All you need to know about RTI Act- Law, Filing and Case Laws

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April 30, 2018

The Right to Information Act, 2005, often symbolized as one of the most revolutionary legislation of Independent India came into force in June, 2005. The Act can be safely categorized as one of the most powerful legislations in the hands of the Indian citizens. The act was formulated with the object 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.

Salient Features of the Act

Public AuthorityThe Act entrusts the various Public authorities with the task to maintain all its records duly catalogued and indexed in a manner and the form which facilitates the right to information under this Act and ensure that all records that are appropriate to be computerised are, within a reasonable time and subject to availability of resources, computerised and connected through a network all over the country on different systems so that access to such records is facilitated.

Public Information Officers– Further the Public Authority has to designate PIO’s i.e. State Public Information Officer and Central Public Information Officer for the proper dissemination of information under the Act.

The Act casts a duty on every Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, to deal with requests from persons seeking information and render reasonable assistance to the persons seeking such information.

Request for Obtaining InformationSection 6 forms the heart and soul of the Right to Information Act.

It states that any person who wishes to obtain information shall make a request in writing or through electronic means in English or Hindi in the official language of the area in which the application is being made alongwith the prescribed fee to —

The concerned Public Information Officer of the concerned public authority- specifying the particulars of the information sought by him or her.

Disposal of requestSection 7 is another intrinsic statutory provision of the Act enumerating the manner of disposal of request made under the Right to Information Act, 2005.

The provision mandates the concerned Public Information Officer to dispose of the request made under Section 6 as expeditiously as possible, and in any case within thirty days of the receipt of the request.

It further states that where the information sought for concerns the life or liberty of a person, the same shall be provided within forty‑eight hours of the receipt of the request.

The statutory provision under Section 7 also entails that where a request has been rejected, the concerned Public Information Officer shall while rejecting the request shall state-

  • the reasons for such rejection;
  • the period within which an appeal against such rejection may be preferred; and
  • The particulars of the appellate authority. 

Exemption from disclosure of informationThis provision under Section 8 enumerates the circumstances under which a Public Authority is not under an obligation to give any citizen an information. Such circumstances are:

  • An information which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence;
  • Information which has been expressly forbidden to be published by any court of law or tribunal or the disclosure of which may constitute contempt of court;
  • Information, the disclosure of which would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or the State Legislature;
  • Information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property;
  • Information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship, unless the competent authority is satisfied that the larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information;
  • Information received in confidence from foreign government;
  • Information, the disclosure of which would endanger the life or physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purposes;
  • Information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders;
  • Cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers
  • Information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has not relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual

Appeal– under Section 19, a person aggrieved by non-receipt of information by the concerned Public Information Officer shall within thirty days from the expiry of such period or from the receipt of such a decision prefer an appeal to such officer who is senior in rank to the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, in each public authority.

Penalties– The penal provision under Section 20 of the RTI Act empowers the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission, as the case may be to impose the prescribed penalty on the concerned Public Information Officer in case the Officer has refused to receive an application for information or has not furnished information within the stipulated time.

How to File RTI Application?

Step 1– One of the first step is to identify the Department or Public Authority from which the Information is being sought by you.

Step 2– Once you identify the Department from which information is sought, then write down the particulars of the information sought.

RTI application can written in Hindi, English or in the official language of area.

If the recipient is unable to write, then he/ she can also request the concerned Public Information Officer to write information on his behalf.

Step 3– On the Application mention the full name of the concerned Department alongwith, complete address.

Step 4– The Application shall be accompanied with the prescribed fee. The fees can be paid in cash or by demand draft or cheque.

SC: RTI Fees shall not Exceed Rs. 50/- per Application

Step 5– On the application mention your full name alongwith complete address and contact details.

Step 6– Send the RTI application by Post or hand over in person to the concerned Department. It is advisable to secure a photocopy of the application before sending the same and also keep the acknowledgment receipt for future purposes.

Filing of RTI Application online- Yes, RTI application can be filed online to and payment can also be made online. For more information click here.

Important Judgments on RTI Act

Some case laws which aid in streamlining the RTI law and implementation of the crucial legislations are enumerated below:

RBI can’t Deny Information under RTI claiming Fiduciary Relationship

Reserve Bank of India v. Jayantilal Mistry (Supreme Court, 2015)

In this case, the interesting issue that was raised was whether all the information sought for under the Right to Information Act, 2005 can be denied by the Reserve Bank of India and other Banks to the public at large on the ground of economic interest, commercial confidence, fiduciary relationship with other Bank on the one hand and the public interest on the other?

