The Right to Information Act, 2005 empowers citizens to get information from any 'public authority'. The Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of a public authority plays a pivotal role in making the right of a citizen to information a reality. The Act casts specific duties on him and makes him liable for penalty in case of default. It is, therefore, essential for a CPIO to study the Act carefully and understand its provisions correctly. Following aspects should particularly be kept in view while dealing with the applications under the Act.
Information means any material in any from. It includes records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic from. It also includes information relating to any private body which can be accessed by the public authority under any law for the time being in force.
A citizen has the right to seek such information from the public authority, which is held by the public authority or which is held under its control. This right includes inspection of work, documents and records; taking notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records; and taking certified samples of material held by the public authority or held under the control of the public authority.
The Act gives the citizens a right to information at par with the Members of Parliament and the Members of States Legislatures. According to the Act, the information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature, shall not be denied to any person.
A citizen has the right to obtain an information in the from of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or though print-outs, provided such information is already stored in a computer or in any other device from which the information may be transferred to diskettes etc. The information should ordinarily be provided in the from in which it is sought by an applicant. However, if the supply of information sought in a particular from would disproportionately divert the resources of the public authority or may cause harm to the safety or preservation of the records, supply of information in that form may be denied.
The Act gives the right to information only to the citizen of India. It dose not make provision for giving information to Corporations, Associations, Companies etc. which are legal entities/persons, but not citizens. However, if an application is made by employee or office-bearer of any Corporation, Association, Company, NGO etc. indicating his name and such employee/office bearer is a citizen of India, information may be supplied to him/her. In such cases, it would be presumed that a citizen has sought information at the address of the Corporation etc.
Only such information is required to be supplied under the Act which already exists and is held by the public authority or held under the control of the public authority. The CPIO is not supposed to create information; or to interpret information; or to solve the problems raised by the applicants; or to furnish replies to hypothetical questions.
Sub-section (1) of section 8 and section 9 of the Act enumerate the types of information which is exempt from disclosure. Sub-section (2) of section 8, however, provides that information exempted under sub-section (1) or exempted under the Official Secrets Act, 1923 can be disclosed if public interest in disclosure overweighs the harm to the protected interest. Further, sub-section (3) of section 8 provides that information exempt from disclosure under sub-section (1), except as provided in clauses (a), © and (i) thereof, would cease to be exempted after 20 years from the date of occurrence of the related event etc.
It may be noted that section 8(3) of the Act does not require the public authorities to retain records for indefinite period. The records should be retained as per the record retention schedule applicable to the concerned public authority. Information generated in a file may survive in the from of an OM or a letter or in any other form even after destruction of the file/record. The Act requires furnishing of information so available after the lapse of 20 years even if such information was exempt from disclosure under sub-section (1) of Section 8. It means that the information which, in normal course, is exempt from disclosure under sub-section (1) of Section 8 of the Act, would cease to be exempted if 20 years have lapsed after occurrence of the incident to which the information relates. However, the following types of information would continue to be exempt and there would be no obligation, even after lapse of 20 years, to give any citizen-
The RTI Act has over-riding effect vis-a-vis other laws inasmuch as the provisions of the RTI would have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in the Official Secrets Act, 1923, and any other law for the time being in force or in any instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than the RTI Act.
The Central Public Information Officer has a duty to render reasonable assistance to the persons seeking information. As per provisions of the Act, a person, who desires to obtain any information is required to make a request in writing or through electronic means in English or Hindi or in the official language of the area in which the application is made. If a person seeking information is not able to make such request in writing, the Central Public Information Officer should render reasonable assistance to him to reduce the same in writing.
Where access to a record is required to be provided to a sensorily disabled person, the Central Public Information Officer should provide assistance to such person to enable him to access the information. He should also provide such assistance to the person as may be appropriate for the inspection of records where such inspection is involved.
The Central Public Information Officer may seek the assistance of any other officer as he or she considers necessary for the proper discharge of his or her duties. The officer, whose assistance is so sought by the CPIO, would render all assistance to him. Such an officer shall be deemed to be a Central Public Information Officer and would be liable for contravention of any provisions of the Act, the same way as any other Central Public Information Officer. It would be advisable for the CPIO to inform the officer whose assistance is sought, about the above provision, at the time of seeking his assistance.
