Citizen’s Right to Seek Information under the Right to Information Act 2005
The article covers scope of the RTI Act and its coverage, the procedure to seek information under the right to Information act and penalties for default
- Procedure – How To Seek Information Under The Act
- Penalties For Default
A citizen has been given many rights as per the Indian Constitution and various other legislation for eg. Rights to freedom of speech and expression, Right to Life, Right to Personal Liberty, Right to Vote, Right to Educations etc. Besides all these rights and many more , a citizen is also given Right to seek information under the Right to Information Act, 2005.
This Right to Information is of paramount importance to a democratic form of government. It empowers the citizens to participate in the functions of the government by way of seeking information from Centre, State Governments and all public authorities. A citizen has a right to know and seek information on the basis of this Act. It is a very powerful legislation which empowers a citizen to know and participate in government functions in a very larger sense. It has build trust between the citizen and the government. A citizen pays taxes to the government but never knows where the money is spent. Now with the enactment of this legislation a citizen can seek information from the government as to where his hard earned money is spent by the government authorities .
There are similar enactments in other countries. Over 90 countries all over the world have implemented the freedom of information legislations. In the United Kingdom, Freedom of Information Act was enacted in the year 2000 but came into force in the year 2005. This act makes provisions for the disclosure of information held by public authorities. In the United States of America, there is Freedom of Information Act, 2007 in force which is applicable to the federal agencies alone, but some States within the United States of America make other exceptions so as to include the meetings of the government.
The Right to Information Act, 2005 was passed 9 years ago. It is a milestone in enhancing transparency, accountability and responsiveness of the Government. The information disclosure in India was limited due to dominating culture of bureaucrats, existence of the Official Secrets Act, 1923 and also unawareness of the public at large in respect to their rights. However, due to the act, the power to seek information lies at the centre of the democratic mechanism i.e., with the people.
This right entails its existence from Article 19 i.e. fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression of the Constitution of India. The act is a successor of the Freedom of Information Act, 2002 which failed to live up to its title due to excessive restrictions, lack of penalties etc. All of these fall outs lead to the passing of the current Act of 2005.
SCOPE OF THE ACT & ITS COVERAGE
- The scope of the Act extends to the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir where a separate enactment is in force known as the J&K Right to Information Act, 2009. Scope of the act directly includes the instrumentality of the government and all public authorities.
- Private bodies are not included per se but by a decision of the Central information Commission in the case of Sarabjit Roy, it brought privatised public utility companies within the purview of the provision of the act.
- Political Parties are also included under the ambit of the act, though a bill against the same is lying pending in the parliament.
HOW TO SEEK INFORMATION UNDER THE ACT
A citizen can seek information by the virtue of Section 6 and 7, which provide
- Any citizen of India can seek information.
- The application is to be made to an officer of the public authority who is designated as Central Public Information Officer (CPIO).
- All the public authorities have designated their Central Public Information Officer and have posted their particulars on their respective web-sites.
- This information is also available on the ‘RTI PORTAL’ (www.rti.gov.in). Persons seeking information can to refer to the web-site of the concerned public authority of the ‘RIT PORTAL’ for ascertaining the name of the concerned CPIO.
- The application can be made in English or Hindi.
- The application can be sent by email, post or personally delivered at the address of the public authority.
- No reason is necessary to be given for the request of information.
- The applicant is required to send a bankers draft, or Indian postal order of Rs. 10 along with application and any further fees would be intimated by the CPIO. However persons below poverty line are exempted from this provision but they have to furnish proof of belonging to the below poverty line.
- If the person does not complete the formalities of fees, the application would be invalid and no information would be supplied on the same.
- If the application concerns to a different public authority it be transferred by the receiving authority within 5 days of receipt
- The Central Public Information Officer/ State Public Information Officer is to give information or reject the request as soon as possible or within a maximum of 30 days.
- If the request is rejected, reasons to be given by the Public Authority.
- If the information sought concerns life or liberty of a person, it be furnished within 48 hours of receipt.
INFORMATION THAT IS EXEMPT FROM THE PROVISIONS OF THIS ACT
Another very important provision is Section 8 and 9 of the act is which provides the exceptions i.e. categories of information which is exempted from the purview of the act.
At the same time Schedule II of the Act contains the names of the Intelligence and Security Organizations which are exempt from the purview of the Act.
THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION IS EXMPT FROM DISCLOSURE I.E. WILL NOT BE PROVIDED AT REQEST OF CITIZEN:
- Information, which is expressly forbidden by any court of law or tribunal or the dispute of which may constitute contempt of court,
- Information the disclosure of which would endanger life, or physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purpose,
- Information, which could impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders and also exempts Cabinet papers
The exemption of the organization, however, does not apply to information relating to allegations of corruption and human rights violations.
PENALITIES FOR DEAFULT IN PRVIDING INFRMATION
Penalties which are the sanction of the law are provided under Section 18 of the act. In case the public authority does not accept application, or there is unnecessary delay in furnishing information, or denies the information with a malafide intent, or gives an incomplete report, or destroys the requested information or obstructs the furnish of information in any manner would be liable to pay Rs. 250 per day up to a maximum of Rs. 25,000.
The credibility of the Right to Information Act cannot be undermined but at the same time there are some technical lacunas if not catered for immediately would leave it as a piece of legislation on paper and nothing more.
- Firstly, the Information Commission and the concerned government are closely associated; however there is a lack of a formal mechanism of communication between them or the division of their roles.
- Secondly, an effective monitoring process has to be in place so that no grievance of the citizens regarding the hardship endured to seek information under this act can go unaddressed.
- Thirdly, due to increased level of awareness of the public about their right to seek information, there is an over burdening of the information requests which necessitates the inculcation of capacity building of the Central Public Information Officers or State Public Information Officers.
- Lastly, even though there is an increase in the level of awareness of the public yet there exists scope for massive awareness programs which could reach out to illiterate and rural sections of the country.
At the end, this enactment is a first of many more steps to be taken in the direction of accountability and transparency of the workings of the government.
By Shweta Kaushik, Advocate Punjab & Haryana High Court
 Appeal No. 10/1/2005-CIC