RTI appeal has been made easier through online means with a meagre amount as fee and in case of first appeal, there is no fee also. Thus, RTI Act can be regarded as one of the most impactful legislations of India.
-This Article has been authored by Rhea Banerjee Pursuing B.A.LL.B from Indore Institute of Law.
Right to Information Act, 2005
How to request for information?
Under section 6(1) of the Act states, any person can request for information either in form of writing or via electronic means in English or Hindi or in any of the official language of the area recognized by the Constitution in which the request is being made, by submitting the prescribed fee amount.
The application can be made to Central Public Information officer, State Public Information Officer, Central Assistant Public Information Officer or to State Assistant Public Officer depending on the information required from the respective department.
Time period for responding application ?
There is a specified time limit within which the application needs to be responded by the concerned authority. The time limit is 30 days from the date of application to answer the request and for information which is with respect to life and liberty of an individual shall be answered within 48 hours from date of application. Further, an additional 5 days can be granted for response time, if the application is being transferred to Central Public Information Officer from State Public Information Officer. And in case, the authority fails to provide the requested information, within given period of time than it shall be deemed as refusal from the respective authority.