The Right to Information Act, 2005 ; Important Questions

 

  • What is this Act about?

This law is meant to increase transparency and good governance – it provides citizens with the right to ask for information from public bodies.


  • How can I use this Act?

You can access information such as details of project budgets, implementation status, status of any complaint/application you have made to any government body etc.


  • Who can ask for information?

Any citizen can make an application for information.


  • Do I have to pay for information?

Yes, there is an application fee that has to be paid with each application – this fee varies across the Centre and the States. Usually, the amount is Rs. 10. Additionally, for providing the information, you will have to make payments based on the number of pages or the type of electronic records – this again varies across the Centre and States.


  • How do I file an RTI?
  • Understand what kind of information you want and where you can get it from.
  • Identify the ‘Public Information Officer’ of the public authority and write out an application to the PIO. Try to make the questions as specific as possible.
  • Include your name and all contact details so that the information can be delivered conveniently.
  • Send it to the PIO by post or else personally go and deliver it to her.
  • Figure out the fees you need to pay based on whether it is a Central or State public authority you are approaching. A useful compilation for states is available here.
  • For the public authorities under the Central Government, you can also file applications online using the RTI Online Portal.

For an idea on how public authorities respond to RTI applications, you can read the queries and answers made available online by the Ministry of External Affairs and Passport Office.

  • This Act applies to the whole of India (except Jammu and Kashmir).
  • The sections relating to appointment of officers who will facilitate the right to information (public information officers) and establishment of monitoring bodies (information commissions) came into force on June 15, 2005.
  • The rest of the Act came into force on October 12, 2005.

  • What is the ‘right to information’?

It means the right to access any information that is held by a ‘public authority’. It includes the right to:

  • inspect documents and records;
  • take notes and copies of documents and records;
  • take samples;
  • take information through electronic means (CDs etc.).

  • What kind of ‘information’ can I ask for?

You can ask for any type of information that is available in physical form (records, documents etc.) or electronic form (including e-mails). This could include information about a private body which can be accessed by any public authority under a particular law.


  • What is a ‘public authority’?

This Act grants you the ‘right of information’ with respect to public authorities – a public authority is the government body or office that you can get information from. A public authority can be any of the following:

Type of organisation Example
Set up under the Constitution The Election Commission of India (Article 324 of the Constitution)
Set up under any law passed by the Parliament The National Human Rights Commission (under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993)
Set up under any law made by any State Legislature Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (under the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority Act, 1972)
Set up under any government notification Loss of Ecology (Prevention and Payment of Compensation) Authority is a body set up under a government notification.
Owned, controlled or substantially financed by the Government (including non-governmental organizations) Organisation Committee Commonwealth Games is a non-governmental organization which has been substantially funded by the Government.

  • What is an ‘appropriate government’ under this Act?

Under this law, the government can make rules on how to access and deliver information that you seek, conduct awareness and training programmes for the public, and monitor the overall implementation of the Act. In relation a particular public authority, the appropriate government could be either the Central or State Government.

If the public authority is owned, started, or funded by the Central Government or by the administration of a Union Territory The Central Government
If the public authority is owned, started, or funded by the State Government The State Government

  • What is the Central or State Information Commission’?

If the public authority you have asked information from does not respond, you can file a complaint with a supervisory body called the Central Information Commission or State Information Commission.


  • Who is a ‘competent authority’?

The competent authority is empowered to make rules under the Act.

In case of: The competent authority is:
The Lok Sabha The Speaker
The Rajya Sabha The Chairman
Any State Legislative Assembly The Speaker
Any State Legislative Council The Chairman
The Supreme Court The Chief Justice
Any High Court The Chief Justice
Authorities appointed under the Constitution for the Centre The President
Authorities appointed under the Constitution for a State The Governor
Authorities appointed under the Constitution for a Union Territory The Administrator under Article 239 of the Constitution

  • Who is a ‘third party’?

Often public authorities hold information of other parties (including another public authority) – this information can be sought by a citizen who has filed an application under this Act. The Act contains certain rules which must be followed by the PIO in such situations.


  • Who can apply to get information under this Act?

Citizens have the right to access information from ‘public authorities’. This means foreigners living in India and refugees do not have this right.


  • What is a public authority supposed to do under this Act?

