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Right to Information

RTI Act is most revolutionary act which empowered Indian Citizens to seek information directly from the Government/Public Authorities. The 3 key building blocks of Right to Information Act, 2005 are Responsibility, Transparency and Accountability. Right to Information Act, 2005 is an extension of Freedom of Information Act, 2002 enacted by Parliament of India. Under RTI Act, it is mandatory for Public Authorities to provide information sought by the citizens within prescribed time limit (Within 30 days) else there are provisions of monetary/other penalties.

The Right to Information Act is an act to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority, the constitution of a Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

Information means any material in any form including records, documents, memos, e-mails, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any form, be it electronic or manual. Information relating to any private body can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force but does not include “file noting”.

Under Right to information act only bonafide Citizens of India can seek information from Public Authorities. RTI Act covers Govt of India, All states of Indian Union (excluding state of Jammu & Kashmir) & Union Territories of India. State of Jammu & Kashmir is covered under separate Act called J&K Right to Information Act. Right to Information Act covers 3 pillars of democracy i.e. Executive, Judiciary & Legislature. RTI Act also cover any institution, body or authority either created by Govt notification/order or financed by Govt including Privatized Public Utility Companies.

Right to Information involves:

  1. Inspection of works, documents, Record.

  2. Taking extracts or certified copies of documents or records.

  3. Taking certified samples of material.

  4. Obtaining information in form of printouts, diskettes, floppies, tapes, and videocassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts.

RTI Portal Gateway to the citizens for Quick search of information, web published by various departments in Government. That aims to help the citizens in effective searching of information by the various government Ministries/Departments and states. The Government of India has launched the Right to Information Portal which provides an opportunity for citizens to exercise their right to information on any Government information and/or its undertakings. The procedure to request for information based on the RTI Act is very simple and easy. The Act operates on a central/state level and it requires setting up of Information Commissions for its implementation.

The Right to Information Act was established to make the government accountable for its work by empowering citizens to demand information regarding its activities. This act applies to both the Central and the State Governments of India except Jammu and Kashmir, which has its own act called Jammu & Kashmir Right to Information Act, 2009. Under the provisions of the Act, any citizen may request information from a “public authority” (a body of Government or “instrumentality of State”) which is required to reply expeditiously or within thirty days. The Act also requires every public authority to computerize their records for wide dissemination and to pro-actively publish certain categories of information so that the citizens need minimum recourse to request for information formally. This law was passed by Parliament on 15th June, 2005 and came fully into force on 13th October, 2005.

What information are we talking about? The RTI aims to allow citizens to ask for records, documents, circulars, contracts, reports, papers, emails, memos and all other information held in print or electronic form from the public authorities, i.e. all the governing bodies. There are certain sections of administrative activities that are exempt from the RTI Act, details of which can be found in Section 8 and 9 of RTI Act 2005. The RTI Act 2005 also empowers citizens to physically inspect the records that have been duly maintained by the government and its administrative bodies.

Who can ask for information? All citizens can ask for information whether they want to inspect the work and activities of the Government or simply exercise their right to other information and documents that were mentioned earlier. If you are a citizen who seeks information or want to inspect records of governing and administrative bodies, you are a valid applicant. Citizens can exercise their right to information by filing an application with a Central Public Information Officer (CPIO). All the administrative levels of the government will have a CPIO who will give the required information to people who file an application or a query under the RTI Act.

As an applicant, you should know that there is no particular format required. Your application can even be on simple plain paper. Applicants however need to ensure that their contact details including name and correspondence address appear on the application. Reasonable assistance can be expected from the CPIO if you decide to give your application in writing.

On what grounds can you seek information under the RTI act? As a citizen, applicant under the RTI and as an information seeker, you are not required to give any reasons if you wish to seek information under the RTI Act.

Is there a fee to file an RTI application? Yes, as per the RTI Act 2005, applicants will incur fees and costs that include, but may not be limited to the following

  1. Fee on initial application

Demand draft, banker’s cheque or cash with subsequent receipt of Rs. 10

  1. Fees for information sought

Rs. 2 per page printed, copied or created in A4 or A3 size

Cost of the page or paper

Rs. 50 per disc if information is given in that form

Cost or actual price of sample or models requested under the RTI Act

  1. Fees for inspection of records First hour is free after which there is a fee of Rs. 5 per hour

How long will it take? Information sought under the RTI 2005 will be supplied within a time period of 30 days. However it has been stated in the RTI Act 2005 guide that if the information ‘concerns the life and liberty of a person’, it will be supplied in 48 hours. Here are the details of various time limits for receiving information for your RTI application.

