Document

The Right to Information Act 2005

 

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The Right to Information Bill 2005 was passed by the Lok Sabha on 11 May 2005 and by the Rajya Sabha the following day. At the time of going to press, the Bill awaits Presidential assent. Some highlights are:

Coverage

• Comes into effect 120 days after enactment.

• Covers central, state and local governments, and

*  all bodies owned, controlled or substantially financed by government;

*  non-government organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate government.

• Covers the executive, judiciary and legislature.

• Includes information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force.

Some definitions

• ‘Information’ means any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advice, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form.

• ‘Right to information’ means the right to information accessible under this act which is held by or under the control of any public authority and includes the right to:        

*  inspection of work, documents, records;

*  taking notes, extracts, or certified copies of documents or records;

*  taking certified samples of material;

*  obtaining information in the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts where such information is stored in a computer or in any other device.

• ‘Third party’ means a person other than the citizen making a request for information and includes the public.

Processes

• Application to be submitted in writing or electronically, with prescribed fee, to Public Information Officer (PIO).

• Envisages PIO in each department/agency to receive requests and provide information. Assistant PIO at subdistrict levels to receive applications/appeals/ complaints. Forward to appropriate PIO. These will be existing officers.

• Information to be provided within 30 days, 48 hours where life or liberty is involved, 35 days where request is given to Asst. PIO, 40 days where third party is involved and 45 days for information about human rights violation from listed security/intelligence agencies.

• Time taken for calculation and intimation of fees excluded from the time frame.

• No action on application for 30 days is a deemed refusal.

Exempt information

• Where disclosure prejudicially affects 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.

• Release of which has been expressly forbidden by any court or tribunal or may be contempt of court.

• Where disclosure would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or Legislature.

• Commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, where disclosure would harm competitive position, or become available to a person in his fiduciary relationship, unless larger public interest so warrants.

• Received in confidence from foreign government.

• Endangers life or physical safety or identifies confidential source of information or assistance.

• Impedes the process of investigation or apprehension.

• Cabinet papers, including records of deliberations of the council of ministers, secretaries and other officers:

*  provided that the decisions of council of ministers, the reasons thereof, and the material on the basis of which the decisions were taken shall be made public after the decision has been taken, and the matter is complete, or over;

*  provided further that those matters which come under the exemptions specified in this section shall not be disclosed.

• Personal information which would cause invasion of privacy unless larger public interest justifies it.

• Infringes copyright, except of the state.

• Where practicable, part of record can be released.

• Intelligence and security agencies exempt – except for corruption and human rights violation charges.

• Third party information to be released after giving notice to, and hearing, third party.

• Most exempt information to be released after 20 years.

• Provided that the information, which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a state legislature shall not be denied to any person.

• Notwithstanding anything in the Official Secrets Act, 1923 nor any of the exemptions, a public authority may allow access to information, if public interests in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interests.

Appeals

• First appeal with senior in the department.

• Second appeal with Information Commission.

• Envisages an independent Information Commission at the central and state level to be an appellate authority and to oversee the functioning of the act. Has various powers under the act.

• To be appointed by a committee of PM/CM, leader of opposition and one minister. To have the status of the Election Commission at the Centre and of election commissioner/chief secretary at the state.

• Can only be removed after an enquiry by the Supreme Court .

Penalties

• Penalties imposable by Information Commission on PIO or officer asked to assist PIO

* for unreasonable delay – Rs 250 per day up to Rs 25,000;

* for illegitimate refusal to accept application, mala fide denial, knowingly providing false information, destruction of information, etc. fine up to Rs 25,000;

* recommendation for departmental action for persistent or serious violations.

• Immunity for actions done in good faith.

Access

• Universal access – especially to the poor.

• Fee at a reasonable level – though quantum not specified. No fee for below poverty line families.

• Assistant public information officers at sub-district levels to facilitate filing of applications/appeals.

• No need to specify reason for seeking information or other personal details.

• Provision to reduce oral requests into writing.

• Provision to provide all required assistance, including to sensorially disabled persons.

• Information to be provided in local languages.

• Access to information only for citizens.

Responsibilities of public authorities

• Appointing PIOs/Asst. PIOs within 100 days of enactment.

• Maintaining, cataloguing, indexing, computerising and networking records.

• Publishing within 120 days of enactment a whole set of information and updating it every year.

• Publishing all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions that affect the public.

• Providing reasons for its administrative or quasi judicial decisions to affected persons.

• Providing information suo motu.

• Providing information to information commission.

• Raising awareness, educating and training.

• Compiling in 18 months and updating regularly local language guide to information.

Future Directions

Tasks before the Government of India

• Making rules.

• Financing the state governments.

• Selection, training and orientation of staff (skills, information and attitudes).

• Selection of the information commissions (independent and appropriate).

• Making people aware of the act and its provisions.

• Persuading state governments to implement the act.

Tasks before the civil society

• Raising public awareness.

• Demonstrating relevance.

• Fighting apathy and cynicism.

• Mobilising people.

• Forming information clearing houses – to access, demystify, contextualise and publicise information.

• Developing user-friendly manuals.

• Developing human capacities.

• Developing support systems – to assist groups and individuals.

• Research and development.

• National level jan sunwais (public hearings).

• Keeping up pressure on the government.

Frequently raised objections and doubts by civil servants

Objections and Doubts

Response

* We will be overwhelmed by applications and not be able to cope.

* In Delhi, in almost four years, about 7000 applications received in 120 departments. Average of 1.2 per month, per department. Highest no. (MCD) were 29 per month (for25 departments) – again about one per month per department.

* In Maharashtra about 15,000 in three years.

* Much less everywhere else.

* Besides, progressive suo motu disclosure will lessen pressure.

* The information will be misused.

* Officers will be blackmailed.

* Others will be blackmailed.

* The RTI Act will only provide the truth. How can the truth be misused?

* One can only be blackmailed if information is privileged. Here the information will be available to all and even put up on the web.

* Same as above. Besides only those who have done something wrong can be blackmailed. RTI will be a deterrent for wrongdoing.

* There will be a lot of frivolous applications.

* People should only be allowed to ask for information regarding themselves.

* This has not been the experience. Besides, there is a cost that would discourage these.

* In a democracy, every individual has a right to know how the government is functioning. Besides, as tax payers we have a right to know how our money is being spent.

* The RTI Act will be very costly to implement.

* If we recognise this as a fundamental right, then it is a necessary cost.

* Besides, if the act is successful in raising accountability, then the financial and economic savings would be many times greater than the costs.

* In the long run the law must become a deterrent rather than a post-facto weapon.

* The civil servant has to make decisions under many pressures and the public will not understand this.

* The possibility of exposure will inhibit illegitimate pressures.

* Government records are not in a state where RTI applications can be serviced.

* One side benefit of RTI is that record keeping will have to drastically improve.

National Campaign for People’s Right to Information

 

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