Right to Information Act (RTI)
Right to Information Act (RTI)
Sweden is the very first country to provide freedom of information to its citizens through the Freedom of Press Act, which came into force in 1766. After a series of other countries such as Finland, the USA, Denmark, France, Canada, New Zealand and so on, India implemented the Right to Information Act in 2005. India is the 48th country to enforce the Right to Information. At present, there are more than 90 countries that have enacted the Right to Information Act (RTI). This article talks about the Right to Information Act in India.
Objectives of the Act
The primary aim of the Right to Information Act is to empower the citizens of a country. To achieve this, the government of the country should work to promote transparency and accountability in work done by the Government, eradicate corruption and make the democracy work in favour of the citizens in a real sense. Informed citizens are better equipped and prepared to keep a constant vigil on the instruments of the governance and hold the government more accountable to the people.
This Act is a massive step towards making the people of a country more informed about the activities carried out by the government. The following are the objectives of the Right to Information Act.
- To ensure that the citizens have the right to information.
- To promote the transparency of information.
- To promote the openness in administration.
- To prevent the administrative arbitrariness.
- To ensure the accountability in public administration.
- To prevent corruption.
- Informed citizens are essential for the proper functioning of a democracy.
- To hold the government and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed. In simpler terms, make the government more responsive.
The coverage of the Right to Information Act in all aspects is listed below.
- The Act covers all of India except for Jammu and Kashmir.
- It covers the Central, State and Local Governments, and all the bodies owned, controlled or substantially financed. It includes the non-government organisations mainly financed with direct or indirect funds provided by the appropriate Government.
- It covers the executive, judiciary and legislature.
- This Act also includes the coverage of information relating to a private body which can be accessed by a citizen under any other law for the time being in force.
Definition of Information
As per the Right to Information Act of 2005, the word Information may refer to any material in any form such as records, documents. Memos, e-mails, opinions, pieces of advice, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and also includes information related to any private body which can be accessed by the public authority under any other law for the time being in force.
Third Party Information
The Right to Information Act protects the right of a third party with regarding the information given by them to the public authority and is treated as confidential. In cases such as these, the third party needs to be consulted by giving them notice in advance and an opportunity for making their submissions. If the Public Relation Officer intends to provide information about the third party, then the third party had the right to prefer an appeal before the Appellate Authorities.
As per the Section 2(n), the third party about the Act means a person other than the citizen who has requested information. The definition of the third party includes a public authority other than the public administration to whom the request has been made.
In concern to third-party information which the third party has treated as confidential, the Public Information Officer should follow the procedure as laid down for the officials such as the Public Information Officers. The third party in concern should be given the opportunity in full to put his/ her case for non-disclosure if they desire that the information should not be disclosed.
Disclosure of Third Party Information
The disclosure of information that includes commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property that would harm the competitive position of a third party is exempted from disclosure. Such information should not be revealed unless the competent authority is satisfied that more substantial public interest warrants the disclosure of such information.
The Right to Information Act defines a public authority as the following in Section 2(h):
A “public authority” is a body or an institution of self-government established or constituted:
- By or under the Constitution;
- By any other law formed by the Parliament;
- By any other law created by the State Legislature;
- By a notification or order issued by the appropriate Government, and includes any body owned, controlled or substantially financed, and non-government organisation mainly financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government.
Exercising of Rights
Subject to the provisions offered under this Act, all the citizens of a country shall have the right to information. The person seeking information is not required to give any reason for requesting information or any other personal details except those that may be necessary for contact, i.e., name and contact particulars.
Right to Information
As stated in Section 2(j) of the Right to Information Act of 2005, “right to information” means the right to information accessible under this Act which is held by or under the control of any public authority and includes the right to:
- Inspect work documents and associated records.
- Take notes, extractions, or certified copies of the documents or records.
- Take certified samples of the material.
- Obtain information in the form of disks, tapes, videos or any other electronic mode or through printouts where such information is stored in a computer system or any other device.
Format of Application
There no specific prescribed form of application for seeking information. An applicant may file their claim on a plain sheet of paper and giving details of the information required on the sheet. The applicant must mention the address at which the data is needed to be sent.
However, there are a few exceptions in some State Government such as Arunachal Pradesh, Daman and Dui, Harayana, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Maharashtra, Sikkim, Orissa and some other state governments have a prescribed format for the application of Right to Information which the applicant has to complete while applying in these States.
Method of seeking application
A citizen of India who desires to obtain any information under the Act should appeal to the Public Information Officer of the concerned public Authority in writing in English or Hindi or in the official language of the area where the application is made. The form should be accurate and specific. The applicant may send the form by post or through electronic means or can deliver it personally in the office of the Public Authority. The application can also be forwarded through an Assistant Public Information Officer.