The Act makes it obligatory for every public authority to make suo motu disclosure in respect of the particulars of its organization, functions, duties and other matters, as provided in section 4 of the Act. The information so published, according to sub-section (4) of section 4, should be easily accessible with the CPIO in electronic format. The CPIO should, therefore, make concerted efforts to ensure that the requirements of Section 4 are met and maximum information in respect of the public authority is made available on the internet. It would help him in two ways. First, the number of applications under the Act would be reduced and secondly, it would facilitate his work of providing information inasmuch as most of the information would be available to him at one place.
An applicant, along with his application, is required to send a demand draft or a banker's cheque or an Indian Postal Order of Rs.10/- (Rupees ten), payable to the Accounts Officer of the public authority as fee prescribed for seeking information. He can also make payment of fee by way of cash to the Accounts Officer of the public authority or to the Central Assistant Public Information Officer against proper receipt.
Additional fee has been prescribed by the Right to Information (Regulation of Fee and Cost) Rules, 2005 for supply of information as give below:
An applicant making request for information is not required to give any reason for requesting the information or any other personal details except those that may be necessary for contacting him. Also, the Act or the Rules do not prescribe any format of application for seeking information. Therefore, the applicant should not be asked to give justification for seeking information or to give details of his job etc. or to submit application in any particular form.
Soon after receiving the application, the CPIO should check whether the applicant has made the payment of application fee of Rs. 10 or whether the applicant is a person belonging to a Below Poverty Line (BPL) family. If application is not accompanied by the prescribed fee or the BPL Certificate, it cannot be treated as a valid application under the RTI Act and may be ignored.
If the application is accompanied by the prescribed fee or the Below Poverty Line Certificate, the CPIO should check whether the subject matter of the application or a part thereof concerns some other public authority. If the subject matter of the application concerns any other public authority, it should be transferred to that public authority. If only a part of the application concerns the other Public authority, a copy of the application may be sent to that public authority, clearly specifying the part which relates to that public authority. While transferring the application or sending a copy thereof, the concerned public authority should be informed that the application fee has been received. The applicant should also be informed about the transfer of his application and the particulars of the public authority to whom the application or a copy thereof has been sent.
Transfer of application or part thereof, as the case may be, should be made as soon as possible and in any case within five days from the date of receipt of the application. If a CPIO transfers an application after five days from the receipt of the application, he would be responsible for delay in disposing of the application to the extent of number of days which he takes in transferring the application beyond 5 days.
The CPIO of the public authority to whom the application is transferred, should not refuse acceptance of transfer of the application on the ground that it was not transferred to him within 5 days.
A public authority may designate as many CPIOs for it, as may deem necessary. It is possible that in a public authority with more than one CPIO, an application is received by the CPIO other than the concerned CPIO. In such a case, the CPIO receiving the application should transfer it to the concerned CPIO immediately, preferable the same day. Time period of five days for transfer of the application applies only when the application is transferred from one public authority to another public authority and not for transfer from one CPIO to another in the same public authority.
The answering CPIO should check whether the information sought or a part thereof is exempt from disclosure under section 8 or Section 9 of the Act. Request in respect of the part of the application which is so exempt may be rejected and rest of the information should be provided immediately or after receipt of additional fees, as the case may be.
Where a request for information is rejected, the Central Public Information Officer should communicate to the person make the request
If additional fee is required to be paid by the applicant as provided in the Right to Information (Regulation of Fee and Cost) Rules, 2005, the Central Public Information Officer should inform the applicant:
Where a request is received for access to information which is exempt from disclosure but a part of which is not exempt and such part can be severed in such a way that the severed part does not contain exempt information then, access to that part of the information/record may be provided to the applicant. Where access is granted to a part of the record in such a way, the Central Public Information Officer should inform the applicant that the information asked for is exempt from disclosure and that only part of the record is being provided, after severance, which is not exempt from disclosure. While doing so, he should give the reasons for the decision, including any findings on any material question of fact, referring to the material on which those findings were based. The CPIO should take the approval of appropriate authority before supply of information in such a case and should inform the name and designation of the person giving the decision to the applicant also.
|Sl||Situation||Time limit for disposing off application|
|1.||Supply of information in normal course||30 days|
|2.||Supply of information if it concerns the life or liberty of a person||48 hours|
|3.||Supply of information if the application is received through CAPIO||05 days shall be added to the time period indicated at Sr.No.1 and 2|
|4.|| Supply of information if application/request is received after transfer from another public authority: |
(a) in normal course
(b) in case the information concerns the life or liberty of a person
(a) within 30 days of receipt of application by concerned public authority.
(b) within 48 hours of receipt of application by concerned public authority.
|5.|| Supply of information by organisations specified in Second Schedule: |
(a) if information relates to allegations of violation of human rights.
