The Right to Information Act (RTI) is legislation in force within the jurisdiction of India that establishes the rules and regulations for citizens’ access to information. It repealed the former Freedom of Information Act, 2002.
Under the RTI Act, any Indian citizen has the right to ask for information from a “public authority”, and a reply for such purpose can be expected within thirty days. If the situation concerns a plaintiff’s life or liberty, the data must get supplied within 48 hours.
The Act requires every public entity to computerise their data for wide distribution and proactively disseminate certain types of information so that citizens only need to make formal requests for information.
Let’s study more about the act that provides a legal framework to access information.
What is meant by RTI Act?
The Right to Information Act is a basic right guaranteed by our constitution’s article 19(a). Every citizen has the right to free speech and expression, according to article 19(1)(a). At the same time, this is not an absolute right and is subjected to reasonable restrictions. The citizens of India solemnly declare to ensure the liberty of thought and expression to all of their inhabitants in the Preamble to the Constitution of India.
The Supreme Court of India ruled that freedom of speech and expression allows the capability to spread ideas. The UPA government passed it on the 11th of May 2005 in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha on the 12th of May. The President of India gave his assent to this bill on 15th June 2005. The RTI act became effective on the 12th of October 2005.
The RTI Act of 2005 permits any citizen to obtain government information. So, any citizen (who can also request certified photocopies) can inspect any government document.
Let’s look at what the term “information” means in the context of the RTI Act of 2005. According to the Right to Information Act, “information” includes
- press releases,
- orders logbook,
- models, and
- data material maintained in any electronic format
What was the need for RTI Act 2005?
Our country’s corruption was fast expanding. The public was unaware of the methods by which public funds were spent. As a result, the government enacted the right to information act. The act covered the employees in corporate organisations with the right to know information.
According to the RTI Act of 2005, democracy requires informed citizens and information transparency, which are critical to its functioning and help hold governments and their functionaries accountable.
Aims and objectives of the RTI Act
The RTI Act’s primary goal is to bring clarity to Indian citizens regarding information, prevent corruption, and enhance accountability in all public authorities’ workings. The other objectives of the act include:
- Providing citizens with a legal framework for accessing information.
- Encouraging public authorities to be more accountable, hence reducing corruption.
- Reconciling competing interests and prioritising government operations and resource allocation.
- Keeping democracy’s values alive.
Salient features of the RTI Act
- The right to information belongs to every citizen.
- The term “information” refers to any type of data, including records, documents, emails, circulars, press releases, contract samples, electoral statistics, etc.
- The right to information covers examination of work, document, record, certified copy, and data in any other electronic format.
- In most cases, the applicant can access data within 30 days of making the request.
- If it is a question of life or liberty, information can be acquired within 48 hours of submitting the request.
- Public authorities must provide information in response to a written or electronic request.
- For security concerns, certain information is not permitted.
- The Central Government and the separate State Governments will establish a Central Information Commission and a State Information Commission.
- Any suit, application, or other procedure relating to an order made under the RTI Act will get dismissed by the Court.
Important provisions mentioned under the RTI Act
- Section 2(h): The term “public authority” refers to all federal, state, and local government agencies and bodies. Civil societies that get major funding from the government, either directly or indirectly, are likewise covered under RTI.
- Section 4 1(b): The government is responsible for maintaining and disclosing information on time.
- Section 6 outlines a straightforward approach for safeguarding data.
- Section 7: Set a deadline for PIOs to provide information(s).
- Section 8: Only the most basic information is exempt from public disclosure.
- Section 8 (1) of the RTI Act mentions exemptions from providing information.
- If the greater public interest is served, Section 8 (2) allows for the revelation of material protected under the Official Secrets Act of 1923.
- Section 19: A two-tiered appeals procedure.
- Section 20: Penalties are imposed if the information is not provided on time, is wrong, incomplete, misleading, or distorted.
- Lower courts cannot hear actions or applications under Section 23. However, the Supreme Court of India’s and high courts’ writ jurisdiction is undisturbed under Articles 32 and 226.
Recent amendments to RTI Act
- Political parties are now excluded from the concept of public authorities and hence from the scope of the RTI Act due to the RTI Amendment Bill 2013.
- The 2017 draught clause, which calls for the case to be closed if the petitioner dies, could result in greater attacks on whistleblowers’ lives.
- The proposed RTI Amendment bill 2019 aims to give the Centre the authority to set the tenures and wages of State and Central information commissioners, who are now protected by the RTI Act.
- The Act intends to replace the established 5-year tenure with whatever the government deems appropriate.
