Introduction to Right To Information Act, 2005
RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT,2005
In order to promote transparency and accountability in administration, the Indian Parliament enacted the Freedom of Information Act, 2002, which was repealed later and a new act, The Right to Information Act, came into force on 12 October 2005. The new law empowers Indian citizens to seek information from a Public Authority, thus making the Government and its functionaries more accountable and responsible. The Act has now been in operation for over three years and has benefited many, including the poor and the underprivileged.
Information is any material in any form. It includes records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, 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.
The basic object of the Right to Information Act is to empower the citizens, promote transparency and accountability in the working of the Government, contain corruption, and make our democracy work for the people in real sense. It goes without saying that an informed citizen is better equipped to keep necessary vigil on the instruments of governance and make the government more accountable to the governed. The Act is a big step towards making the citizens informed about the activities of the Government. The right to information is implicitly guaranteed by the Constitution. However, with a view to set out a practical regime for securing information, the Indian Parliament enacted the Right to Information Act, 2005 and thus gave a powerful tool to the citizens to get information from the Government as a matter of right. This law is very comprehensive and covers almost all matters of governance and has the widest possible reach, being applicable to Government at all levels- Union, State and Local as well as recipients of government grants.
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. This right includes inspection of 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. It is important to note that only such information can be supplied under the Act which already exists and is held by the public authority or held under the control of the public authority. The Public Information Officer is not supposed to create information; or to interpret information; or to solve the problems raised by the applicants; or to furnish replies to hypothetical questions.
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.
INFORMATION EXEMPTED FROM DISCLOSURE:
Sub-section (1) of section 8 and section 9 of the Act enumerate the types of information which is exempt from disclosure. Sub-section (2) of section 8, however, provides that information exempted under sub-section (1) or exempted under the Official Secrets Act, 1923 can be disclosed if public interest in disclosure overweighs the harm to the protected interest.
The information which, in normal course, is exempt from disclosure under sub-section(1) of Section 8 of the Act, would cease to be exempted if 20 years have lapsed after occurrence of the incident to which the information relates. However, the following types of information would continue to be exempt and there would be no obligation, even after lapse of 20 years, to give any citizen:
(i) 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;
(ii) information the disclosure of which would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or State Legislature; or
(iii) 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.
The List of 22 exempted organizations is given below:
- Intelligence Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs
- Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Ministry of Finance
- Central Economic Intelligence Bureau, Ministry of Finance
- Directorate of Enforcement, Ministry of Finance
- Narcotics Control Bureau
- Aviation Research Centre
- Special Frontier Force
- Border Security Force, Ministry of Home Affairs
- Central Reserve Police Force, Ministry of Home Affairs
- Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Ministry of Home Affairs
- Central Industrial Security Force, Ministry of Home Affairs
- National Security Guard, Ministry of Home Affairs
- Research & Analysis Wing of The Cabinet Secretariat
- Assam Rifles, Ministry of Home Affairs
- Sashastra Seema Bal, Ministry of Home Affairs
- Special Protection Group
- Defence Research and Development Organisation, Ministry of Defence
- Border Road Development Organisation
- Financial Intelligence Unit, India
- Directorate General Income Tax (Investigation)
- National Technical Research Organisation
- National Security Council Secretariat
FEE FOR SEEKING INFORMATION:
A person who desires to seek some information from a public authority is required to send, along with the application, a demand draft or a banker’s 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 Accounts Officer of the public authority or to the Assistant Public Information Officer against proper receipt.
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 (Regulation of Fee and Cost) Rules, 2005. Rates of fee as prescribed in the Rules are given below:
(a) rupees two (Rs. 2/-) for each page ( in A-4 or A-3 size paper) created or copied;
(b) actual charge or cost price of a copy in larger size paper;
(c) actual cost or price for samples or models;
(d) for information provided in diskette or floppy, rupees fifty (Rs. 50/-) per diskette or floppy; and
(e) for information provided in printed form, at the price fixed for such publication or rupees two per page of photocopy for extracts from the publication.
As already pointed out, 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 below poverty line (BPL) category, he is not required to pay any fee. However, he should submit a proof in support of his claim to belong to the below poverty line. The application not accompanied by the prescribed fee of Rs. 10/- or proof of the applicant’s belonging to below poverty line, as the case may be, shall not be a valid application under the Act. It may be pointed out that there is no bar on the public authority to supply information in response to such applications. However, provisions of Act would not apply to such cases.
FORMAT OF APPLICATION:
There is no prescribed format of application for seeking information. The application can be made on plain paper. The application should, however, have the name and complete postal address of the applicant. Even in cases where the information is sought electronically, the application should contain name and postal address of the applicant. The information seeker is not required to give reasons for seeking information.
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. In case the application is sent through the Assistant Public Information Officer or it is sent to a wrong public authority, five days shall be added to the period of thirty days or 48 hours, as the case may be.
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 from which the information may be e-mailed or transferred to diskettes etc. 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.
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 thirty 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 thirty 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 Central Information Commission within ninety days from the date on which the decision should have been made by the first appellate authority or was actually received by the appellant.
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.
DISPOSAL OF APPEALS AND COMPLAINTS BY THE CIC:
The Central Information Commission decides the appeals and complaints and conveys its decision to the appellant/complainant and first appellate authority/ Public Information Officer. The Commission may decide an appeal/complaint after hearing the parties to the appeal/complaint or by inspection of documents produced by the appellant/complainant and Public Information Officer or such senior officer of the public authority who decided the first appeal. If the Commission chooses to hear the parties before deciding the appeal or the complaint, the Commission will inform the date of hearing to the appellant or the complainant at least seven clear days before the date of hearing. The appellant/complainant has the discretion to be present in person or through his authorized representative at the time of hearing or not to be present.
Oindree Sengupta, IV Yr, Symbiosis Law School