Some of the general duties of a public authority are:

  • To maintain all records in a systematic manner and to computerize and network all records which can be converted into electronic form;
  • To publish the facts and reasons for its policies which affect people;
  • To inform people affected of the reasons behind any administrative or other decisions;
  • To try and publish information regularly on its own, without any request from the public.
  • To make the information widely accessible to the public; and
  • To take into account local language and minimum costs while making information public.

The authorities also had to publish certain information about itself by October 2005 such as its internal regulations, powers and duties of employees, manner of supervision and accountability etc.


  • Is it compulsory for a public authority to have a PIO/APIO?
  • Yes, all public authorities must have a Public Information Officer (PIO) and an Assistant Public Information Officer (APIO) for each of its offices.
  • Depending on whether the public authority falls under the Central or State Government, the PIO will be called the Central PIO or the State PIO.
  • Central or State Assistant Public Information Officers had to be appointed at the sub-divisional or sub-district level.
  • They had to be appointed within 100 days of the Act coming into force.

  • Who do you address your application to?

You need to address the application to the Central/ State PIO or the Central/State APIO. The APIO can take 5 extra days to process the application.


  • Is the PIO the only officer responsible for giving information under this Act?

While applications for information are made only to the PIO/APIO, every officer in the public authority has a duty to help the PIO/APIO if she asks for help. If she does not help, she can be held liable under this Act just like the PIO/ APIO


  • What language should the application be in?

The application can be in either English, Hindi or the official language of the area.


  • How should the application be sent?
  • The application should be in writing.
  • It can be submitted personally, through post, e-mail or through online portals.
  • For public authorities under the authority of the Central Government, there is an online forum where RTI applications can be made directly. You can also access step-by-step guidelines on how to send an application through the online portal.
  • A useful compilation for states is available here.

  • Do I have to pay an application fee?
  • Yes, there is an application fee which varies for the Centre and for States.
  • For public authorities under the Central Government, this is Rs. 10.
  • For public authorities under the State Governments, please check rules applicable to each state here.

  • What if someone cannot make the request because they are illiterate or unable to write?

The PIO has a duty to help the person so that they can take down the request and put it in writing.


  • What if the application is sent to the wrong public authority by mistake?

The PIO who receives this application has a duty to transfer it within five days.


  • Does the applicant have to bear the costs of getting the information in printed or electronic form?

Yes, in addition to the application fees, there is also a fee for the information to be delivered (depending on format/number of pages).For the fees applicable to public authorities under the Central Government, please check the RTI Rules, 2012. For the fees applicable to public authorities, please check the individual state rules.


  • How long can the PIO take to provide the information that is requested?

30 days. If the application is made to an APIO, the information must be provided for in 35 days.


  • What if the information has some serious consequences on a person’s life and is needed urgently?

The PIO should give the information within 48 hours.


  • Can the PIO refuse to give some information?

Yes, under this law, the PIO can refuse to answer certain applications. Please read Section 8 and 9 of this Act to figure out information which is generally exempt from this Act.


  • What happens if the information is not given within 30/35 days?

You have to assume that the PIO/APIO denied your request for information. Further, the PIO has a duty to provide the information free of charge.


  • What happens if my request is refused?

When the PIO refuses your request for information, she has to tell you:

  • why the request was refused
  • details of whom you can approach to appeal against this refusal, and
  • how much time you have to file this appeal.

  • What can I do if the PIO has not replied with information or has refused to give you the information unlawfully?

You can appeal to an officer senior in rank to the PIO or file a complaint with the Central or State Information Commission, if the PIO has denied your request unlawfully (that is, not for the allowed reasons in Sections 8 and 9) or within time.


  • Can the PIO ask me to pay more fees for the information?
  • Yes, she can. She will however have to justify the higher fee with proper calculations.
  • The time period between the notice for increased fees and its payment will be excluded from the 30 day period within which you were originally supposed to have received your information.

  • What if a person with disabilities has sought information under this Act?

The PIO should take care to ensure that the information is provided in such a way that the person can access it. For example, if the applicant is blind, the PIO should deliver the information in Braille.


  • What if someone is below the poverty line and cannot pay the fees?

The person will not be required to pay and the information will be provided free of charge.


  • Is there any information which the public authority can refuse to give?

