The Right to Information Act was enacted in 2005 by the Government of India. This was widely praised by the people as it would be a step forward in being more transparent about the working of all the departments and bodies which are being controlled or being funded by the Government of India. The preamble of the Act states 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”. This act allows citizens to be informed about the Government and having transparency between the Government is vital, especially in the world’s largest democracy.
It has been said that knowledge is power and without the knowledge about the proper facts and information, the citizen would not be able to partake or understand the policies or would not be able to hold the government liable. However, departments that deal with the defense and the security of the state do not come under the scope of the Right to Information Act.
The RTI Process
As per the legislation, every office which works as a “public authority” must appoint a Public Information Officer (PIO) and a First Appellate Authority (FAA). An application for information, which is usually known as an RTI Application is filed in the office of the Public Information Officer, who then has to respond to the application within a period of 30 days from the date of filing the RTI. Along with the application, a certain amount of fees is charged from the applicant at the time of filing the RTI.
If the information sought by the applicant of the RTI is not received within 30 days of filing the RTI or if the information received is incomplete, he can file an appeal in the office of the First Appellate Authority (FAA) within 30 days of receiving the information if he believes that the provided information is incomplete. If within 60 days of filing the RTI he still does not receive any information, then also he can file an appeal in the FAA. The FAA must come up with an order within 30 days and this time frame of 30 days can be extended to 45 days, if they provide the reasons for the delay, in writing.
The Central Information Commission
The CIC has been provided with various powers to effectively implement the RTI Act. It has been given the powers of a Civil Court by the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 by which it can summon and enforce the attendance of persons and the CIC can also compel them to provide evidence or documents as required which may be required for inspection. It can also summon witnesses for receiving affidavits on evidence or for any other purpose. The CIC also has the power to examine any record to which the RTI Act applies along with certain exceptions. The CIC also has the power to award compensation to an applicant who has suffered a loss or detriment and the concerned public authority is liable to pay the compensation.
The Central Information Commission can also impose a penalty on the Public Information Officers in case of a public information officer refuses to accept an RTI Application if the PIO does not respond within the time period specified by the act if there is a malafide refusal to the RTI Application by the PIO if the PIO intentionally gives incorrect, incomplete, or misleading information if the PIO destroys the information which had been sough and if the PIO obstructed in any manner in providing the information.
Right to Information is one of the most prominent tools of bringing transparency and accountability to the public authorities. Apart from promoting transparency, it has also helped in bringing down the rampant corruption in the public sector. The Act has affirmed the right of every person to access governmental records and information by guaranteeing a powerful, timely, effective, and affordable mechanism to avail the right to information in a meaningful manner.