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RTI  Act Has Armed Citizens With The Most Potent Tool

At the very inception , I would begin by stating that no nation can call itself truly democratic if they fail to arm their citizens with the most  potent tool of “right to information” which has far reaching consequences . Going forward , I would even say that right to information must be accorded the status of a “fundamental right” by all the democratic countries across the globe . Needless to add , it is the common man who will be the biggest gainers in such an eventuality as he/she will be armed with the most potent tool to secure information pertaining to anything from any department which earlier was totally non-accessible .
It merits no reiteration that the ‘right to information’ or the ‘right to know’ was also conferred on Indian citizens by the founding fathers of our Constitution as seems to be implicit in the right of freedom of speech and expression conferred under Article 19 ( 1 ) ( a ) . Supreme Court has time and again vindicated this above mentioned fact through its learned judgments . As for instance , the Supreme Court in Secretary , Ministry of Information and Broadcasting , Government of India vs Cricket Association of Bengal , ( 1995 ) 2 SCC 161 has held that the right to freedom of speech and expression includes the right to receive and impart information . Further , the Supreme Court in State of Uttar Pradesh vs Raj Narain ( 1974 ) 4 SCC 428 held that freedom of speech and expression includes right of citizens to know every public act , everything that is done in a public way , by their public functionaries . It was also held that no democratic government can survive without accountability and the basic postulate of accountability is that the people should have information about the functioning of government . In this case , this right to information was explicitly held to be our fundamental right under Article 19 ( 1 ) ( a ) of the Constitution of India for the first time by Justice KK Mathew .
We should not miss out here that right from the start  , the United Nations also accorded the highest esteem to information . In 1946 , at its very first session , the UN General Assembly adopted the Resolution 59 ( 1 ) which postulated that , “Freedom of information is a fundamental human right and the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the UN is consecrated .” Equally important if not more is the fact that Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ( ICCPR ) , 1966 ratified in 1978 very categorically states that , “Every one has the right to freedom of opinion and expression ; the right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek , receive and impart information on ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers .” Further , Article 10 of the Declaration made by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights , 1950 also guarantees , inter-alia , “not only the freedom of the press to inform the public but also the right of the public to be informed .”
It is imperative to mention here that the Law Commission of India in its 179th Report and apart from it , several other Committees laid special focus upon a participatory and meaningful law to ensure access to information . In the 179th Report released in 2001 entitled , “The Public Interest Disclosure and Protection of Informers” , the Law Commission threw the spotlight on the evil of corruption embedded amongst public servants and maladministration and the consequent adverse fallouts thereof to the nation . It also spoke about apart from other things on the right to know , limitations of right to privacy and protection of whistleblowers . The Consumer Education and Research Council , Ahmedabad proposed the first draft RTI law in 1993 . In 1996 , the Press Council of India headed by Justice PB Sawant presented a draft model law on the right to information to the Government of India .
Let me reveal here that the RTI laws were first successfully enacted by the State Governments of Goa ( 1997 ) , Tamil Nadu ( 1997 ) , Rajasthan ( 2000 ) , Karnataka ( 2000 ) , Delhi ( 2001 ) , Maharashtra ( 2002 ) , Assam ( 2002 ) , Madhya Pradesh ( 2003 ) , and Jammu and Kashmir ( 2004 ) . States thus stole a march over the Centre in enacting their own RTI Acts . The Delhi RTI Act is still in force . In fact , Maharashtra and Delhi RTI laws are believed to have been most extensively used . Also , Jammu and Kashmir has its own RTI Act of 2009 which is a successor to the repealed Act 2004 and 2008 amendments . The need to enact a law on RTI was unanimously endorsed in the Chief Ministers Conference on “Effective and Responsive Government” held on 24 May , 1997 at New Delhi .
