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Right to Information Act (RTI): Symbol of Hope for Common Man
seema tyagi 23 Jan 2017

Right to Information Act (RTI): Symbol of Hope for Common Man

Right to Information Act (RTI): Symbol of Hope for Common Man

In a revolutionary move, hailed as a legislation that has the power to transform the way the government functions under Indian Constitution, the RTI Act is a symbol of hope for a more transparent and more accountable government at highest level.

The Act can place the power of knowledge in the hands of Indian citizens if it is utilized in a proper manner. What it really means, to how you can file an RTI application – here is everything you need to know:

What is the RTI Act?

The Right to Information Act (RTI), 2005 is an Act of the Parliament of India “to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens.” Simply put, it allows citizens of the country to request information from any public authority about its work, actions, etc and make our democracy work for the people in real sense. The Act is a big step towards making the citizens informed about the activities of the Government.

Why is RTI Matters?

For common man, the Right to Information Act is considered to be one of the strongest pieces of legislation and an Instrument for Stronger and Vibrant Democratic Process in India. It gives citizens the power to question public authorities and their activities, thereby not only promoting transparency, but demanding accountability as well. The Act is considered a landmark legislation in the fight against corruption.

The Act emanates from what the Indian Constitution guarantees itself. Under Article 19 (1) (a) the Constitution guarantees every citizen freedom of speech and expression with certain restrictions. Logically to allow the exercise of freedom of speech and expression effectively the country needs an informed civil society.

Reasons why the RTI is a powerful weapon for common citizens:

  • Empowering the Common Citizen - The RTI, just by giving information, turns an Aam Aadmi into an activist — an activist, whose blood boils due to the corruption. Supreme Court observed that in a responsible government as ours, where all the agencies of public service must be responsible for their conduct, there can be only few confidential matters. The people of the country have a right to know the details about the functionaries’ function.

             Link: Supreme Court Judgment Copy

  • Political Parties do not want to be accountable- According to the Central Information Commission’s ruling, political parties directly qualify as public organizations under the ambit of RTI, by virtue of substantial subsidization and government spending on them. While the end result of a political party is to cater to the needs of the public, it is only logical that the public has the every right to know about parties’ source of funding and choice of candidature. However, there have been efforts to amend the RTI to keep the Political Parties away from the reach of people.
  • Brings down Corruption-  India at rank 76 out of 168 countries in its latest Corruption Perception Index. according to the 2015 CorruptionPerceptions Index reported by Transparency International. Since 1947, the country has lost a whopping $462 billion via illicit financial flows due to tax-evasion, crime and post-independence-corruption. Not surprisingly, even government policies don’t escape corruption. With RTI empowering citizens, even a villager in a nook of India, when endowed with the information, could pose a threat to illegal operations. Hence, the RTI, indirectly, shrinks the extent of corruption by having records of public organizations at the disposal of its citizens.
  • Protecting Whistle-blowers-The success of RTI lies in ensuring that whistle-blowers are amply incentivized and secure from threats — something that’s evidently lacking; the statistics stand testimony to that.

Bodies covered under the RTI Act

Bodies which are covered by the Central Act are referred to as "Public Authorities". Section 2(h) of the Central Act clarifies the term "Public Authorities" mean:

  • All Central, State and local level bodies which are set up under the Constitution or under any other State or Central statue. This means that it covers the President, the legislature and the judiciary and all related Ministries, departments and agencies.
  • Anybody owned, controlled or substantially financed or any non-Government organization substantially financed directly or indirectly by Government. This means that even some private bodies which receive funding from the Government can be asked for information. 

Unfortunately, section 24(1) of the Central Act goes on to limit coverage by entirely excluding some bodies from the law such as security or intelligence agencies. Section 24 actually allows Governments to add bodies to the list of exempt agencies, so you should consider checking whether any such Rules have been made where you are considering making an application to a security or intelligence agency. 

At the State level, coverage is variable, with some laws covering more bodies than others. Most of the State Acts do not cover private bodies, so you may not be able to access information from a private telephone company or electricity body. 

If you believe that your application relates to more than one body, you should try to decide which body you think has the closest connection with the information you are seeking and then send your application to them. In any case, the relevant body should be under a duty to consult with any other relevant body to make sure that all the necessary information is collected. Notably, the Central Act actually includes a specific requirement that applications which are directed to the wrong body are transferred to the body which does hold the information. This recognises that the public should not be expected to chase lots of different bodies because this will be costly and complicated.

 

Method of filing an RTI application:

An RTI application can be filed in one of three ways: 

  • Online: Visit rtionline.gov.in and login to file an RTI.
  • Via post: send your application to the concerned department via speed post or registered post.
  •  In person: Visit the Public Information Officer/ First Appellate Authority (FAA) of the concerned department and he/she will guide you further. 

For example, if you reside in Bangalore and have queries about the water supply in your area, you can approach the municipal body in charge of supplying water to your area (in this case, the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board), either through their website or at their office

How do I file an RTI application?