The RBI in the case took the stand that the information sought for was exempted under Section 8(1) (a), (d) and (e) of the Right to Information Act, 2005. Moreover, as the regulator and supervisor of the banking system, the RBI has discretion in the disclosure of such information in public interest.

While allowing the appeal the Supreme Court in the case held that in the case the RBI does not place itself in a fiduciary relationship with the Financial institutions because, the reports of the inspections, statements of the bank, information related to the business obtained by the RBI are not under the pretext of confidence or trust. In this case neither the RBI nor the Banks act in the interest of each other.

The Court also made the following observations:

  • RBI is supposed to uphold public interest and not the interest of individual banks. RBI is clearly not in any fiduciary relationship with any bank. RBI has no legal duty to maximize the benefit of any public sector or private sector bank, and thus there is no relationship of ‘trust’ between them. RBI has a statutory duty to uphold the interest of the public at large, the depositors, the country’s economy and the banking sector.
  • Thus, RBI ought to act with transparency and not hide information that might embarrass individual banks. It is duty bound to comply with the provisions of the RTI Act and disclose the information sought by the respondents herein. If information is available with a regulatory agency not in fiduciary relationship, there is no reason to withhold the disclosure of the same.
  • Since, RTI Act is enacted to empower the common people, the test to determine limits of Section 8 of RTI Actis whether giving information to the general public would be detrimental to the economy.

The entire case can be accessed here.

RTI can’t be Denied on the Ground that Information sought is Irrelevant

Case name: Adesh Kumar v. Union of India (Delhi High Court, 2014)

In the case, the Petitioner was aggrieved by denial of information under the RTI Act by the concerned Public Information Officer in the case.

FIR had been lodged against the Petitioner during his tenure of service and subsequently, a charge sheet, against the petitioner was submitted. On receipt of charge sheet, the Petitioner applied for information under the RTI Act pertaining to sanction of prosecution against him.

However, the requested information was rejected by the CPIO claiming that there was no obligation to provide the same by virtue of Section  8(1)(h) of the RTI Act.

The Delhi High Court while dismissing the Petitioner’s plea in the case stated that impugned provision prohibits furnishing of information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders.

However, the Court held that merely, citing that the information is exempted under Section  8(1)(h) of the RTI Act would not absolve the public authority from discharging its onus as required to claim such exemption.

Further, the Delhi High Court in the case has held that whether the information sought by the petitioner is relevant or necessary, is not relevant or germane in the context of the Act, a citizen has a right to information.

The entire case can be accessed here.

Whether Particulars of FIR can be Disclosed under RTI Act?

Case name: Jiju Lukose v. State of Kerala (Kerala High Court, 2014)

In the case, a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking a direction to upload the copy of the FIR in the website of the police station and to make available copies of the FIR to the accused immediately on registration of the FIR was sought for. The Petitioner had alleged that inspite of the FIR being registered, the petitioner received its copy only after 2 months. Till the petitioner could obtain a copy of the FIR, the petitioner and his family members were in dark about the nature of the allegations levelled against the petitioner.

Petitioner’s further contended in the case that in view of the Right to Information Act, 2005 all public officers were under obligation to put all information recorded in the public domain. The FIR which is lodged is to be put on the website of the police station, so that anyone can assess the FIR including a person staying outside the country.

Decision

The CIC in the case held that FIR is a public document, however, where an FIR is covered by the provisions under Section  8(1) of the RTI Act, it need not be disclosed to the citizens till investigation is completed. But it can be claimed by the Informant and the accused as per legal provisions under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 as a matter of legal right.

The provisions in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 are specific to this effect, that is, the supply of copy of FIR to the accused is contemplated only at a stage after proceedings are being initiated on a        police report by the competent Magistrate.

That application for copy of the FIR can also be submitted by any person under the 2005 Act.  It is however, relevant to note that whether in a particular application police authorities are claiming exemption under  8(1) of the RTI Act is a question which has to be determined by the police authorities by taking appropriate decision by the competent authority. In event no such decision is taken to claim exemption under Section 8 of the 2005 Act, the police authorities are obliged to provide for copy of the FIR on an application under the RTI Act.