It must be brought out here that the Central Government taking a cue from those States who had successfully enacted their own RTI laws decided to set up a working group under the chairmanship of HD Shourie , a retired bureaucrat and a dedicated social worker ( Shourie Committee ) and was entrusted with the task of drafting a legislation that would enable the citizens to have access to information which earlier was non-accessible . However , the Shourie draft was later extremely diluted and it became the basis for the Freedom of Information Bill , 2000 . It was passed in December 2002 and received the Presidential assent on January 2003 , as the Freedom of Information Act 2002 . But it never effectively came into force . Here I must also bring out that this Act came under a barrage of scathing criticism for allowing too many exemptions that were not required at all , not only under the oft-repeated standard grounds of national security and sovereignty , but also for requests that would involve “disproportionate diversion of the resources of a public authority” which were disingenuous , to say the least . There was also no upper limit fixed that could be levied on the charges . Not stopping here , there were no penalties for not complying with a request for information and it thus earned the sobriquet of “a toothless tiger” .
I must , however , gracefully acknowledge here that the above named Freedom of Information Act undoubtedly acted as the trigger for a widespread relentless public pressure on Parliament for a better Act on information . I must also acknowledge here that it was Aruna Roy , the noted social activist who submitted a paper which recommended many amendments to the 2002 Freedom of Information Act to the National Advisory Committee ( NAC ) which in turn sent it to the Prime Minister’s Office . Aruna was herself inducted into the NAC which was very powerful extra-constitutional quasi-governmental body headed by Sonia Gandhi . Also , attention is invited of my readers to the fact that in its 38th Report relating to Demands for Grants of the Ministry of Personnel , Public Grievances and Pension , the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs recommended that the Government should take measures for enactment of such legislation .
The first draft of the RTI Bill was presented to the Parliament on 23 December ,  2004 during the winter session of Lok Sabha . It was based mainly on recommendations that were submitted to the government by the NAC . I must disclose here that after a lot of raucous debate in Parliament , more than a hundred amendments to the draft RTI Bill were proposed by various parties across the political aisle between December 2004 and 15 June , 2005 when the President gave his assent to it . Finally , the RTI Act came into effect on 12 October , 2005 . I must also disclose here that this RTI Act , 2005 explicitly overrides the Official Secrets Act and other laws in force to the extent of any inconsistency . It has been rightly observed in the First Report of the Second Administrative Reform Commission that the Right to Information Law of 2005 signals a radical shift in our governance culture and permanently impacts all agencies of the state .
It is an Act 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 , the constitution of a Central Information Commission and State Information Commission and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto . There can be no gainsaying that democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information which are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and to hold Governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed but at the same time the preservation of confidentiality of sensitive information is to be maintained especially when it concerns the national and security interests which are undoubtedly paramount and no body can be above the nation . Due care also has to be taken in such cases where revelation of information in actual practice is likely to conflict with other public interests including efficient operations of the Governments . It is also necessary to harmonise these conflicting interests while preserving the paramountcy of the democratic ideal as is set out in the very object of this Act .
Before proceeding ahead , it is imperative that I spell out “right to information” as defined in the RTI Act . Section 2 ( j ) defines it as : “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 –
( i ) inspection of work , documents , records ;
( ii ) taking notes , extracts or certified copies of documents or records ;
( iii ) taking certified samples of material ;
( iv ) 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 .
Now coming next to what is information ? It is defined in Section 2 ( i ) as “information means any material in any form , including records , documents , memos , e-mails , opinions , advices , press releases , circulars , orders , logbooks , contracts , reports , papers , samples , models , data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force .” Further Section 3 provides that , “Subject to the provisions of this Act , all citizens shall have the right to information .”
Many times I have heard many people asking as to whether the private bodies come within the RTI Act’s ambit ? The answer lies in the landmark decision delivered on 30 November , 2006 in the case of Sarabjit Roy vs DERC in which the Central Information Commission also reaffirmed that privatized public utility companies continue to be within the RTI Act – their privatization notwithstanding .
