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All You Need To Know About Right To Information

The Right to Information is guaranteed by the Constitution of India under the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019 that amends the Right to Information Act, 2005. RTI Act has been made by legislation of Parliament of India on 15 June 2005. The Act came into effect on 12 October 2005 and has been implemented ever since to provide information to crores of Indian citizens.

All the constitutional authorities come under this Act, making it one of the most powerful laws of the country. The public authorities, under this act, are required to disclose the various aspects of the functioning and structures.

This includes disclosures on:
  1. Their organisations, functions, and structure
  2. Financial information. And
  3. Powers and duties of its employees and officers.
Essentially, the reason why these suo moto disclosures are made is that they should need minimum recourse through the Act to obtain such information. In case this information is not made available citizens. Have the right to request for it from the Authorities. This may include information in the form of documents, files, or electronic records under the control of the Public Authority. The intent behind the enactment of the Act is to promote transparency and accountability in the working of Public Authorities.

Before discussing this topic any further, let us understand what the terms 'information' and 'public authorities' means.

The concept of information under the Act has been given a wide scope. It has been defined in detail including the various modes and forms of information which can be accessed under the right to information. Since it is the key theme of the Act, its various connotations, forms and dimensions have been incorporated in the Act.

"Information" means any material in any form, including records, documents, manuscripts, files, 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.

'Public Authorities' include bodies of self-government established under the Constitution, or under any law or government notification. For instance, these include Ministries, public sector undertakings, and regulators. It also includes any entities owned, controlled or substantially financed and non-government organizations substantially financed directly or indirectly by funds provided by the government.[i]

Movement And Development Of Rti And Its Place In The Constitution

The Constitution of India does not explicitly grant a right to information. However, the Supreme Court of India has held in several cases that the right to information is implicit in the constitutionally enshrined Right to Life and Liberty in Article 21 supported by the Right to Constitutional Remedies in Article 32 which provides the right to approach the Supreme Court and High Court in case of any of these rights.

Dynamic interpretation of these Articles by the Supreme Court over the years has led to the development of the Rule of Law in India. The legal position has develop over a period of time through several court decisions.

In the absence of clear legislation on the right to information, the only resort left to the citizens was to knock at the doors of the courts every time they wanted to enforce this right.

In 1993, the Consumer Education and Research Council, Ahmedabad proposed a draft RTI Law. The Press Council of India headed by Justice P.B. Sawant presented a draft model law on the right to information to the Government of India in the year 1996.

The first Legislation in India enacted as the 'Freedom of Information Act,2002' which enabled a citizen of India to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, died in womb as the infrastructure required to make it operational could not be fully established. The Freedom of Information[ii] Act, 2002 was repealed and replaced by a new legislation "The Right to Information Bill, 2005" which was introduced in Lok Sabha on 23.12.2004.

Right to Information (RTI), 2005 received the assent of the President on 15.06.2005 (published in the Gazette of India Ext. Pt. II, S.1 dated 21.06 2005 ) and came into force on 12.10.2005 though some sections like Sections 4(1), 5(1), 5(2), 12, 13, 15, 16, 24, 27 and 28 came into force with immediate effect. It extends to the whole of India except the State of Jammu & Kashmir.

"Right to Information" means the right to information accessible under RTI, 2005 which is held by or under the control of any public authority. Any citizen is entitled to obtain information under this law, inspect work, documents, reports held by Public Authorities or even information relating to private authorities under the control of the Public Authorities. Citizen are entitled to take notes, extracts, certified copies of records and documents as also obtain information in the form of diskettes, floppies or in any other electronic mode or through print-outs where such information is stored in a computer or in any other device [sec. 2(j)].

It has been realized that RTI Act, 2005 will be in the interests of both the stake holders of the political system, that is, information providers' viz., the government and all the other public organizations and the information seekers, viz., the members of the public. It is expected to promote transparency and accountability in public administration and thus help in improving the decision making process, as also in reducing corruption, nepotism and casteism.