The entire case can be accessed here.

SC: UPSC Marks can’t be Disclosed Mechanically under RTI

Case name: Union Public Service Commission Etc. v. Angesh Kumar & ors. (Supreme Court, 2018)

In this recent case, the Supreme Court has made following observations in context of disclosure of civil service examinations marks under the RTI:

  • That weighing the need for transparency and accountability on the one hand and requirement of optimum use of fiscal resources and confidentiality of sensitive information on the other, information sought with regard to marks in Civil Services Exam cannot be directed to be furnished mechanically.
  • That furnishing raw marks will cause problems which would not be in public interest. However, if a case is made out where the Court finds that public interest requires furnishing of information, the Court is certainly entitled to so require in a given fact situation.
  • That if rules or practice so require, certainly such rule or practice can be enforced.

Other important cases on the issue which were referred by the Bench in the case are as under:

  • Central Board of Secondary Education and Anr. v. Aditya Bandopadhyay and Ors.– When trying to ensure that the right to information does not conflict with several other public interests (which includes efficient operations of the Governments, preservation of confidentiality of sensitive information, optimum use of limited fiscal resources, etc.), it is difficult to visualise and enumerate all types of information which require to be exempted from disclosure in public interest.
  • It was also observed in the aforesaid judgment that indiscriminate and impractical demands or directions under the RTI Act for disclosure of all and sundry information (unrelated to transparency and accountability in the functioning of public authorities and eradication of corruption) would be counterproductive as it will adversely affect the efficiency of the administration and result in the executive getting bogged down with the non-productive work of collecting and furnishing information.
  • Prashant Ramesh Chakkarwar v. UPSC– This case enumerated the problems in showing evaluated answer books to candidates which inter alia included disclosing answer books would reveal intermediate stages too, including the so-called ‘raw marks’ which would have negative implications for the integrity of the examination system.

Read more here.

CIC: Pension Payment can’t be denied for Want of Aadhaar Card

Case name: N N Dhumane v. PIO, Department of Posts (CIC, 2018)

The order of CIC in the instant case is a remarkable one as it condemns the act of Department of Posts in denying payment of pension for want of Aadhaar Card. Other key observation made by the CIC in the case was that payment of pension is a matter of life or liberty under the RTI Act and applications relating to payment of Pension shall be disposed by the Public Information Officers within 48 hours.

Read more here.

CIC: RTI Information cannot be denied for Lack of Aadhaar Card

Case name: Vishwas Bhamburkar v. PIO, Housing & Urban Development Corporation Ltd. (CIC, 2018)

In this recent case Vishwas Bhamburkar v. PIO, Housing & Urban Development Corporation Ltd. taken up by the Chief Information Commission, Munirka, New Delhi (CIC), the CIC was confronted with two centric issues under the Right to Information Act, 2005. One pertaining to word limit in RTI application and the other relating to denial of information on lack of producing identity proof by the Applicant.

The CIC in the case held that the impugned application was not hit by any exception under the Right to Information Act. That the CPIO in the case raised suspicion about the citizenship of the applicant without explaining why he was suspecting. There was nothing to justify his suspicion. That the CPIO failed to justify the denial of information, as he could not site any clause of exception under Section 8 (exemption from disclosure of information) or Section 9 (grounds for rejection to access in certain cases).

Read more here.

Delhi HC Rejects CIC Order Holding Ministers Public Authorities under RTI Act

Case name: Union of India and Anr. v. Central Information Commission and Anr. (CIC, 2017)

The Petitioner in the case challenged CIC’s (Central Information Commission) order, whereby the CIC had declared “the Ministers in the Union Government and all State Governments as ‘public authorities’ under Section 2(h) of Right to Information Act, 2005.

Delhi High Court’s order and observation– The Delhi High Court set aside CIC’s order in the case and opined that the directions issued by the CIC in the case was beyond the scope of CIC and in the facts and circumstances of the case, there was no occasion for the CIC to enter upon the question as to whether a Minister is a “public authority” under Section 2(h) of the Act.

Read more here.