Now coming to the point of making a request for obtaining information , we must know what Section 6 of the RTI Act says . It says : ( 1 ) “A person , who desires to obtain any information under this Act , shall 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 being made , accompanying such fee as may be prescribed , to –
( a ) the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer , as the case may be , of the concerned public authority ;
( b ) the Central Assistant Public Information Officer or State Assistant Public Information Officer , as the case may be ,
specifying the particulars of the information sought by him or her :
Provided that where such request cannot be made in writing , the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer , as the case may be , shall render all reasonable assistance to the person making the request orally to reduce the same in writing .
( 2 ) An applicant making request for information shall not be required to give any reason for requesting the information or any other personal details except those that may be necessary for contacting him .
( 3 ) Where an application is made to a public authority requesting for an information , –
( i ) which is held by another public authority ; or
( ii ) the subject matter of which is more closely connected with the functions of another public authority ,
the public authority , to which such application is made , shall transfer the application or such part of it as may be appropriate to that other public authority and inform the applicant immediately about such transfer :
Provided that the transfer of an application pursuant to this sub-section shall be made as soon as practicable but in no case later than five days from the date of receipt of the application .”
Rule 3 of the RTI Rules , 2012 stipulates that , “An application under sub-section ( 1 ) of Section 6 of the Act shall be accompanied by a fee of rupees ten and shall ordinarily not contain more than five hundred words , excluding annexures , containing address of the Central Public Information Officer and that of the applicant :
Provided that no application shall be rejected only on the ground that it contains more than five hundred words .”
I would now dish out a specimen form of application for seeking information for the benefit of my readers which I am citing from the book Nabhi’s Right to Information : One Should Know on page 68 .
ANNEXURE 4.III
        SPECIMEN FORM OF APPLICATION FOR SEEKING INFORMATION
ID No.  …………….
( For official use )
To
The Central/State Public Information Officer
………………….
……………………( Name and address of public authority concerned )
1.      Name of the applicant
2.      Address
3.      Particulars of Information –
( a ) Concerned department                                    :
( b ) Particulars of information required
( i ) Details of information required                 :
( ii ) Period for which information asked for    :
( iii ) Other details                                             :
4.      I state that the information sought does not fall within the exemptions contained in section 8 of the Right to Information Act , 2005 and to the best of my knowledge it pertains to your office .
5.      A fee of Rs.  ………………… has been deposited in the office of the Central/State Public Information Officer vide No. ………… dated…………
OR
A Demand Draft/Bankers Cheque No. ………… dt. ………..for Rs………… drawn on………….( name of bank ) favouring Accounts Officer ……………… ( name of office ) , towards payment of fee is enclosed herewith .
Place…………..                                                        Signature of Applicant
Date…………….                                                       E-mail address , if any ……….
Tel. No. ( office ) ……………..
( Residence ) …………………..
Note : ( i ) Reasonable assistance can be provided by the Central/State Public Information Officer in filling up the Form .
( ii ) Please ensure that the Form is complete in all respect and there is no ambiguity in providing the details of information required .
Now I would like to spell out some essentials of filing an RTI application and few sample of questions that can be asked .
Decoding RTI
Essentials of Filing an RTI Application
·         It should have the particulars of the information sought .
·         Address it to the public information officer ( PIO ) of the department concerned .
·         Enclose proof of payment of application fee .
·         Give your name and address .
A Sample of Questions that can be asked for an Individual Problem
I had applied for a …….. ( passport , ration card , driving license , income certificate etc ) on ……….. My application number is ……..
Please provide the following information with respect to my application …..
1.      Please provide a copy of the daily progress report of my application .
2.      Please provide a copy of the file noting on my application .
3.      What is the reason for the delay in processing my application ?
4.      What is the stipulated time-frame within which the ……… ( passport , ration card , driving license , income certificate ) is supposed to be made ? Please provide a copy of the relevant order in this regard .
