The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) was enacted by Parliament to further the objectives of making governance more transparent and accountable. The objective of RTI Act, as stated in the preamble, is to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for the citizens to secure access to Information under the control of the Public Authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every Public Authority and for the constitution of Central Information Commission and State Information Commission.
The RTI Act empowers citizens to get Information from any ‘Public Authority’. It is the responsibility of a Public Authority to supply correct and complete Information within the specified time to any person seeking Information under the RTI Act. There are possibilities that a Public Authority may not act as per provisions of the RTI Act or an applicant may not otherwise be satisfied with the decision of the Public Authority. The RTI Act contains the provision for two appeals to tide over such situations. The first appeal lies within the Public Authority itself which is made to an officer designated as the First Appellate Authority by the concerned Public Authority. The second appeal lies with Central Information Commission.
What is Information?
‘Information’ is any material in any form. It includes records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advice, 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 a Public Authority under any law for the time being in force. ‘Record’ is defined to include any document, manuscript and file; any microfilm, microfiche and facsimile copy of a document; any reproduction of image or images embodied in such microfilm (whether enlarged or not); and any other material produced by a computer or any other device.
Who is a Public Authority?
A ‘Public Authority’ is defined as any authority or body or institution of self- government established or constituted—
- by or under the Constitution;
- by any other law made by Parliament;
- by any other law made by State Legislature;
- by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government, and includes any—
- body owned, controlled or substantially financed;
- non-Government organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government;
However, Sec. 24 of the RTI Act excludes central intelligence and security organisations specified in Schedule II from the application of RTI Act, unless the Information sought relates to the violation of human rights or allegations of corruption.
What is Right to Information?
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.
The RTI Act gives the citizens a right to Information at par with the Members of Parliament and the Members of State Legislatures. According to the RTI Act, the Information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person.
A citizen has a right to obtain an Information in the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts provided such Information is already stored in a computer or in any other device from which the Information may be 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.
The RTI 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 has to be supplied to such person. In such cases, it would be presumed that a citizen has sought Information at the address of the Corporation etc.
Only such Information will be supplied under the RTI Act which already exists and is held by the Public Authority or held under the control of the Public Authority. It is beyond the scope of the RTI Act to create Information, or to interpret Information; or to solve the problems raised by the applicants; or to furnish replies to hypothetical questions.
What Information is exempted from disclosure?
Sub-section (1) of section 8 and section 9 of the RTI Act enumerate the categories of Information which are exempt disclosure of information:
- Relating to national security or sovereignty;
- Forbidden by any Court, etc;
- Which may result in breach of privilege of Parliament or State Legislature;
- Trade secrets and commercial confidentiality;
- Relating to personal privacy and fiduciary relationship;
- Received in confidence from Foreign Governments;
- Individual safety or liberty;
- Law Enforcement and the prosecution of offenders;
- Cabinet papers and records of deliberations of Council of Ministers.
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. Further, sub-section (3) of section 8 provides that certain Information exempted thereof, would cease to be exempted after 20 years from the date of occurrence of the related event.
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-
- 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;
- Information the disclosure of which would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or State Legislature; or
- 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.
Right to Information vis-à-vis other Acts
The RTI Act has overriding effect vis-à-vis other laws in as much as the provisions of the RTI Act would have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in the Official Secrets Act, 1923, and any other law for the time being in force or in any instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than the RTI Act.
Fee for Seeking Information
An applicant, along with his application, is required to pay a sum of Rs. 10/- as application fee in cash or by way of a demand draft or a banker’s cheque or an Indian Postal Order payable to the Accounts Officer of the Public Authority. The applicant may also have to pay additional fee, as prescribed by the Right to Information (Regulation of Fee and Cost) Rules, 2005 for supply of Information as given below:
a) 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 inspection of records, no fee for the first hour; and a fee of Rs. 5/- for each
subsequent hour (or fraction thereof);
e) for Information provided in diskette or floppy Rs. 50/- per diskette or floppy;and
f) for Information provided in printed form at the price fixed for such publication or Rs. 2/- per page of photocopy for extracts from the publication.
Applicants belonging to ‘below poverty line (BPL)’ category, are exempt from payment of any fee.
Contents and Format of Application
An applicant making a request for Information is not required to give any reason for requesting the Information or any other personal details except those that may be necessary for contacting him. Further, the RTI Act or the Rules do not prescribe any format of application for seeking Information. Therefore, the applicant cannot be asked to give justification for seeking Information or to give his personal details etc or to submit the application in any particular form.
For Information from Central Government Ministries and Departments application can be made online at rtionline.gov.in.
Supply of Part Information by Severance
Where a request is received for access to Information which is exempt from disclosure but a part of which is not exempt and such part can be severed is such a way that the severed part does not contain exempt Information then, access to that part of the Information/record will be provided to the applicant. Where access is granted to a part of the record in such a way, the Public Authority shall inform the applicant that the Information asked for is exempt from disclosure and that only part of the record is being provided, after severance, which is not exempt from disclosure. While doing so, the Public Authority should give the reasons for the decision, including any findings on any material question of fact, referring to the material on which those findings were based.
Time Period for Supply of Information
The Public Authority should supply the Information expeditiously and in any case within thirty days of the receipt of the request. Where the Information sought for concerns the life of liberty of a person, the same should be provided within forty-eight hours of the receipt of the request. The period intervening between informing the applicant about the additional fee and the payment of the fee by the applicant shall be excluded for calculating the period of reply.
If the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of the Public Authority fails to give a decision on the request for Information within the prescribed period, the CPIO shall be deemed to have refused the request. It is pertinent to note that if a Public Authority fails to comply with the specified time limit, the Information to the concerned applicant may have to be provided free of charge.
The Information sought by an applicant should either be supplied to him or his application should be rejected within the time prescribed under the RTI Act. If additional fee need be charged from the applicant, communication in this regard should be sent to him within the time limit prescribed for sending Information. If the applicant does not receive Information or decision about the rejection of request or communication about payment of additional fee within the specified time, he can make an appeal to the First Appellate Authority, who is senior in rank to CPIO in each Public Authority. An appeal can also be made if the applicant is aggrieved by the decision of the CPIO regarding the supply of Information or the quantum of fee decided by the CPIO.
Time Limit for Filing of First Appeal
The first appeal may be made within 30 days from the date of expiry of the prescribed period or from the receipt of communication from the CPIO.
Time Limit for Disposal of First Appeal
The appeal should be disposed of within 30 days of receipt of the appeal. In exception cases, the Appellate Authority may take 45 days for its disposal. However, in cases where disposal of appeal takes more than 30 days, the Appellate Authority should record in writing the reasons for such delay.
Second Appeal to Central Information Commission
If the first Appellate Authority fails to pass on 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 the first appellate authority or was actually received by the appellant.
The Appellate Authorities may admit the appeal after the prescribed period also if they are satisfied that the appellant was prevented by sufficient cause from filing the appeal.