Saturday, 1 April 2017

Right to Information Act 2005 - Review

Introduction

The Parliament approved the Right to Information Act in the year 2005. It proposes to set up a regime under which people can get information about the public services.  It effectively replaces the erstwhile Freedom of Information Act, 2002.  Under the ambit of this law, the citizens of the country can ask information from a public authority. As per the law, public authority definition covers a Government Body or instrumentality of the State.  The law instructs the public authority to quickly reply or file a reply within 30 days.  It further asks the public authority to computerize their records for the wider dissemination of the requested information. Under the act, they need to proactively catalog the information so that citizens need the least recourse to requests for the intended information. After its passage in both the houses of Parliament on June 15, 2005, the law came into force on October 12, 2005.  The procedure to get information as per this new act began soon after when a person filed an RTI application Pune police station.

rti act

Scope of the Act

Previously, information access from the public bodies in our country was restricted due to colonial-era laws such as the Official Secrets Act, 1923 and various other special laws.  The new RTI act seeks to relax these age-old laws to help the Indian citizens to seek the information they want. It also modifies a fundamental right of citizens. The new RTI act covers entire India, except the state of Jammu and Kashmir where a separate act is in practice.  The new RTI act covers all constitutional authorities. The authorities who come under the ambit of the law include the executive, legislature, and judiciary. Any institution or body established by the act of Parliament and State Legislature also comes under this act. It also brings under its purview the bodies or authorities constituted by the order of government bodies. The entities that are covered in this landmark act include organization or bodies owned, controlled or substantially financed by the government. Non-government organizations (NGOs) that get sizeable financial help either directly or indirectly from the government also come under RTI. In a recent judgment, the honorable Supreme Court sought to clarify this for the benefit of the ordinary citizens of the country.

rti scope

Question of Private Bodies Under the Act

When the people started filing litigation to know the status of private bodies and political parties under the RTI act, the honorable Supreme Court sought to clarify the confusion prevailing in the act. Initially, the private bodies were not thought to come under the purview of the act. In a decision of Sarbjit Roy vs. Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission, the Central Information Commission (CIC) reaffirmed the stand taken by the honorable Supreme Court. The organization confirmed that the privatized public utility companies also come under the ambit of this law.  In the above-said case, the honorable Apex Court cleared the air by its ruling that private institutions and NGOs that receive over 95% of their infrastructure funds from the government bodies come under this act.

rti players

Political Parties Under the Act

The Central Information Commission has the view that political parties are public authorities that directly deal with the people.  Hence, they are directly answerable to the citizens of our country under the RTI act. The panel of Central Information Commission that made this landmark statement included Satyanand Mishra, Annapurna Dixit, and M.L. Sharma. The quasi-judicial body CIC  further added that the political parties such as Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)), Communist Party of India (CPI), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) are getting funds indirectly from the Central Government. Hence, CIC opined that they have all the characteristics of the public authority as defined in the RTI act. In order to counter this move, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the center brought a Right to Information (Amendment) Bill to remove the political parties from the scope of the act. However, the Parliament could not pass the bill. Instead, it referred the bill to a standing committee to look into the specifics.  However, the standing committee on the Law and Personnel gave its suggestion along with the altered draft of the amendment bill.  The committee states “It considers the proposed amendment is a right step in the direction to discuss the issue once and for all”. In effect, the committee recommended the passing of the bill. Hence, the political parties of our country now stand out of the purview of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

rti politics

Brief History

The right to Information Act was approved by the Parliament in the year 2005. It proposes to set up a regime under which people can obtain information about the public services.  It effectively replaces the erstwhile Freedom of Information Act, 2002.  Under the ambit of this law, the citizens of the country can request information from a public authority. As per the law, the definition of public authority covers a Government Body or instrumentality of the State.  The law instructs the public authority to expeditiously reply or file a reply within 30 days.  It further asks the public authority to computerize their records for the wider dissemination of the requested information. Under the act, they need to proactively catalog the information so that citizens need minimum recourse to request the intended information. After its passage in both the houses of Parliament on June 15, 2005, the law came into force on October 12, 2005.  The procedure to get information as per this new act began soon after when an RTI application was filed at a Pune police station.

rti history

Hierarchy of Information Officers Under RTI

Each authority covered under RTI act must appoint their Public Information Officer (PIO).  The general public has to submit the application seeking information to PIO of that organization. The PIO of the concerned department is expected to give the required information to the applicant. If the request relates to the working of another public authority, the PIO should transfer it to a PIO of the concerned authority within five working days. This is the case even with the information requests that seek information from several departments. The relevant portions of the requests need to go to the concerned department PIOs for the speedy action.  In addition to the PIOs, the public authorities have to appoint Assistant Public Information Officers (APIOs) to aid the PIOs in processing the requests and disseminating the information to the public in time.           

rti officers

Working of RTI

The process of RTI involves reactive disclosure of information by the government and non-government authorities. This is against proactive disclosure by the people and authorities. Mostly, the submission of a request for certain information by an individual sets the ball rolling.  While placing the application for the information, the applicant needs to give his name and contact particulars. He need not give any other reasons or particulars to corroborate his request for seeking the information. The designated PIOs and APIOs of the individual departments or agencies need to give the information within a stipulated time period.

rti working

If the designated officers fail to act on the requests in the given time period, the public can go to the Central Information Commission (CIC) seeking justice.  CIC also steps in those cases where the PIOs and APIOs have not been appointed by the concerned departments. In these cases, the public doesn't have any means to file their requests for information. The people can even approach CIC with complaints when the Central Assistant Public Information Officer or State Assistant Public Information Officer declines to receive the application for the information.  With respect to the dissemination of information, the act specifies the time limit for the Information Officers to adhere to. They are as follows.

  1. If the request has been given to PIO, the applicant should get a reply within 30 days of receipt of the application.
  2. If APOIO gets the request, the processing and the giving of the required information should be completed within 35 days of its receipt.
  3. If the PIO transfers the request to another public authority, the turn-around time is 30 days from the day it is received by the PIO of the transferee authority.
  4. The information about the human rights violation by the security agencies has to be given within 45 days. The list of scheduled security agencies is given by the act. The processing of such requests can only be done after the CIC gives its prior consent. 
  5. If the liberty or a life of an individual is involved, the turn-around time for the requests is 48 hours.

Fees Fixed for RTI Requests

A citizen who wishes to get information from a public authority has to give a bankers’ cheque or a court fees stamp for Rs. 10 along with the application. The amount has to be payable to the Accounts Officer of the Public Authority.  If the situation warrants, the seeker of the information may have to pay further fees towards the cost of getting it.  The PIOs will offer details about the extra fees.

rti fees

Exclusions from RTI Act

Central Intelligence and Security agencies specified in the Second Schedule like IB, Directorate General of Income tax (Investigation), 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 etc. are excluded. However, the exclusion is not in absolute terms. There are provisions under the act that bring these agencies under its purview.

rti exemptions
Thuruvananthapuram New Delhi, Delhi, India
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