Why RTI Act matters to us

According to the law, the term 'information' is defined as any material in the form of records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data 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

By Author  |  Published: 12th Feb 2018  12:14 amUpdated: 11th Feb 2018  5:44 pm
RTI Act

The Act specifies that citizens have a right to request any information (as defined), to take copies of documents and to obtain information in form of printouts, diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts.

According to the law, the term ‘information’ has been defined as any material in the form of records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data 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.

The Act gives the right to access to information held by “public authorities” which includes authorities, bodies, institution of self government which are established or constituted by the Constitution, by a law of Parliament or a State Legislature, by notification or an order of the State or Central Governments, bodies owned, controlled or substantially financed by the State or Central Governments, including non-government organisations which receive substantial government funds directly or indirectly.

Thus the Act applies to the executives of the Union, the States and the Union Territories, Parliament, State Legislatures, Legislatures for Union Territories, Panchayats and Municipalities; the Supreme Court, High Courts in the States, Subordinate Courts and Tribunals.

Public Information Officer

Under the Act, all authorities covered must appoint a Public Information Officer (PIO) within their organisation. Any person may submit a request to the PIO for information in writing. It becomes the PIO’s duty to provide information to the person who has requested for the information. If the request involves or pertains to another public authority, it will be the concerned PTO’s responsibility to transfer/forward the request to a PIO of the concerned organisation, within five days of receipt.

In addition, every public authority is required to designate Assistant Public Information Officers (APIOs) to receive RTI requests and appeals for forwarding to the PIOs of their public authority. The citizen making the request is not obliged to disclose any information except his/her name and contact particulars.

Time limit for reply

The Act specifies time limits for replying to the request:

1. If the request has been made to the PIO, the reply is to be provided within 30 days of receipt.
2. If the request has been made to an APIO, the deadline gets an additional 5 days, and thus the reply is to be given within 35 days of receipt.
3. If the PIO transfers the request to another public authority (better concerned with the information requested), the time allowed to reply is 30 days but computed from the day after it is received by the PIO of the transferee authority.
4. For information concerning corruption and human rights violations by scheduled security agencies (those listed in the second schedule to the act), responses have to be provided within 45 days post the approval of the Central Information Commission.
5. However, if the life or liberty of any person is involved, the PIO is expected to reply within 48 hours.

If the information is not provided within the required period, it can be treated as a deemed refusal of information. Refusal with or without reasons may be ground for appeal or complaint. Further, information not provided within the time prescribed is to be provided free of charge.
Fine and compensation

The Information Commission can impose penalty of Rs 250/- per day, up to a maximum of 25,000/- on erring PIOs for: without any reasonable cause: refusing an application, delaying information release without reasonable cause, knowingly giving incomplete, incorrect, misleading information ,destroying information that has been requested obstructing furnishing of information in any manner. The Commission also has powers to recommend disciplinary action against PIOs. It can also direct compensation to be paid to the appellant by the public authority.

Exemptions from RTI

1. Sensitive information, disclosure of which would prejudicially compromise the sovereignty and integrity of India, security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with a foreign State or which may lead to the incitement of an offence.
2. Information which has been forbidden to be published by any court of law or tribunal or any disclosure that would constitute to contempt of court.
3. Information, the disclosure of which would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or the State Legislature.
4. Information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party, unless the competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information.
5. Information available to a person in his/her fiduciary relationship, unless the competent authority is satisfied that the larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information.
6. Information received in confidence from foreign Governments.
7. Information, the disclosure of which would endanger the life or safety of any person(s) or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security’ purposes.
8. Information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders.
9. Cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers, Secretaries and other officers.
10. Information which relates to personal information, the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of an individual.

However, such information, which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State legislature, is not exempted under this purpose.
Notwithstanding any of the exemptions listed above, a public authority may allow access to information, if public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interests.

Exemptions for agencies

The following investigation and intelligence agencies are exempted from the purview of this law:
Central Intelligence- Any Security agencies specified in the Second Schedule like IB, RAW, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Central Economic Intelligence Bureau, Directorate of Enforcement, Narcotics Control Bureau, Aviation Research Centre, Special Frontier Force, BSF, CRPF, ITBP, CISF, NSG, Assam Rifles, Special Service Bureau, Special Branch (CID), Andaman and Nicobar, The Crime Branch-CID-CB, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Special Branch, Lakshadweep Police, Agencies specified by the State Governments through a notification will also be excluded.

This exclusion is however not absolute and these organizations are required to provide information, when accused of corruption and/or human rights violations.