Right to Information Online
The Department of Personnel and Training has launched a web portal namely RTI online which may be visited by using the link www.rtionline.gov.in for all the Central Ministries/ Departments. This is a facility for the citizens of India to file RTI applications and first appeals through the online facility to all Central Ministries/ Departments. The prescribed RTI fees can also be paid online. Reply to the RTI application and the first appeals received online can also be given online by the respective PIOs/ FAAs.
Supply of Information to Associations and so
The Act provides the right to information only to the Indian citizens. It does not make room for giving information to Corporations, Associations, Companies and so on which are legal entities/ individuals, but not citizens. Although, if an application is made by an employee or an office-bearer of any Corporation, Association, Company, NGO etc. indicating their name and such employee/ office-bearer is a citizen of India, information may be supplied to them. In such situations, it would be presumed that a citizen has sought information at the address of the Corporation or so on.
Exemption from Disclosure of Information
The Right to Information Act provides for some exceptions where the information can be withheld. There are ten types of exception that have been mention in this Act where data may be withheld, they are:
Concerning Sovereignty and Integrity of India
Information, that when disclosed, would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and the integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence.
Contempt of Court
Information which has been expressly forbidden or not allowed to be published/ prevented by any court of law or tribunal or the disclosure of which may constitute Contempt of Court.
Breach of Privilege of Parliament/ State Legislature
Information, which when disclosed, would cause a breach of privilege of the Parliament or the State Legislature.
Trade and Commerce Secret and Intellectual Property
Information that includes commercial confidence or trade secrets and intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party, unless the competent authority is satisfied that a substantial public interest warrants the disclosure of such information.
Information Available in Fiduciary Relationship
Information available to an individual in his fiduciary relationship, unless the competent authority is satisfied that the more significant public interest warrants the Disclosure of such information.
Confidential Information received from Foreign Governments
Information collected in confidence from any foreign government.
Life and Physical Safety of any person
Information, the disclosure of which would cause endangerment to the presence or physical safety of any individual or identify the source of information or assistance given n confidence for law enforcement or security purposes.
Issues under Investigation
Information which would obstruct the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders.
Cabinet Papers and similar
Cabinet papers that include the records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers, Secretaries and other Officers.
- Provided that the decisions of the Council of Ministers, the reasons thereof, and the material by which the decisions were taken shall be made public after the decisions have been received and the matter is complete, or over.
- Provided further that that matter which comes under the exemptions that were specified under this section shall not be disclosed.
Time Period for Supply of Information
In a regular course, an applicant shall receive information within thirty days from the receipt of the application by the concerned public authority. If the information that is sought concerns the life or liberty of an individual, it shall be supplied within forty-eight hours. If 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.
The Right to Information Act specifies the time limits for replying to the request as mentioned in the table below.
|Serial Number||Nature of Request||Time Limit|
|1||If the request has been made to the PIO, the reply is to be given within||30 days of receipt|
|2||If the application has to been made to an APIO, the response is to be provided within||35 days of receipt|
|3||If the PIO transfers the request to another public authority, who may be better concerned with the administration or better concerned for the information required, the time allowed to reply is 30 days but computed from the day after the PIO of the transferee authority receives it||30 days|
|4||Information concerning corruption and Human Rights Violation by scheduled security agencies is to be provided within 45 days, but prior approval of the Central Information Commission.||45 days|
|5||If the life or liberty of any individual is involved, the PIO is expected to reply within||48 days|
|6||Transfer of application to other public authority under Section 6(3) of the Act||5 days|
Since the information is to be paid for, the reply of the PIO is necessarily limited to either denying the request in or part and by providing a computation of “further fees”.The time between the reply of the PIO and the time taken to deposit the further fees for information is excluded from the time allowed. If the data is not provided within the given period, it is treated as a deemed refusal. Refusal with or without reasons may be ground for an appeal or complaint. Further information is not provided in times prescribed is to be offered free of charge.
Grant of Compensation
The Information Commission has been empowered to grant a compensation if it is satisfied that the applicant has suffered some loss due to non-supply of information.
Bar of jurisdiction of Courts
No Court of Law shall entertain any suit, application or other proceedings in respect of any order made under this Act and no such order shall be called in question otherwise than by way of an appeal under the Right to Information Act, 2005.
Right to Information vis-à-vis other Acts
The Right to Information Act has over-riding effect vis-à-vis other laws. It implies that if any of the provisions of the RTI Act are not consistent with any other law for the time being in force including the Official Secrets Act, 1923, the rules of the Right to Information Act would affect.