Amendments proposed by the Bill of 2019
As per the RTI Act, 2005, the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information Commissioners (ICs) are appointed at the national and state levels to enforce the provisions of the law.
The law provides that CICs and ICs appointed at the central and state levels serve in office for five years.
The bill of 2019 proposes to abolish this provision and states that the central government will announce the terms of CIC and IC.
The RTI Act of 2005 provides that CIC and ICs at central level salaries are equal to salaries paid to the Chief Election Commissioner and the Election Commissioners, respectively. Similarly, the CIC and ICs (state level) salaries will be the same as that of the Election Commission and the Secretary-General of the State Government, respectively.
Previously, If at the time of appointment of CICs and ICs at the central and state levels, they receive a pension or other retirement benefit for previous government services they were appointed on, their salary will get reduced by an amount of pension equivalent to retirement benefits. This provision was omitted after the bill was passed and came to effect.
The parliament passed the bill and brought effect to the above-suggested amendments in the act of 2005.
Criticism of the RTI Act
- One of the act’s significant flaws is that the bureaucracy’s poor record-keeping leads to missing files.
- The information commissions do not have enough people to administer them.
- Supplementary laws, such as the Whistleblower‘s Act, diminish the effect of the RTI Act.
- Because the government does not voluntarily post information in the public sphere as required by the statute, RTI petitions have increased.
- There have been instances of frivolous RTI petitions and the use of the information received to blackmail government officials.
Filing an RTI application
To file an RTI application, you only need to follow three simple procedures.
Step 1: Create an application that includes all of the necessary details.
Step 2: Provide proof of payment of the application fee.
Step 3: Applying to the relevant Assistant Public Information Officer/Public Information Officer.
Essential elements of an RTI application
- RTI Application Format: There is no set format for requesting information, and it is possible to make it out of plain paper. However, the applicant’s name and full postal address must be included.
- RTI Application Language: It might be written in Hindi or English or in the region’s official language.
- Fees levied: The fees for filing an RTI are always modest, and the computation details are always made available to the applicant.
- To be heard in the following order: The total time it takes to get information is 30 days from the date of application.
Jiju Lukose v. State of Kerala
In this case, the petitioner filed a lawsuit against the state of Kerala even though the FIR had been filed; the petitioner received his copy only two months later. Until the petitioner could acquire a copy of the FIR, he and his family were unaware of the accusations against him.
The petitioner further claimed that under the RTI Act of 2005, all public servants needed to make all information recorded available to the public. He further said that the FIR should be posted on the police station’s website so anyone, including those living outside the nation, can review it.
The CIC ruled that the FIR is a public record and should not be made public until the investigation is done. However, it can be claimed as a matter of legal right by the informant and the accused under the legal rules of the CrPC, 1973. According to the courts, the police officials allegedly needed to submit a copy of the FIR in response to an RTI Act request.
The Right to Information Act got enacted to promote social justice, openness, and accountability in government. Still, it has yet to fulfil its full potential due to some roadblocks erected due to systematic failures.
According to the Delhi High Court, the exploitation of the RTI Act must be dealt with responsibly, or the public will lose trust and belief in the RTI Act. It is widely acknowledged that the right to information is essential but insufficient for better government.
Much more must be done to promote government accountability, including whistleblower protection, decentralisation of power, and the fusion of authority and responsibility. This statute provides the opportunity to rethink governance practices, particularly at the roots level, where people have the most engagement with government.
Which was the first state to introduce a law on the right to information?
What is the maximum amount of penalty imposed under the RTI Act?
Which section under RTI Act contains a provision regarding obtaining information through an application?
Section 6 of the RTI Act, 2005 contains a provision regarding obtaining information by an application with the required fee.
Are there any reasonable restrictions on the access to information under the act?
Yes, certain reasonable restrictions exist to access information prescribed under section 7 of the RTI Act.
Who will be the committee chairperson recommending the appointment of the state chief information commissioner and information commissioners?
The state's Chief Minister, as per section 15(3) of the Right to information act, 2005
Which section containing the provision for the term of office and condition of service was amended by RTI amendment bill 2019?
Which provisions were amended after the introduction and acceptance of the RTI amendment bill, 2019, in parliament?
Section 13, 16 and 27 of the RTI Act, 2005.
What is the penalty for not furnishing the required information within the specified time or knowingly furnishing the incorrect information?
The penalty will be an amount of Rs 250/- daily until the application is received or information gets furnished. This daily penalty should not extend to more than Rs 25000/-.