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Right to Information Act, 2005

A democratic government is of the people, for the people by the people. People’s involvement in the governmental activities is an important aspect of administration as the government is accountable only to the people. Therefore, the people should be aware of what the government is doing and in what ways.

The Right to Information is an initiative for the people to find out about all constitutional authorities, including the executive, legislature and judiciary and any other body or institution established by legislation. The RTI Act was passed in 2005 to provide the right to citizens to seek government related information. The Government has set up various Public Information Officers, Assistant Public Information Officers and State and Central Information Commission to carry out this task. The citizens have the right to make any query to the PIOs and if they have any grievances with regard to the procurement of information, they can complain to the Commissions[1]. Under Section 8 of the Act, however, no information can be provided if the information sought affects the sovereignty and integrity of the nation or affects foreign relations with other countries or has been expressly forbidden by any court or tribunal, or violates legislative privilege or privacy of any individual or has been obtained in a fiduciary capacity[2].

The Act sought to override the provisions of the Official Secrets Act, 1889, further amended in 1923, all under the British rule, that restricted the flow of information relating to public authorities[3]. The Act is applicable in all of India, to the exclusion of Jammu and Kashmir, which has its own state law.

Any person desiring to obtain information has to make an application with the prescribed fee to the concerned PIO[4] and is not obligated to reveal any information other than his contact[5]. A time limit of 30 days is given for the reply, and if no reply is received, the information is deemed refused[6]. If information is refused, the applicant can make an appeal to the Information Commissions[7].

Statistics shows that a total of 9.17 lakh applications were made in the year 2016-17[8], a drop of 6.1% from 9.76 lakhs in 2015-16. Application made in the Union Territories numbered 1.23 lakhs in 2016-17. Further, refusal of application came down by 6.59% in the same year. A total of 26,267 application were refused for reasons other than those under Section 8, 9 and 24. The Ministry of Finance received the highest number of application numbering 1.51 lakhs. The PMO saw a rise of 13% more application, nearly 12,787.

The judiciary has played a major role in the upholding and interpretation of the RTI Act. In the case of Secretary General Supreme Court of India v Subshash Chandra Agarwal[9], the Delhi High Court held that the right to information is not only sourced from the RTI Act, but from the fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution itself. Some of the landmark cases of recent are:
1. Adesh Kumar v Union of India[10] (2014): In this case, the petitioner was denied information under the RTI Act by the PIO. The Delhi Court had held that whether the information sought by an applicant was relevant or not cannot be a ground for refusal to provide information since every citizen has the right to information.

2. Harinder Dhingra Vs. Bar Associations, Rewari, Faridabad, Punchkula[11] (2016): In this case, the CIC ruled that the Bar Council is a statutory body and is obligated to disclose information under the RTI Act.

3. Girish Ramchandra Deshpande vs. Central Information Commission & Ors.[12] (2012): The Supreme Court had held that details in the income tax returns of a person are personal information and stand exempted from the purview of this Act unless and until it is for the benefit of the larger public interest.

4. Vishwas Bhamburkar v. PIO, Housing & Urban Development Corporation Ltd.[13] (2018): The CIC in this case held that the lack of Aadhar card was not a ground for refusal of information when suspicion as to applicant’s identity is unfounded.

5. Shahzad Singh v Department of Posts[14] (2018): The CIC held that the excuse of ‘missing files’ was not valid as such an excuse is a major threat to transparency, accountability and a violation of the RTI Act. Any controversial questions will not be answered by citing this excuse.

To conclude, the RTI Act provides every citizen with the right to information. Public authorities work for the people and they must also be accountable to the public. Any citizen can ask for information relating to any public authority provided it does not fall under the list of exempted information.

End-Notes
[1] Section 18, Right to Information Act, 2005
[2] All Answers ltd, 'Indian Right to Information Act' (Lawteacher.net, August 2018) accessed 15 August 2018
[3] Section 22, supra
[4] Section 6(1), supra
[5] Section 6(2), supra
[6] Section 7, supra
[7] Section 19, supra
[8] http://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/blog/cic-reports-more-than-6-dip-in-the-total-number-of-rti-applications-received-by-central-government (last accessed 15 August 2018)
[9] AIR 2010 Del 159
[10] W.P.(C) No.3543/2014
[11] CIC/SA/A/2015/001262, 1263, 1264, 1265
[12] SLP (Civil) No. 27734 of 2012
[13] CIC/HUDCO/A/2017/195197
[14] CIC/POSTS/A/2016/299355

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