No RTI Query Can Lie With Regard to Judicial Decisions (Delhi High Court, 2017)

Case name: The Registrar, Supreme Court of India v. R S Misra

In the instant case, the Delhi High Court has rendered an in-depth analysis of RTI applications against any decision passed by the Supreme Court. The Court has also ruled that RTI Act does not prevail over the Supreme Court Rules (SCR).

Read more here.

Two Years Wait for RTI Response is Flagrant Violation of RTI Act (CIC, 2017)

In this case of October 2017, the CIC took a strong note of delay in RTI response by the concerned Department. The CIC remarked as under:

Commission takes grave exception to the flagrant violation of the RTI Act by the CPIOs of Cantonment Board, Jabalpur and the ignorance of the present CPIO about the pending RTI Applications from the tenure of her predecessor. It is incumbent upon the present CPIO to deal with all such pending RTI Applications and not wait for the Commission to issue notice of hearing to provide reply to RTI Applicants.

Information can’t be denied on the Ground that File is missing

Case name: Shahzad Singh v. Department of Posts (CIC, 2018)

In the case, the CIC noted that the Respondent Department’s claim that concerned files were are not traceable proves the fact they had it in their possession, which binds them to provide the information by searching the same. The Commission also observed that frequent reference to ‘missing files’ as an excuse to deny the information is a major threat to transparency, accountability and also major reason for violation of Right to Information Act, 2005. Millions of RTI applications might have been rejected by PIOs on this ground during the last 11 years of RTI regime.

With “missing files excuse” being around, it will be futile to talk about implementation of Right to Information Act, 2005. The claim of ‘missing files’ indicates possibility of deliberate destruction of records to hide the corruption, fraud or immoral practices of public servants, which is a crime under Indian Penal Code.

Other cases on the issue:

Om Prakash v. GNCTD– In the case, CIC noted that prima facie, public authority cannot deny the right of the appellant to get an alternative plot, by putting forward an excuse of missing the file. The defense of missing file cannot be accepted even under the Right to Information Act, 2005. The CIC also noted that if the file is really not traceable, it reflects the inefficient and pathetic management of files by the Public Authority. If the file could not be traced in spite of best efforts, it is the duty of the respondent authority to reconstruct the file or develop a mechanism to address the issue raised by the appellant.

Union of India vs. Vishwas Bhamburkar – In this case, the Delhi High Court regarding the plea of the Respondent authority of record being not traceable, has observed that Right to Information Act, 2005 is a progressive legislation aimed at providing the citizens access to the information which before the said Act came into force could not be claimed as a matter of right.

It was also opined that even in the case where it was found that the desired information though available in the record of the government at some point of time, could not be traced despite best efforts made in this regard, the department concerned must necessarily fix the responsibility for the loss of the record and take appropriate departmental action against the officers/officials responsible for loss of the record. Unless such a course of action is adopted, it would be possible for any department/office, to deny the information which otherwise is not exempted from disclosure, wherever said department/office finds it inconvenient to bring such information into public domain, and that in turn, would necessarily defeat the very objective behind enactment of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

IT Returns is “Personal Information”, not under the Purview of RTI Act

Case name: Girish Ramchandra Deshpande vs. Central Information Commission & ors. (Supreme Court, 2012)

In this case, the Apex Court had held that the details disclosed by a person in his income tax returns are “personal information” which stand exempted from disclosure under clause (j) of Section 8(1) of the RTI Act, unless involves a larger public interest and the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the Appellate Authority is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information.

Other cases on the issue:

Milap Choraria v. CBDT- In this case, the CIC had held that Income Tax Returns have been rightly held to be ‘personal information’ exempted from disclosure under clause (j) of Section 8(1) of the RTI Act by the CPIO and the Appellate Authority; and the appellant herein has not been able to establish that a larger public interest would be served by disclosure of this information.

The entire case can be accessed here.

Bar Councils Liable to Provide Information under RTI Act

Case name: Harinder Dhingra Vs. Bar Associations, Rewari, Faridabad, Punchkula (CIC, 2016)

In the case, the Appellant sought information regarding the number of complaints against the advocates, how many cases were disposed of, number of advocates who had violated the provisions of Advocates Act.

The CIC in the case held that the Bar Council is a statutory body constituted under Advocates Act, 1961 to protect the ethical standards of Advocates and admonish the members for misconduct. The information about this core function of Bar Council cannot be denied to the appellant as it does not attract any exemption under the RTI Act.

The entire case can be accessed here.

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