This will enhance manifold the credibility of the government. On the other hand, it will provide an empowering tool in the hands of the public through which they will secure access to information which enable them to make informed choices and thus facilitate individual participation in public affairs and also enable them to assert their democratic rights more effectively. In other words, RTI act,2005 has given due recognition to the fact that the right of access to information is the life-blood of a democracy since paucity of information stunts the development of a people as it deprives them of the opportunity to grow up to their optimum potential.[iii]

Filing An RTI

  • Process of filing an RTI
    The process of filing an RTI is hassle free. This is the step by step procedure which is to be followed to file an RTI.
    1. Write or type an application in English, Hindi or any official language of the state. Some states have a format prescribed which needs to be followed for these applications. This application needs to be addressed to the Public Information Officer (PIO) of the concerned department.
    2. The questions which are asked in this application need to be specific, clear and complete, which avoids the monotonousness.
    3. The application should include personal information like the full name of the filer, contact details and address. This is where the information or response would be sent for the RTI which was filed.
    4. It is recommended that a photocopy of this application in made for the record of the person who's filing it and it is advisable to send it via registered post, so as to have an acknowledgement of the request's delivery. If the application is submitted in person to the PIO, an acknowledgement should be taken from them.
  • Online filing of RTI
    Currently, Central and a few State government departments have facility for filing Online RTI. However, there are multiple independent websites that let you file your application online. They charge you a nominal amount, for which they draft your application and send it to the relevant department. This is as good as sending an RTI application without having to worry about the particulars.[iv]

Which Government Organizations Can Be Held Liable

All government agencies, whether they are under a state government or the Centre, come under the purview of the Act, like Municipal Corporations, PSUs (Public Sector Units), Government departments, Ministries at the State as well as Central level, Judiciary, Government owned Companies, Government Universities, Government Schools, Works Departments, Road Authorities, Provident Fund department etc. The list is quite an exhaustive one.

Through filing an RTI you can ask a government the following kinds of question:
  1. How much money is being spent on renovation of its ministers' bungalows;
  2. What their telephone bill or fuel expenditure is;
  3. What amount was spent on MLAs'/MPs' foreign trips;
  4. How much of allocated money your elected representatives have utilized on improving their constituency;
  5. Even a break-up of the amount spent, project-wise, etc.

This RTI information is available because it is the taxpayers' money that is being spent here. Few ministries and departments make online RTI replies available to the public. One can see them on the respective websites.

Not only governments and their departments, but also smaller units such as your city corporation or gram panchayat fall under the ambit of RTI. Be it police, passport office, your electricity/water supply company or even the IRCTC, all are required to furnish RTI information.

Through RTI, we can get copies of government documents such as records, advices/opinions, reports, papers, file noting. Even email communications and data held in electronic form has to be made available to citizens upon an RTI application. We can even go to the department's office and inspect their records and documents, if at all the RTI information is voluminous you can take photocopies, obtain certified copies, and take printouts and what not.[v]

Government Departments Exempted From The Act

Twenty-odd organisations are exempted from RTI. But all these entities are related to the country's defence and intelligence, such as RAW, BSF, CRPF, CISF, Intelligence Bureau, National Security Guard etc.

Further, there are some specific instances whereby RTI information cannot be furnished.

These instances relate to matters which:
  • Would affect national security, sovereignty, strategic, economic and/or scientific interest.
  • Have been disallowed by the court to be released.
  • Relates to trade secrets or intellectual property, information which might affect/harm the competitive position of a third party.
  • Relates to information under fiduciary relationship.
  • Relates to foreign government information.
  • Would affect the life/physical safety of any person.
  • Would affect the process of an investigation.
  • Relates to cabinet papers.
  • Relates to personal information without any public interest.
However, RTI law says that any information which cannot be denied to a Member of Parliament or state legislature cannot be denied to any citizen.