If your application requests for the following kinds of information, the public authority can lawfully refuse to give you:

Kind of information Example
Information that affects the security and economic interests of the government with another country Government action plan against a terrorist group
Information that is banned from being published by any court or tribunal Sometimes, it may be necessary to protect the identity of certain witnesses in trials of sensitive matters (anti-terrorism and sexual assault cases). The court can impose a ban not allowing publication of such information.
Information that would result in a breach of privilege of the Legislature Communication between the National Advisory Council and the Prime Minister.
Information that would harm commercial interests Trade secrets of Coca-cola.
Information that arises because of a relationship based on trust Attorney-client privilege, doctor-patient confidentiality.
Information from a foreign government which was given as a secret Strategic military plans involving neighbouring countries
Information that exposes whistleblowers or endangers lives Identity of a whistleblower who has filed a complaint against a public servant
Information that would cause difficulty to police investigation or arrests in criminal cases Information relating to police strategy for finding missing accused in the course of investigation
Records of the Cabinet Ministers (reasons and materials can be made public after the decision is made) Reasons for demonetizing currency notes (prior to the decision being made public)
Personal information (however, such information has to be revealed to the Parliament or State Legislature if asked for) A politician having a child outside marriage.

  • Are there any exceptions to the exempted information?

Yes, if the information is more than 20 years old, it has to be given to the applicant. However, information relating to security and economic interests with another country, breach of parliamentary privilege and Cabinet proceedings can be denied even if it is more than 20 years old.


  • What if the date from which twenty years is calculated is not certain?

The Central Government will have the final say on this.


  • Is there any additional circumstance in which a request may be refused?

Yes, if the release of the information causes a copyright infringement, the PIO can refuse the request for information.


  • What if only a portion of the information I sought is exempted?

If the information contained in the record can be separately provided (not containing the exempted information), then the public authority should give you the information in response to your request.For example, details regarding vendors for purchase of defence equipment can be provided separately from details regarding the defence equipment being deployed during a conflict.


  • What procedure does the PIO have to follow in such cases?

The PIO has to give you a notice containing the following details:

  • Fact that only a portion of the records you asked for is being provided (the exempted information has been removed from the record)
  • Reasons for why this decision was made;
  • Name and designation of the person who gave the decision;
  • Details of fees to be paid; and
  • Your right to review this decision (including details of the appellate authorities/ officers and fees to be paid).

  • Can a PIO release information belonging to third parties?
  • If the RTI application you have made is in relation to confidential information belonging to a third party which was supplied to the public authority, the PIO has to follow certain steps.
  • First, the PIO has to send a notice to the third party within 5 days of getting the application.
  • Second, the third party has 10 days to agree with or object to the PIO releasing its confidential information to you.
  • After giving the third party an opportunity to make its submissions, the PIO has to make a decision on whether to disclose the information to you within 40 days of receiving the application. The PIO will at the same time send a notice to the third party regarding her decision – the third party has the option to appeal against this decision.

  • Explain Constitution of Central Information Commission under Section 12—

This section talks about the setting up of the Central Information Commission. The Central Information Commission can conduct inquiries into complaints regarding public authorities dealing of RTI applications.


  • Section 13. Explain Term of office and conditions of service.?—

This section talks about the terms of service of the Chief Information Commissioner. This includes term, age of retirement, salaries and allowances.


  • Section 14 What is procedure for removal of Chief Information Commissioner or Information Commissioner?

This section talks about the process by which the Chief Information Commissioner or Information Commissioner can be removed.


  • Explain Constitution of State Information Commission under Section 15—

This section talks about the setting of State Information Commission. The State Information Commission can conduct inquiries into complaints regarding public authorities dealing of RTI applications.


  • Brief Section 16- Term of office and conditions of service.—

This section talks about the terms of service of the State Information Commissioner. This includes term, age of retirement, salaries and allowances.


  • Briefly Explain Section – 17, Removal of State Chief Information Commissioner or State Information Commissioner.—

This section talks about the process by which the State Chief Information Commissioner or State Information Commissioner can be removed.


  • What can I do if I have a complaint with the way in which the PIO handled my RTI application?

Yes, you can approach the higher authorities established under this Act – the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission. They have a duty under this Act to inquire into your complaint.


  • In what situations can I make a complaint?

You can make a complaint in the following situations:

  • when the public authority has not appointed a PIO in the first place;
  • when a PIO has refused to give information;
  • when a PIO has not given you information within the allowed time;
  • when the PIO has asked for too much fees for giving you the information; and
  • when the PIO has given you incomplete or wrong information.

  • What is the Central or State Information Commission supposed to do when it receives a complaint?