5.      Please provide the name , designation and contact details of the official responsible for processing my application within the stipulated time-frame .
6.      What action will be taken against the concerned official for not processing my application within the stipulated time frame ?
7.      Please provide the name , designation and contact details of the official to whom I can file a complaint regarding the delay in processing my application .
–          Courtesy The Times of India

Due care has been taken in the  Act to ensure that the disposal of request be done in a proper way and timely . This we can ascertain by going through Section 7 of the Act which is a very long section . It says that , ( 1 ) “Subject to the proviso to sub-section ( 2 ) of section 5 or the proviso to sub-section ( 3 ) of section 6 , the Central Public information Officer or State Public Information Officer , as the case may be , on receipt of a request under section 6 shall , as expeditiously as possible , and in any case within thirty days of the receipt of the request , either provide the information on payment of such fee as may be prescribed or reject the request for any of the reasons specified in sections 8 and 9 :
Provided 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 .
( 2 ) If the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer , as the case may be , fails to give decision on the request for information within the period specified under sub-section ( 1 ) , the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer , as the case may be , shall be deemed to have refused the request .
( 3 ) Where a decision is taken to provide the information on payment of any further fee representing the cost of providing the information , the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer , as the case may be , shall send an intimation to the person making the request , giving –
( a ) the details of further fees representing the cost of providing the information as determined by him , together with the calculations made to arrive at the amount in accordance with fee prescribed under sub-section ( 1 ) , requesting him to deposit that fees , and the period intervening between the despatch of the said intimation and payment of fees shall be excluded for the purpose of calculating the period of thirty days referred to in that sub-section ;
( b ) information concerning his or her right with respect to review the decision as to the amount of fees charged or the form of access provided , including the particulars of the appellant authority , time limit , process and any other forms .
( 4 ) Where access to the record or a part thereof is required to be provided under this Act and the person to whom access is to be provided is sensorily disabled , the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer , as the case may be , shall provide assistance to enable access to the information , including providing such assistance as may be appropriate for the inspection .
( 5 ) Where access to information is to be provided in the printed or in any electronic format , the applicant shall , subject to the provisions of sub-section ( 6 ) , pay such fee as may be prescribed :
Provided that the fee prescribed under sub-section ( 1 ) of section 6 and sub-sections ( 1 ) and ( 5 ) of section 7 shall be reasonable and no such fee shall be charged from the persons who are of below poverty line as may be determined by the appropriate Government .
( 6 ) Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-section ( 5 ) , the person making request for the information shall be provided the information free of charge where a public authority fails to comply with the time limits specified in sub-section ( 1 ) .
( 7 ) Before taking any decision under sub-section ( 1 ) , the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer , as the case may be , shall communicate to the person making the request , –
( i ) the reasons for such rejection ;
( ii ) the period within which an appeal against such rejection may be preferred ; and
(iii ) the particulars of the appellate authority .
( 9 ) An information shall ordinarily be provided in the form in which it is sought unless it would disproportionately divert the resources of the public authority or would be detrimental to the safety or preservation of the record in question .”
Under certain circumstances , the disclosure of information can be refused . RTI Act has not given a blank cheque to citizens to avail of whatever they want to seek without any restriction whatsoever of any kind . To begin with , Section 8 stipulates when there can be exemption from disclosure of information . It lays down that –
( 1 ) “Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act , there shall be no obligation to give any citizen , –
( a ) information , disclosure of 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 ;
( b ) 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 ;
( c ) information , the disclosure of which would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or the State Legislature ;
( d ) information including commercial confidence , trade secrets or intellectual property , the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party , unless the competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information ;
( e ) 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 ;
( f ) information received in confidence from foreign Government ;
( g ) 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 ;
( h ) information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders ;
( i ) 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 ;
( j ) information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest , or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority , as the case may be , is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information :
Provided that the information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person .