Problems Which Can Be Solved
  • Personal Problems
    Pending income tax return, pension's release, withdrawal or transfer of PF, release of Aadhar card or issuance of property documents or driving licence. Using the RTI tool in any of these scenarios-or other cases involving a government agency-will guarantee you an official response, based on which you can take things further if your issue is not solved.

    A citizen can ask government official's reasons for delay in government service requested for. For example, if you have applied for passport and it has not been delivered.

    Then one can apply RTI with the following questions:
    • Please provide daily progress done on my passport application.
    • Please provide names of officers with whom my application has been lying during this period.
    • Please inform as per your citizen's charter in how many days I should have got my passport.
In majority of cases, the problem gets resolved. This way you can use RTI to solve many other pending issues and especially the ones where bribe is being asked.

The following personal problems can be solved with the help of RTI.
  • Pending Income Tax return
  • Delayed PF withdrawal
  • Delayed PF Transfer
  • Delayed Passport
  • Delayed Aadhar card
  • Delayed IRCTC Refund
  • Copies of answer sheets
  • Property Documents like Occupancy Certificate/Completion Certificate
  • Status of FIR
  • Status of a complaint
  • Status of EPF
  • Delay in Scholarship
  • Social Problems

If you think the facilities are not as expected or you observe some government maintained property in bad condition, you can use RTI to get the government working on it.

For Instance, If There Is A Road In Very Bad Condition You Can Ask The Following Questions:
  • How much money has been spent on the development of road in past 3 years?
  • How was the money spent?
  • Please provide a copy of the orders

These are the social problems can be solved using RTI:
  • Fix roads with pot holes
  • Conduct social audit of government projects
  • Know how your MP/MLA spent the fund allocated to him
  • Know how a particular government project or scheme was implemented

Fee Information
  • Application Fees
    The application should be accompanied by a fee of Rs.10 and shall ordinal not contain more than five hundred words, excluding annexures, containing address of the Central Public Information Officer and that of the applicant. Provided that no application shall be rejected only on the ground that it contains more than five hundred words.
  • Fees for providing information.

Fee for providing information under sub-section (4) of Section 4 and sub-sections (I) and (5) of Section 7 of the Act shall be charged at the following rates, namely:
  1. Rupees two for each page in A-3 or smaller size paper;
  2. Actual cost or price of a photocopy in large size paper;
  3. Actual cost or price for samples or models;
  4. Rupees fifty per diskette or floppy;
  5. Price fixed for a publication or rupees two per page of photocopy for extracts from the publication; (f) no fee for inspection of records for the first hour of inspection and a fee of rupees 5 for each subsequent hour or fraction thereof; and
  6. So much of postal charge involved in supply of information that exceeds fifty rupees.

Exemption from Payment of Fee.
No fee under rule 3 and rule 4 shall be charged from any person who, is below poverty line provided a copy of the certificate issued by the appropriate Government in this regard is submitted along with the application.

Mode of Payment of fee.
Fees under these rules may be paid in any of the following manner, namely:
  1. In cash, to the public authority or to the Central Assistant Public Information Officer of the public authority, as the case may be, against a proper receipt; or
  2. by demand draft or bankers cheque or Indian Postal Order payable to the Accounts Officer of the public authority; or
  3. By electronic means to the Accounts Officer of the public authority, if facility for receiving fees through electronic means is available with the public authority. [vi]

Comparison Of Provisions Of Rti, 2005 And Rti (Amendment) Bill, 2019

  • As per Right to Information, 2005 the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information Commissioners (ICs) (at the central and state level) will hold office for a term of five years.

    The Bill removes this provision and states that the central government will notify the term of office for the CIC and the ICs.
  • The salary of the CIC and ICs (at the central level) as per RTI, 2005 will be equivalent to the salary paid to the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners, respectively. Similarly, the salary of the CIC and ICs (at the state level) will be equivalent to the salary paid to the Election Commissioners and the Chief Secretary to the state government, respectively.