If the Commission is convinced that there are reasonable grounds in the complaint, it has to initiate an inquiry into the matter.


  • How can the Central or State Information Commission conduct an inquiry?

For the purpose of conducting an inquiry, it has the same powers as a civil court. This means that it can ask for people to come and be witnesses or submit relevant documents as evidence, inspect these documents, and ask for any public records.


  • What can I do not receive a decision from the PIO within 30 days? Is there a possibility of appeal?

You can file an appeal against the decision of the PIO before an officer who is senior to the PIO. You need to file this appeal within 30 days.


  • Can this time period be extended?

Yes, if the officer feels that the delay is justified, she may condone the delay in your filing of your appeal.


  • To whom should you make the appeal?

Usually the public authority will state who the appellate authority is on its website or at its office. This will be an officer who is senior in rank to the PIO.


  • Can a third party appeal against a PIO’s decision to reveal some information that the third party wished to keep confidential?

Yes, the third party can file an appeal within 30 days of the date of the order by the PIO.


  • What if I am not satisfied with the first appeal decision?

You can make a second appeal within 90 days to Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission.


  • What is the format of the second appeal and how should I make it?
  • Guidelines on appeal to the CIC can be found in the RTI Rules, 2012.
  • The format of appeal is found in the Appendix to the Rules. A number of documents have to be submitted including copies of the application to the PIO, reply (if any), first appeal etc.
  • This process is followed in most States as well, more information can be found on the websites of the respective states.
  • If the decision concerns information of a third party, the decision should be given a chance to present its case before the Information Commission.

  • Whose responsibility is it to prove that the refusal to provide information was justified?

The responsibility is on the PIO which refused this information.


  • How quickly should an appeal be heard and decided?

The Information Commission should finish the appeal in 30 days. This can be extended to forty-five days with reasons being recorded for the extension.


  • What powers does the Central or State Information Commission have while making a decision?

In order to make a decision, the Information Commission can ask the public authority to:

  • provide information in a particular manner;
  • appoint a PIO;
  • publish relevant information;
  • manage records properly;
  • conduct training programmes for officials;
  • provide an annual report;
  • provide compensation to any complainant.

It can also impose penalties and reject specific applications.


  • What is the penalty on the PIO for not giving information or giving wrong information?
  • Yes, the Central or State Information Commission can impose a daily penalty of Rs. 250 on the public information officer has to be paid until the information is provided. However, the total amount of the penalty should not exceed Rs. 25,000.
  • The PIO has to be given a chance to present her case before the penalty is decided – however, the burden is on her to prove that she acted lawfully.
  • Disciplinary action can also be taken against the PIO in accordance with their service rules.

  • 21. Protection of action taken in good faith.—

Any person who has done any action in good faith under this Act cannot be pulled up in court.


  • 22. Act to have overriding effect.—

This Act will override any other law such as the Official Secrets Act, 1923.


  • Can I go to an ordinary civil court and file a complaint under this Act?

No, all disputes should be resolved by the bodies created under this Act such as the officer in charge of an appeal in a public authority or a Central/State Information Commission


  • Is there any organization that can be excluded from having to give information under this Act?

Yes, the list of organisations in the Second Schedule and security and intelligence organisations of State Governments (mentioned in government notifications) are exempt from giving information. However, information relating to corruption or human rights violations in such organisations can be asked for and provided after the Central Information Commission agrees to it. This has to be provided in 45 days.


  • 25. Monitoring and reporting.—

This section talks about the duty of the Central and State Information Commissions to monitor overall implementation of the Act.


  • 26. Appropriate Government to prepare programmes.—

This section talks about the responsibility of the government in spreading awareness, training, and creating guidelines for the implementation of this law.

The appropriate government has to issue guides on how to access the right to information. The Central Government guide can be accessed here. The guides have to contain details regarding the objects of the Act and the authorities concerned with implementation of the Act.


  • 27. Power to make rules by Appropriate Government.—

This section deals with the power of the appropriate government to make rules.


  • 28. Power to make rules by competent authority.—

This section deals with the power of the competent authority to make further rules.


  • What happens to any rules made under this Act?

They have to be introduced in both Houses of Parliament, which will then have to approve the rules.


  • 30. Power to remove difficulties.—

The Central Government can pass orders to remove difficulties in implementation of the Act.


  • 31. Repeal.—

The Freedom of Information Act, 2002 was repealed by this law.

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