( 2 ) Notwithstanding anything in the Official Secrets Act , 1923 ( 19 of 1923 ) nor any of the exemptions permissible in accordance with sub-section ( 1 ) , a public authority may allow access to information , if public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interests .
( 3 ) Subject to the provisions of clauses ( a ) , ( c ) and ( i ) of sub-section ( 1 ) , any information relating to any occurrence , event or matter which has taken place , occurred or happened twenty years before the date on which any request is made under section 6 shall be provided to any person making a request under that section :
Provided that where any question arises as to the date from which the said period of twenty years has to be computed , the decision of the Central Government shall be final , subject to the usual appeals provided for in this Act .
Further , Section 9 lays down that , “Without prejudice to the provisions of section 8 , a Central Public Information Officer or a State Public Information Officer , as the case may be , may reject a request for information where such a request for providing access would involve an infringement of copyright subsisting in a person other than the State .”
Also , Section 24 lays down as to which all organizations it does not apply . It basically stipulates that nothing contained in this Act shall apply to the intelligence and security organisations specified , being organizations established either by Central or State Government provided that the information pertaining to the allegations of corruption and human rights violations shall not be excluded and in case of information sought for is in respect of allegations of violations of human rights , the information shall be provided after the approval of Central Information Commission or State Information Commission and notwithstanding anything contained in section 7 , such information shall be provided within forty-five days from the date of the receipt of the request .
As stated above , Supreme Court has time and again reiterated the right of citizens to know and of information . In Dinesh Trivedi v Union of India , ( 1997 ) 4 SCC 306 , it was held by the Supreme Court that citizens have the right to know about the affairs of the Government , which , having been elected by them , seek to formulate sound policies of governance aimed at their welfare . Also  , in Union of India v Association for Democratic Reforms AIR 2002 SC 2112 , the Supreme Court held that a voter has a right to know about the antecedents of his candidate as a part of his right under Article 19 ( 1 ) ( a ) .
However , in some cases , it has been held otherwise . In Khanapuram Gandaiah v Administrative Officer , 2010 ( 1 ) ID 287 , the Supreme Court held that a judicial officer was not obliged to give any reasons as to why he had taken a particular decision in the matter before him . It was held that a judge could not be expected to give reasons other than those that had been enumerated in the judgment or order .In RK Garg v Ministry of Home Affairs , F. No. CIC/AT/A/2006/00363 , the CIC held that when the file notings by one officer meant for the next officer with whom he may be in a hierarchical relationship , is in the nature of a fiduciary entrustment , it should not ordinarily be disclosed and surely not without the concurrence of the officer preparing the note . In  Manoj Kumar Singh vs Indian Army decided on 21.10.2009 , CIC Digest ( Vol III ) 3339 ( 2633 ) , held that Supreme Court has expressly barred disclosure of ACRs in respect of the Military . The Army Instructions , 1989 , also bar disclosure of ACRs except in special circumstances . In Dev Dutt vs Union of India & Ors. Dated 12.5.2008 , CIC Digest ( Vol. IV ) 4571 ( 48 ) , the Supreme Court has also held that the ACRs of the Military Officers and men are not disclosable , as distinguished from their civilian counterparts . At the inaugural session of the seventh annual convention on RTI held on 13 October , 2012 , the then PM Dr Manmohan Singh observed that there is a fine balance required to be maintained between the right to information and the right to privacy , which stems out of the fundamental right to life and liberty and the citizens’ right to know should definitely be circumscribed if disclosure of information encroaches upon someone’s personal privacy . But he admitted that where to draw the line is a complicated question .
Before dwelling on the provisions pertaining to appeals , let me first for the benefit of my readers dish out the format of Appeal used in Central Information Commission . It is as follows : –
S. No.                                         Particulars Required
1.                     Name and Address of the Appellant with Contact Nos. ( Mobile etc. )
2. ( I )  a) Name and Address of the Central Public Information Officer against the decision
of whom the appeal is preferred ;
b) Date of Application ;
c) Date of reply from PIO/CPIO.