For PIO to reply to application30 days from date of receipt of applicationFor PIO to transfer to another PA under Sec 6(3)5 days from date of receipt of applicationFor PIO to issue notice to 3rd Party5 days from date of receipt of applicationFor 3rd Party to make a representation to PIO10 days from receipt of notice from PIOFor PIO to reply to application if 3rdParty involved 40 days from date of receipt of applicationFor applicant to make First Appeal30 days from date of receipt of PIO’s reply or from date when reply was to be receivedFor First Appellate Authority to pass an order30 days from receipt of First Appeal OR Maximum 45 days, if reasons for delay are given in writingFor applicant to make Second Appeal before CIC/SIC90 days from receipt of First Appeal orders or from the date when orders were to be receivedFor CIC/SIC to decide Second AppealNo time limit specified

The RTI Act 2005 guide also mentions that if you as an applicant have given your application to an Assistant CPIO or the wrong public authority, 5 days will be added to the generally prescribed time frame.

What if you don’t receive the RTI information or wish to appeal? The RTI Act 2005 has set forth guidelines and procedures for applicants who have not been given the information they seek in time or are not satisfied with the information provided to them. Here is an overview of the appeals procedure

  1. As an applicant, you should file an appeal with the relevant first appellate authority within 30 days of the date that was the last day of the expiry of the 30 day time period to supply information.

  2. Your appeal will be reviewed and disposed within 30 days of receipt, or 45 days in ‘exceptional cases’.

  3. As an applicant, if your appeal is not disposed or you are still left unsatisfied, you can file a second appeal to Central Information Commission. This appeal must be done within 90 days from the date that was the last day of the 30 or 45 day time period of the first appeal.

EasyGov Analysis on RTI

The Right to Information Act(RTI) was enacted in the year 2005 to providing the citizens of India with values of Accountability and Transparency when it comes the functioning of Government machinery. Since its inception in 2005 exactly 10 years have passed, and one can safely say that RTI has made its impact felt in the functioning of Government bodies and the larger governance discourse. We have had instances where numerous activists and groups have used this tool to good effect ensuring the values of transparency and accountability are upheld. Through this course of 10 years there have been debates featuring the pros and cons of the RTI and how it has benefited the larger public and slowed the government machinery down, despite this without being judgmental and weighing in the objectives one cannot dismiss the fact that RTI is an essential piece of legislation which empowers the citizens of India and enables India to hold its democratic credentials intact.

However, looking at the last decade, RTI despite its achievements remains an underutilized tool unable to unleash its full potential when it comes to governance of accountability and transparency. If trends are to be analyzed, it is safe to proclaim that RTI as tool has been majorly used by organized citizen groups, activists and NGOs. As far as its utilization by the individual citizen or the common man goes the figures are far from satisfactory. Trends tell us that the use of RTI by the common man has been sparse and not up to the mark. This in itself is not a desired result as the RTI aims to empower the common man, irrespective of his/her association with citizen group or NGOs. There are various reasons for this trend starting from reluctance on the part of the individual citizen courtesy the cumbersome process and bad experience associated with the government machinery. At the same time mostly it is due to the lack of knowledge as to what is to be asked and how to ask it. The time taken for the processing of RTI query is also on the higher side, on an average it takes 30 days to process an RTI query further discouraging the citizens.

In addition to this it has also been seen that most of the queries which come in through RTI are pertaining to standard information which should be readily be available with the respective government departments, therefore, the time taken to process the query is totally unacceptable. At the same time it also shows that the departments are most of the times oblivious of the standard information which should be on their fingertips, eventually leading to unwanted utilization of resources at their disposal to mine out these data and information. The current Government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has stressed on Accountability, Transparency and Efficiency when it comes to Governance mechanism. The RTI Act in itself has upheld the value of accountability but when it comes to Transparency and Efficiency, RTI in its current form is somewhat found wanting.

Clause 4 of RTI act very clearly talks about suo-moto disclosure of information and data by Government Departments so that when it comes to standard information the dependence on RTI query can be reduced. The clause in itself calls upon Government Departments to release data in digital format on their webpages so that it is easily accessible to the larger public cutting out the cumbersome process involved. It is at this juncture where the role of Open Government Data becomes important. When one is talking about suo moto proactive disclosures the tools developed through the Open Government Data initiative in India, specifically the Open Government Data Platform (data.gov.in) can fulfill this need for proactive disclosure of information and data in digitized format with enhanced accessibility. The Open Government Data Platform in India is a direct product of National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) which advocates the need for accountable and transparent dispensation of government collected data through a robust platform in an open machine readable format. India which has been at the forefront of this Open Government Data movement must use this platform to complement the envisaged objectives RTI under clause 4 and in the process make RTI an effective and efficient tool for accountability and transparency.

It is very essential that the amount of data available with the government departments at this juncture is mostly in non-digitized format and going by the mandate in Clause 4 of RTI this has to be done at the earliest. Therefore, keeping this in mind the initiative undertaken by NDSAP through the OGD Platform is the best way to convert records into machine readable digital format with enhanced single point access across the length and width of this country.

Therefore, the Government Departments across India should be encouraged to release datasets and information through the Open Government Data Platform enabling it to become an important cog in wheel in the objectives of RTI and also uphold the larger values of transparency, accountability and efficiency enshrined in the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy.

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