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RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT, 2005

Introduction: The Right to Information Act, 2005 (“the Act”) came into force on 12th October 2005. The main objectives of this Act is to ensure greater and more effective access to information, maintain transparency and to improve accountability in the working of the public departments both Central and State. The Act extends to the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Right to Information: The Act defines “right to information” as the right to access information which is held or is under the control of a public authority [Sec. 2 (j)]. Right to information means, the right to access and obtain information held by a public authority as accessible under the Act and includes the right to —
  1. inspect works, documents, records.
  2. take notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records.
  3. take certified samples of material.
  4. obtain information in form of printouts, diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts.
Section 3 of the Act provides that subject to the provisions of the Act, all citizens shall have the right to information which shall be enforceable against the public authorities. Public Authority is defined in Section 2(h) of the Act as follows : Any authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted:
  1. by or under the Constitution;
  2. by any other law made by the Parliament;
  3. by any other law made by the State legislature;
  4. by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government, and includes any –
    1. body owned, controlled or substantially financed;
    2. non-government organization substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government.
Public Information Officers (PIO's): PIOs are officers designated by the public authorities in all administrative units or offices under it to provide information to the citizens requesting for information under the Act. PIO on receipt of a request, shall as soon as possible, and in any case within 30 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 Section 8 or Section 9 of the Act. Where the information requested for, concerns the life or liberty of a person, the same is to be provided within forty-eight hours of the receipt of the request since Article 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantees protection of life and personal liberty to all persons. Procedure: A person who wishes to exercise this right can make a request for information in writing or electronic means to the public authority along with the prescribed fee which varies depending upon the nature of the information sought. The request for information must be made either in English or Hindi or in the official language of the area in which the application is being made and the applicant is not required to state any reason for requesting the information or any other personal details except those that may be necessary for contacting him. A person can seek information about the status of his applications or complaints regarding his passport, ration card, electricity and water connections etc. The Act prescribes the time limit within which the PIO must provide the information as requested by the applicant failing which the PIO will invite trouble. In fact the law also contains a provision which states that the information must be provided free of charge where a public authority fails to comply with the time limits specified in Sec. 7(1). The PIO must render all reasonable assistance to the applicant in providing the information as per the Act. In case if the PIO rejects the request, it is the duty of the PIO to communicate the same alongwith the reasons and the time limit within which the appeal against such rejection is to be made and the particulars of the appellate authority. Third Party Information: Section 11 of the Act deals with third party information which means a person invoking this right before a public authority seeking information which is submitted to the government in confidence by another person. 'Third Party' means a person other than the citizen making a request for information and includes a public authority. Where the PIO intends to disclose any information or record concerning third party, he must give a written notice to such third party of his intention to disclose and invite the third party to make a submission either in writing or orally thereby giving him an opportunity to make representation against the proposed disclosure. Thereafter the PIO has the powers to decide whether to disclose the information of a third party or not. Exempted Information : The PIO need not provide information which are exempted from disclosure under section 8 of the Act such as, information the disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the state, information which are expressly forbidden to be published by any court or tribunal or such disclosure may constitute contempt of court or the information the disclosure of which would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or the state legislature, information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, information received in confidence from Foreign Govt., personal information which would invade privacy of a person unless larger public interest is involved. Authorities Excluded from providing information: According to Section 24, the Act is not applicable to certain organizations which are listed in the Second Schedule such as Intelligence and security organization established by the Central Government. Agencies specified by the State Governments through a Notification will also be excluded. The exclusion, however, is not absolute and these organizations have an obligation to provide information pertaining to allegations of corruption and human rights violations. Further, information relating to allegations of human rights valuations could be given but only with the approval of the Central or State Information Commission, as the case may be. Partial disclosure allowed: Section 10 of the Act provides that only that part of the record which does not contain any information which is exempt from disclosure and which can reasonably be severed from any part that contains exempt information, may be provided. Conclusion: All the information which is under the custody of a public authority must be disclosed by the public authorities as and when a request is made irrespective of whether the applicant is in need of it or not. There is no doubt that every public authority must maintain transparency in order to prevent corruption in their departments but at the same time the spirit of the law must not be misused in order to harass or trouble the officials of the public departments who are performing an additional duty keeping in mind that they are not particularly recruited for the purpose of providing information under the Act and the applicants do not have any obligation except payment of a nominal fee.
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