( II )  a) Name and Address of the First Appellate Authority ,
b) Date of First Appeal ,
c) Date of Order Of First Appellate Authority
3.         Particulars of the Order including number , if any , against which the appeal is preferred ;
4.         Brief facts leading to the appeal .
5.         If the appeal if preferred against deemed refusal , the particulars of the application ,
Including number and date name and address of the Central Public Information Officer to
whom the application was made ;
6.         Prayer or Relief Sought ;
7.         Grounds for the Prayer or Relief
8.         Verification by the Appellant
9.          Any other information , which the Commission may deem necessary for deciding the
appeal .
Section 19 deals with appeals and states –
1.      Any person who , does not receive a decision within the time specified in sub-section ( 1 ) or clause ( a ) of sub-section ( 3 ) of section 7 , or is aggrieved by a decision of the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer , as the case may be , may 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 State Public Information Officer , as the case may be , in each public authority :
Provided that such officer may admit the appeal after the expiry of the period of thirty days if he or she is satisfied that the appellant was prevented by sufficient cause from filing the appeal in time .
2.      Where an appeal is preferred against an order made by a Central Public Information Officer or a State public Information Officer , as the case may be , under section 11 to disclose third party information , the appeal by the concerned third party shall be made within thirty days from the date of the order .
3.      A second appeal against the decision under sub-section ( 1 ) shall lie within ninety days from the date on which the decision should have been made or was actually received , with the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission :
Provided that the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission , as the case may be , may admit the appeal after the expiry of the period of ninety days if it is satisfied that the appellant was prevented by sufficient cause from filing the appeal in time .
4.      If the decision of the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer , as the case may be , against which an appeal is preferred relates to information of a third party , the Central Information Commission or State Information Commission , as the case may be , shall give a reasonable opportunity of being heard to that third party .
5.      In any appeal proceedings , the onus to prove that a denial of a request was justified shall be on the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer , as the case may be , who denied the request .
6.      An appeal under sub-section ( 1 ) or sub-section ( 2 ) shall be disposed of within thirty days of the receipt of the appeal or within such extended period not exceeding a total of forty-five days from the date of filing thereof , as the case may be , for reasons to be recorded in writing .
7.      The decision of the Central Information Commission or State Information Commission , as the case be , shall be binding .
8.      In its decision , the Central Information Commission or State Information Commission , as the case may be , has the power to –
( a ) require the public authority to take any such steps as may be necessary to secure compliance with the provisions of this Act , including –
( i ) by providing access to information , if so requested , in a particular form ;
( ii ) by appointing a Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer , as the case may be ,
( iii ) by publishing certain information or categories of information ;
( iv ) by making necessary changes to its practices in relation to the maintenance , management and destruction of records ;
( v ) by enhancing the provision of training on the right to information for its officials ;
( vi ) by providing it with an annual report in compliance with clause ( b ) of sub-section ( 1 ) of section 4 ;
( b ) require the public authority to compensate the complainant for any loss or other detriment suffered ;
( c ) impose any of the penalties provided under this Act ;
( d ) reject the application .
9.      The Central Information Commission or State Information Commission , as the case may be , shall give notice of its decision , including any right of appeal , to the complainant and the public authority .
10.  The Central Information Commission or State Information Commission , as the case may be , shall decide the appeal in accordance with such procedure as may be prescribed .”
