This legislation may be termed as one of the rarest legislations in the Indian Legal History which provides for setting out the practical regime of ‘Right to Information’ for Citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities and in order to promote transparency & accountability in the working of every public authority, the constitution of a Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
This Legislation will prove to be a ‘Landmark’, since it is enacted NOT for the people to follow but for the Government to follow.
Through this legislation, the Government has made an attempt to administer itself, be answerable to the people & penalize itself for lacking in providing the required information and regain people’s lost confidence in the bureaucratic system and setup.
Extent and Commencement:
This Act extends to the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir. This Act of Parliament received the assent of the President of India on the 15th June, 2005.
Some Important Definitions:
1. Information [Section 2(f)]:
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.
2. Record [Section 2(i)]:
(a) any document, manuscript and file;
(b) any microfilm, microfiche and facsimile copy of a document;
(c) any reproduction of image or images embodied in such microfilm
(whether enlarged or not)
(d) any other material produced by a computer or any other device.
3. Right to Information [Section 2(j)]:
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.
4. Public Authority [Section 2(h)]:
Public Authority means any authority or body or institution of self- government established or constituted-
(a) by or under the Constitution;
(b) by any other law made by Parliament;
(c) by any other law made by State Legislature;
(d) by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government,
and includes any-
(i) body owned, controlled or substantially financed;
(ii) non-Government organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government;
Exemption from disclosure of information [Section 8]:
Like any other legislation, this Act also provides for exemptions to the Government from disclosure of information regarding information – which would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or the State Legislature / harm the competitive position of a third party / endanger the life or physical safety of any person / impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders / weaken confidence of the Foreign Government / Disclose the Records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers, Secretaries and other Officers / relates to personal information 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 / involve infringement of copyright.
IMPACT: To hide or avoid giving the required information demanded, the Officers of the concerned Public Authorities may resort to take advantage of these Exemptions. Hence it may be necessary for the ‘Information Seeker’ to be clear in his mind about the exact interpretation of the provisions and exemptions so that he may not be taken for a ride by the officials and can claim his Right to information rightfully.
Administration of the Act [Section 12]:
A body to be known as the ‘Central Information Commission’ is constituted to exercise the powers conferred on, and to perform the functions assigned to, it under this Act. The Central Information Commission shall consist of- The Chief Information Commissioner and such number of Central Information Commissioners as may be deemed necessary.
Every State Government shall constitute a body to be known as the _____________ (name of the State) Information Commission to exercise the powers conferred on, and to perform the functions assigned to, it under this Act. The State Information Commission shall consist of- The State Chief Information Commissioner and such number of State Information Commissioners as may be deemed necessary.
The Central Information Commission or State Information Commission shall, while inquiring into any matter under this section, have the same powers as are vested in a civil court while trying a suit under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.
Every public authority shall designate as many officers as the Central Public Information Officers or State Public Information Officers, as the case may be, in all administrative units or offices under it as may be necessary to provide information to persons requesting for the information under this Act. Every public authority shall designate an officer at each sub-divisional level or other sub-district level as a Central Assistant Public Information Officer or a State Assistant Public Information Officer, as the case may be, to receive the applications for information or appeals under this Act for forwarding the same forthwith to the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or senior officer specified or the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission, as the case may be.
Timeframes within which the desired information should be made available by the concerned Public Authority:
A person who desires to obtain any information 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.
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.
On receipt of a request the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer 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 a reason. If the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer fails to give decision on the request for information within the said period it shall be deemed to have refused the request. 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.
IMPACT: Making requests for information through electronic means may not be easy practically, since not all the Public Authority offices are fully computerized and may not have computer savvy staff. The urban class who may resort to make request through electronic means may get discouraged. Explanations like, ‘Computer error’, ‘Server down’ may be resorted to, for avoiding furnishing of information.
Penalties for not making available the desired information:
If without any reasonable cause, the concerned Officer refuses 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, a penalty of two hundred and fifty 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 shall be imposed and / or disciplinary action against the concerned Officer may be taken. Provided that the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, shall be given a reasonable opportunity of being heard before any penalty is imposed or disciplinary action is taken against him.
The enactment of the Right to Information Act, 2005 makes a noteworthy attempt to streamline the working of the Public Authorities in respect of providing information to the people. The Authorities will require being technology savvy, alert and need to imbibe in them the not before attitude, of being answerable to the citizens. The Public Authorities will now require tightening their belts so as to serve the people and truly contribute to the Information Technology era. As for the citizens, this Act makes them aware of their one of the Constitutional Rights – Right to Information and gives them the opportunity to exercise it in good faith.