    The Bill removes these provisions and states that the salaries, allowances, and other terms and conditions of service of the central and state CIC and ICs will be determined by the central government.
  • The Act states that at the time of the appointment of the CIC and ICs (at the central and state level), if they are receiving pension or any other retirement benefits for previous government service, their salaries will be reduced by an amount equal to the pension.

    Previous government service includes service under:
    1. The central government,
    2. State government,
    3. Corporation established under a central or state law, and
    4. Company owned or controlled by the central or state government.
The Bill removes these provisions.[vii]

Overriding Effect Of Rti On Other Acts

Right to Information had been held as implicit in the right of free speech and expression guaranteed under the Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution. However, the free flow of information was restricted by legislations like the Official Secrets Act, the culture of secrecy within the bureaucracy and the low level of literacy and awareness of rights among the people.

The Act aims at bringing total transparency. The preamble clearly states that it intends to harmonize the need to keep certain matters secret but at the same time reiterating the paramount of the right to know.

Thus the Act intends to bring in a total change in the mind-set of secrecy generated by the colonial legislations such as the Official Secrets Act and the Law of Evidence. This Act has been given an overriding effect on the other Acts including the Official Secrets Act, 1923. If any provision of the Official Secrets Act prohibits the publication of particular information and the same is allowed under the Right to Information Act, the information shall be published notwithstanding the provisions otherwise provided under the Official Secrets Act.

Therefore section 22 when read together with the provisions of section 8(1) of the Act, would mean that it may overrule the conflicting provisions of Official Secrets Act, 1923 but the orders passed by courts and tribunals regarding the dissemination of information will have to be honoured.

Landmark Judgments
  1. Reserve Bank of India v. Jayantilal Mistry (Supreme Court, 2015)
    In this case, the issue raised was whether all the information sought for under the Right to Information Act, 2005 can be denied by the Reserve Bank of India and other Banks to the public at large on the ground of economic interest, commercial confidence, fiduciary relationship with other Bank on the one hand and the public interest on the other?

    Held, RBI is supposed to uphold public interest and not the interest of individual banks. RBI has a statutory duty to uphold the interest of the public at large, the depositors, the country's economy and the banking sector. Thus, RBI ought to act with transparency and not hide information that might embarrass individual banks. It is duty bound to comply with the provisions of the RTI Act and disclose the information sought by the respondents herein. If information is available with a regulatory agency not in fiduciary relationship, there is no reason to withhold the disclosure of the same.
  2. Adesh Kumar v. Union of India (Delhi High Court, 2014)
    The Petitioner was aggrieved by denial of information under the RTI Act by the concerned Public Information Officer in the case. The requested information was rejected by the CPIO claiming that there was no obligation to provide the same by virtue of Section 8(1) (h) of the RTI Act.

    The Delhi High Court in the case has held that whether the information sought by the petitioner is relevant or necessary, is not relevant or germane in the context of the Act, a citizen has a right to information.
  3. Vishwas Bhamburkar v. PIO, Housing & Urban Development Corporation Ltd. (CIC, 2018)
    In this recent case, taken up by the Chief Information Commission, Munirka, New Delhi (CIC), and the CIC was confronted with two centric issues under the Right to Information Act, 2005. One pertaining to word limit in RTI application and the other relating to denial of information on lack of producing identity proof by the Applicant.

The CIC in the case held that the impugned application was not hit by any exception under the Right to Information Act. That the CPIO in the case raised suspicion about the citizenship of the applicant without explaining why he was suspecting. There was nothing to justify his suspicion. That the CPIO failed to justify the denial of information, as he could not site any clause of exception under Section 8 (exemption from disclosure of information) or Section 9 (grounds for rejection to access in certain cases).[viii]


  5. The Gazette Of India : Extraordinary, [Part II-Sec. 3(i)], 31st July, 2012
  6. Right to Information Act, 2005; Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019; PRS

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