Section 20 of the Act provides for penalties . It envisages that where the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission , as the case may be , at the time of deciding any complaint or appeal is of the opinion that the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer , as the case may be , has , without any reasonable cause , refused to receive an application for information or has not furnished information within the time specified under sub-section ( 1 ) of section 7 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 rupees each day till application is received or information is furnished , so however , the total amount of such penalty shall not exceed twenty-five thousand rupees and shall recommend for disciplinary action against the Central Public Information Officer ( CPIO ) or the State Public Information Officer , as the case may be , under the service rules applicable to him . But it has also been provided that they shall be given a reasonable opportunity of being heard before any penalty is imposed and the burden of proving that he acted reasonably and diligently shall be on them . In one of its earliest rulings , the CIC in Ravinder Kumar v MCD , Complaint No. CIC/WB/A/2006/00008 held that under Section 20 ( 1 ) of the RTI Act , the Information Commission before imposing a penalty upon the PIO , must satisfy itself that the CPIO has without reasonable cause :
1.      Refused to receive an application
2.      Not furnished information within the specified time limit
3.      ‘Malafidely’ denied information
4.      Knowingly given incorrect , incomplete or misleading information
5.      Destroyed information or obstructed giving information .
Also , I must state here that when there are separate applications and there is an imposition of penalty , it shall be imposed on the PIO for each of the applications as was decided in Pramila Sharma v Daulat Ram College Appeal No. CIC/OK/A/2006/00013 in which the CIC imposed a penalty of Rs 1,25,000 as there were five separate RTI applications . Further , in DP Shukla v All India Radio 2009 ( 1 ) ID 128 ( CIC , New Delhi ) where the appellant had travelled in Delhi from Lucknow for the hearing but the PIO was not present to explain the case and in view of the harassment caused to the appellant , the commission ordered a compensation of Rs 2000 to be paid to the appellant by the department concerned .
Public servants must be better trained on how to dispose off the RTI applications at the earliest . People especially those who are poor and backward must also be imparted free training by the government on how to fill up the RTI forms and rightfully avail of their legal remedies because all said and done , the law on RTI has been made for their benefit . More State level workshops and primarily those at the village level should be organized regularly or at least once in few months so that the villagers are also made RTI literate . They must be informed that it is the bounden duty of the concerned public servant to disclose the information which they want unless it is expressly barred . On that score too they must be educated that what all information they cannot get as they are expressly barred by the RTI Act . Let me disclose here that under the Section 7 ( 5 ) proviso , no fee is required to be paid by applicants who are persons below the poverty line . However , Rule 5 of RTI Rules , 2012 stipulates that the applicant should submit a proof in support of his claim to belong to the below poverty line .
Section 26 of the RTI Act also contains provisions providing for educating and training not only the Central Public Information Officers and State Public Information Officer but also that of the public and in particular of the disadvantaged communities . Without doubt , RTI Act has armed citizens with the most potent tool which has the potential to herald tremendous changes in the lives of a common man . Now it is entirely up to them as to how much they use it not only for their own benefit but also for the benefit of the entire society .
Having said this , I must also bring out here that just making laws is not enough . Its effective implementation is more important . What is most important is that RTI activists who champion public cause must be protected which most unfortunately has not been the case . Time and again , we keep reading in newspapers while sipping through a cup of tea as to who brutally RTI activist get murdered brutally in broad daylight . They have to be protected under all circumstances as they are a rare species of honest breed which we rarely get to see these days ! We all know very well as to how Amit Jethwa was killed on 20 July , 2010 for exposing illegal mining in the Gir area of the Saurashtra region ! Similarly Datta Patil was killed on 20 May , 2010 for exposing bogus registration of co-operative societies and inquiry into two local police officers ! The list is just endless ! However , most depressing to note is that our Government is not waking up and ensuring proper security for those who face threat from powerful mafias , tycoons and other criminals ! Unless this is done , RTI Act is more or less meaningless , in my personal opinion ! Let’s hope fervently that we witness some radical changes in this direction!
Of course, RTI Act has armed citizens with the most potent tool and has heralded a new revolution which emables citizens to know what they ought to know! It cannot be denied that it has enabled citizens to know what earlier they could never have known! But RTI activists must always be protected from all such goons who want to eliminate them and pose the biggest threat to their very survival!
Sanjeev Sirohi

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