The procedure to file for an RTI is fairly simple. There are two types of Appeal which are as follows: 

Procedure for first appeal 

  • Identify which department your query concerns and who the Public Information Officer/ First Appellate Authority (FAA) there is.

          For Central Public Authorities, check out this website. For State Public Information Officers, go here.

  • Write a simple, to-the-point application form detailing your questions clearly. Also mention ‘Seeking information under the RTI Act, 2005’ in your subject line 
  • Pay the fee of Rs. 10. Payment can be made via Demand Draft or Indian Postal Order or can even be submitted to the treasury. Proof of payment (such as challans and receipts) must be enclosed with the application. Online options for the payment are also available here
  • Submit the application either via post, online or in person. 

Important Note :

Please take a photocopy of the application and keep one with you for future reference. Send your application by post or hand it in personally to the department concerned. Don’t forget to get an acknowledgement.

 

When can I expect a response to my RTI request?

By law, RTIs must be replied:

  • First Appellate Authority (FAA) has to decide on the appeal within 30 days, from the date of receipt of first appeal. She/he can take a further 15 days (total 45 days), provided they give the reasons for the delay in writing.
  • 48 hours for information concerning the life and liberty of a person
  • 5 days shall be added to the above response time, in case the application for information is given to Assistant Public Information Officer.

  

RTI - Second Appeal 

However, if the appellate authority (FAA) fails to pass an order on the appeal, within the prescribed period, or if the petitioner is not satisfied with the order of the first appellate authority. They have the option of escalation to file a second appeal, with the Central Information Commission. The second appeal must be 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. 

The appeal made to the Central Information Commission (CIC) should contain the following information:

1. Name and address of the appellant.

2. Name and address of the Public Information Officer, whose decision is being appealed.

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 is preferred against deemed refusal, particulars of the application including number and date and name and address of the Public Information Officer, to whom the application was made and relief sought.

6. Grounds for the relief sought.

7. Any other information that you think will help the Commission in deciding the appeal.

 

The appeal made to the Informational Commission should be accompanied by the following

Documents: 

1. Self-attested copies of the order or documents against which appeal is made.

2. Copies of the documents relied upon by the appellant and referred to in the appeal.

3. An index of the documents referred to in the appeal.

 

Scams The RTI Act Helped Bust In past decade 

  • The Adarsh Housing Society :

The Adarsh Housing Society, a 31-storey building, which came up in the prime real estate area of Colaba, Mumbai, was originally meant to provide residence for war widows ,veterans and heroes of the 1999 Kargil War, were used to house politicians, bureaucrats and their relatives.

 

Just after the RTI came into force, activists Simpreet Singh and Yogacharya Anand ji in 2008 exposed how politicians, bureaucrats and military officials had flouted rules to acquire flats below market rates, which culminated in the resignation of Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, whose own relatives were allottees in the building.

 

  •  2G Scam :

In 2011, India's telecom scandal aka the 2G scam clinched the second spot in Time Magazine's "Top 10 Abuses of Power" list. Back then Telecom Minister A Raja undercharged mobile phone companies for frequency allocation licenses and caused a loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore to the Indian government, an RTI application by Subhash Chandra Agrawal revealed that Raja had a "15-minute-long" meeting with then solicitor-general Goolam E Vahanvati in December 2007 after which a "brief note was prepared and handed over to the minister", but the minutes of the meeting were not recorded.

 

 

  • Commonwealth Games Scam :

India was still reeling from the 2G Scam, when it was hit by the dubious dealings of Suresh Kalmadi, a lawmaker from Pune. The report said that an RTI application filed by non-profit Housing and Land Rights Network showed that the then Delhi government had diverted Rs 744 crore from social welfare projects for Dalits to the Commonwealth Games from 2005-06 to 2010-11. The diversion of Dalit funds during the CWG triggered further investigations. Using budget documents and RTI, the National Coalition For SCSP-TSP Legislation, an umbrella organisation of Dalit and Adivasi groups, figured out that a staggering 5,27,723.72 crores worth of funds had been denied to Dalits and Tribals from the seventh to twelfth five year plans (till 2014-15) in the Union Budget.

 

  • Billionaire Anil Agarwal's University In Orissa :

In April 2006, Anil Agarwal, chairman of the Vedanta Group, set about acquiring land in Orissa to establish a Rs15,000 crore university on 15,000 acres of land, which was to rival universities like Stanford and Cambridge. The Naveen Patnaik government lost no time in granting 8,000 acres of land to the Anil Agarwal Foundation, and promised to acquire an additional 7,000 acres for the project along the Puri-Konark Marine Drive.

Challenging the acquisition in the Orissa High Court, land owners obtained a document under the RTI which showed that the government never given them an opportunity to be heard under an enquiry mandated under the Land Acquisition (Companies) Rules, 1963, before land is acquired.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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