(b) In case information relates to allegations of corruption.
(a) Within 30 days of the receipt of application by concerned public authority.
(b) Within 48 hours of receipt of the application by concerned public authority.
|6.||Supply of information if it relates to third party and the third party has treated it as confidential.||Should be provided after following the procedure given in para 37 to 41 of these guidelines.|
|7.||Supply of information where the applicant is asked to pay additional fee||The period intervening between informing applicant about additional fee and the payment of fee by the applicant shall be excluded for calculating the period of reply|
If the CPIO fails to give decision on the request for information within the prescribed period, the Central Public Information Officer shall be deemed to have refused the request. It is pertinent to note that if a public authority fails to comply with the specified time limit, the information to the concerned applicant would have to be provided free of charge.
If an applicant is not supplied information within the prescribed time limit, or is not satisfied with the information furnished to him, he may prefer an appeal to the first appellate authority who is an officer senior in rank to the CPIO. Such an appeal can be made within a period of 30 days from the date on which time limit for apply of information expires or the decision of the CPIO is received. The appellate authority of the public authority is expected to dispose of the appeal within a period of thirty days or in exceptional cases within 45 days of the receipt of the appeal. If the first appellate authority fails to pass an order on the appeal within the prescribed period or if the appellant is not satisfied with the order of the first appellate authority, he may prefer a second appeal with the Central Information Commission within ninety days from the date on which the decision should have been made by the first appellate authority or was actually received by the appellant.
If any person is unable to submit a request to a Central Public Information Officer either by reason that such an officer has not been appointed by the concerned public authority; or the Central Assistant Public Information Officer has refused to accept his or her application or appeal for forwarding the same to the Central Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be; or he has been refused access to any information requested by him under the RTI Act; or he has not been given a response to a request for information within the time limit specified in the Act; or he has been required to pay an amount of fee which he considers unreasonable; or he believes that he has been given incomplete, misleading or false information, he can make a complaint to the Central Information Commission.
As pointed out above, an applicant under the Act has a right to appeal to the Central Information Commission and also to make complaint to the Commission. Where the Central Information Commission at the time of deciding any complaint or appeal is of the opinion that the Central Public Information Officer has without any reasonable cause, refused to receive an application for information or has not furnished information within the time specified or malafidely denied the request for information or knowingly given incorrect, incomplete or misleading information or destroyed information which was the subject of the request or obstructed in any manner in furnishing the information, it shall impose a penalty of two hundred and fifty rupees each day till application is received or information is furnished subject to the condition that the total amount of such penalty shall not exceed twenty-five thousand rupees. The Central Public Information Officer shall, however, be given a reasonable opportunity of being heard before any penalty is imposed on him. The burden of proving that he acted reasonably and diligently and in case of denial of a request that such denial was justified shall be on the Central Public Information Officer.
Where the Central Information Commission at the time of deciding any complaint or appeal is of the opinion that the Central Public Information Officer has without any reasonable cause and persistently, failed to receive an application for information or has not furnished information within the time specified or malafidely denied the request for information or knowingly given incorrect, incomplete or misleading information or destroyed information which was the subject of the request or obstructed in any manner in furnishing the information, it may recommend for disciplinary action against the Central Public Information Officer.
Section 21 of the Act provides that no suit, prosecution or other legal proceeding shall lie against any person for anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done under the Act or any rule made thereunder. A CPIO should, however, note that it would be his responsibility to prove that his action was in good faith.
The Central Information Commission prepares a report on the implementation of the provisions of the RTI Act every year, which is laid before each Hose of the Parliament. This report, inter-alia, has to include information about the number of requests made to each public authority, the number of decisions where the applicants were not entitled to access to documents requested for, the provisions of the Act under which these decisions where made and the number of times such provisions were invoked, the amount of charges collected by each public authority under the Act. Each Ministry/Department is required to collect such information from all the public authorities under its jurisdiction and send the same to the Commission. The CPIOs should maintain the requisite information in this regard so that it may be supplied to their administrative Ministry/Department soon after the end of the year, which in turn may supply to the Commission.1)
Department of Personnel & Training has issued Format for giving information to the applicants under RTI Act.
It has been observed that different public authorities provide information to RTI applicants in different formats. Though there cannot be a standard format for providing information, the reply should however essentially contain the following information:
2. In addition, wherever the applicant has requested for 'certified copies' of the documents or records, the CPIO should endorse on the document “True copy of the document/record supplied under RTI Act”, sign the document with date, above a seal containing name of the officer, CPIO and name of public authority; as enumerated below: