In a democratic government which is made by the people, one of the basic rights that should be given to the public is the right to know and understand how the government works and functions so that the officials in the government or any other public institution do not partake in corrupt or arbitrary activities affecting the basic rights of the general public. To realize this basic right, the Parliament had enacted the Right to Information Act (RTI) in the year 2005 to give the citizens of India the right to question and understand the workings of the government if they feel like the government is working arbitrarily or contrary to the interests of the general public. This is an attempt made by the Legislature to make the functioning of the government more transparent and to build and garner the trust of the people of India.
This Article will focus on how the Right to Information evolved in the country, what the RTI Act is about and how to make an application for such information to be made available to the concerned person applying.
RTI and its history
Right to Information has only in the recent decades been identified as a part of the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19(1) of the Constitution of India as was observed by the Supreme Court in the judgement of Mr. Kulwal vs Jaipur Municipal Corporation in the year 1986. In earlier times, there were a few hurdles laid down by the Legislature against the Right to Information, the most important one being the Official Secrets Act of 1923 which prohibited all officials working in the public sector from disclosing any information to the public. There were other inconveniences against the right to information, like Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act of 1872 which left it to the discretion of the head of the department to release or withhold such information of the state. In the year 2002, the Freedom to Information Act was passed by the Legislature which was subsequently replaced by the Right to Information Act of 2005.
The Right to Information Act of 2005 (the Act)
This Act was passed by the Legislature to empower the citizens to enquire about the workings of the public sector initiatives and the government so that the government does not participate in corrupt or arbitrary practices contrary to public interest and also to promote transparency and accountability of the government and other public offices. This Act has been broken down into 6 chapters where: –
- Chapter 1 introduces the Act and defines certain terms in use in the Act;
- Chapter 2 establishes the rights of the individuals to obtain information from public authorities while providing for the process to do the same and lays down the rights and duties of the information officers to aid and assist the public in obtaining such information;
- Chapter 3 and 4 establish the Central Information Commission and the State Information Commissions in the Centre and State respectively to facilitate and expedite the process of obtaining information from different public organizations and institutions in a hassle-free manner;
- Chapter 5 empowers the Commissions and provides options for appeals and lays down the penalties for violations under the Act;
- Finally, Chapter 6 is the miscellaneous chapter which lays down some ancillary provisions wrapping up the Act.
All public offices and organizations funded, owned or governed by the Centre will fall under the purview of the Central Information Commission and all the State owned or funded organizations will fall under the State Information Commission’s purview. The Military and Defense Sectors are exempted from the scope of the Act and other exemptions of information which would not come under the purview of this Act are listed out in Section 8 of the Act.
How to apply for information under the Act?
Section 6 under Chapter 2 lays down the procedure to obtain information under the Act while Section 7 lays down the provisions on how to dispose of such requests made by the public. Section 6 and 7 will be discussed briefly below: –
- Section 6:
The general public, who desire to obtain information under this Act can make a request in writing or through electronic means in either Hindi or English or any other local language as per the convenience of the people, to the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO)/ Central Assistant Public Information Officer (CAPIO) or the State Public Information Officer (SPIO)/ State Assistant Public Information Officer (SAPIO). The person making the request is not required to disclose the reasons as to why he/she might be in need of such information.
- Section 7:
This Section provides for the process of response to the request made by the general public under Section 6 of the Act. It is stated in the Section that if the request to obtain information has been received by the CPIO or the SPIO, then such information shall be furnished within a period of 30 days form the receipt of request of information or in the alternative, if such information is so requested where the person requesting has their life or liberty at stake as per the disclosure of the information, such information would be delivered within 48 hours from the receipt of the request. If there is failure to furnish such information within the stipulated time period, it would be deemed that the CPIO/SPIO has refused the request to provide such information. This refusal would be in accordance to Section 8 and 9 of the Act which state the exemptions and certain grounds for refusal respectively.
Now, the procedures to obtain information, both online and offline, will be discussed briefly. For the offline mode, the following steps need to be taken: –
- First, the public institution or department need to be identified from where such information would be taken.
- The Application form needs to be drafted approximately within 500 words, including annexures and must contain the address of the CPIO and the Applicant and a fee of Rs.10/- should be paid as the Application fee as per Rule 3 of the Right to Information Rules, 2012 (RTI Rules) where such fee can be paid by cash, demand draft, cheque or other electronic means as provided for in Rule 6 of the same. Also, people under the poverty line are exempt from paying fees under Rule 5 of the RTI Rules.
- Once the Application has been drafted and all the requisite information including the Applicant’s contact info has been attached, the Application can be posted via the Post Office or can be personally delivered by the Applicant themselves.
The online method has been discussed as per the points laid down below:
- There is an online portal made in collaboration by the Department of Personnel and Training, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions which is the website gov.in which can be accessed to apply for a request online.
- The next step is to either sign up on the website or directly access the ‘Submit Request’ tab and fill up the application form on the next page. Once that is done, the requisite fee must be paid and the application will be submitted.
- The aforementioned link was for the Central Information Commission so a request for a state specific organization or institution cannot be made via the earlier link. State specific portals are present and can be accessed whereby the same steps have to be followed incase information related to State owned or funded organizations are required.
The Act also has a proviso clause under Section 6 which states that, in case people who are unable to make a request in writing or via online mode want to apply, they can do the same without it either being in the written medium or online. The CPIO/SPIO would be obligated under this proviso to help such an individual as much as possible to be able to take his/her request orally.
The Right to Information is a very basic right and is much needed in a democratic country like India. This is because the general populace needs to be kept in the loop regarding the functioning and handling of public institutions so that the people in power do not misuse their power against public interest or act arbitrarily causing grievances to a lot of the general population of India. Thus, in the year 2002, the Freedom to Information Act was passed which was repealed by the passing of the Right to Information Act in the year 2005. The RTI Act was passed for the general public to remain informed about the workings and practices of the public institutions so that these officials working in such public organizations do not partake in corrupt practices. The Act has set up Commissions at the Central and State level for taking applications filed by the public and expediently providing such information to them. Section 6 of the Act postulates the process to be followed when requesting for information under the Act and Section 7 lays down the process of disposing off such requests in accordance to the Act and RTI Rules, 2012. The process to apply for the same can be done either online or offline by filling up an application and submitting it to the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission. This way, the general public of India can apply for information relating to the public sector initiatives and be educated on the workings of the same.
- Right to Information (rti.gov.in)
- Want to File an RTI? Here Is All You Need to Know! – The Better India
- Process to access information under RTI — Vikaspedia
- Right to Information Act, 2005 : a comprehensive overview – iPleaders
- RTI Act, 2005 (Amended)-English Version.pdf
- pdf (dopt.gov.in)
- RTI Online :: Online RTI Information System (maharashtra.gov.in)
- RTI Online :: Home | Submit RTI Request | Submit RTI First Appeal | View RTI Status | RTI FAQ