Right to Information

    With transparency and good governance in mind, Indian law provides citizens with the right to ask for information from public bodies. Any citizen can make an application for information and can access information such as details of project budgets, implementation status, the status of any complaint/application they have made to any government body. Such an application is commonly referred to as an RTI or RTI application.

    Request to Obtain Information

    The application can be in either English, Hindi or the official language of the area. The application should be in writing. It can be submitted personally, through post, e-mail or through online portals. For public authorities under the Central Government, there is an online forum where RTI applications can be made directly. You can also access step-by-step guidelines on how to send an application through the online portal.

    If someone cannot make the request because they are illiterate or unable to write, the Public Information Office has a duty to help the person so that they can take down the request and put it in writing. If the application is sent to the wrong public authority by mistake, the PIO who receives this application has a duty to transfer it within five days.

    Application Fees

    There is an application fee which varies for the Centre and for States. For public authorities under the Central Government, this is Rs. 10. For public authorities under the State Governments, please check rules applicable to each state here.

    In addition to the application fees, there is also a fee for the information to be delivered (depending on format/number of pages). For the fees applicable to public authorities under the Central Government, please check the RTI Rules, 2012. For the fees applicable to public authorities under the state, please check the individual state rules.

    The PIO can ask you to pay more fees for the information but will, however, have to justify the higher fee with proper calculations. The time period between the notice for increased fees and its payment will be excluded from the 30 day period within which you were originally supposed to have received your information.

    Processing of an Application

    The PIO can take 30 days to provide the information that is requested. If the application is made to an APIO, the information must be provided in 35 days. If the information has some serious consequences on a person's life and is needed urgently, the PIO should give the information within 48 hours.

    Under this law, the PIO can refuse to answer certain applications. Please read Section 8 and 9 of this Act to figure out which information would be generally exempted from this Act.

    If the information is not given within 30/35 days, you have to assume that the PIO/APIO denied your request for information. Further, the PIO cannot charge anything other than the application fee for the information.

    Refused Application

    When the PIO refuses your request for information, she has to tell you:

    • Why the request was refused.
    • Details of whom you can approach to appeal against this refusal.
    • How much time you have to file this appeal.

    If the PIO has not replied with information or has refused to give you the information unlawfully, you can appeal to an officer senior in rank to the PIO or file a complaint with the Central or State Information Commission.

    Exempted Information

    If your application requests for the following kinds of information, the public authority can lawfully refuse to give you:

    • Information that affects the security and economic interests of the government with another country
    • Information that is banned from being published by any court or tribunal
    • Information that would result in a breach of privilege of the Legislature
    • Information that would harm commercial interests
    • Information that arises because of a relationship based on trust
    • Information from a foreign government which was given as a secret
    • Information that exposes whistleblowers or endangers lives
    • Information that would cause difficulty to police investigation or arrests in criminal cases
    • Records of the Cabinet Ministers (reasons and materials can be made public after the decision is made)
    • Personal information (however, such information has to be revealed to the Parliament or State Legislature if asked for)

    If the release of the information causes a copyright infringement, the PIO can refuse the request for information. Furthermore, the exemption does not apply if the information requested is more than 20 years old. In such a case, it must be given to the applicant. However, information relating to security and economic interests with another country, breach of parliamentary privilege and Cabinet proceedings can be denied even if it is more than 20 years old.

    Complaining about an application

    If you have a complaint with the way in which the PIO handled your RTI application, you can approach the higher authorities established under this Act - the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission. They have a duty under this Act to inquire into your complaint. You can make a complaint in the following situations:

    • When the public authority has not appointed a PIO in the first place;
    • When a PIO has refused to give information;
    • When a PIO has not given you information within the allowed time;
    • When the PIO has asked for too much fees for giving you the information; and
    • When the PIO has given you incomplete or wrong information.

    If the Commission is convinced that there are reasonable grounds in the complaint, it has to initiate an inquiry into the matter. For the purpose of conducting an inquiry, it has the same powers as a civil court. This means that it can ask for people to come and be witnesses or submit relevant documents as evidence, inspect these documents, and ask for any public records.

    Appealing a decision on an application

    If you do not receive a decision from the PIO within 30 days, you can file an appeal against the decision of the PIO before an officer who is senior to the PIO. You need to file this appeal within 30 days. This time period may be extended if the officer feels that the delay is justified.

    Usually, the public authority will state who the appellate authority is on its website or at its office. This will be an officer who is senior in rank to the PIO. A third party can also file an appeal within 30 days of the date of the order by the PIO.

    If you are not satisfied with the first appeal decision, you can make a second appeal within 90 days to Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission by following the suggested format for the second appeal.

    The responsibility of proving that the refusal to provide information was justified, lies squarely on the PIO who refused this information. The Information Commission should finish the appeal in 30 days. This can be extended to forty-five days with reasons being recorded for the extension.

    In order to make a decision, the Information Commission can ask the public authority to:

    • provide information in a particular manner
    • appoint a PIO
    • publish relevant information
    • manage records properly
    • conduct training programmes for officials
    • provide an annual report
    • provide compensation to any complainant

    It can also impose penalties and reject specific applications.

    Penalties for withholding/providing wrong information

    The Central or State Information Commission can impose a daily penalty of Rs. 250 on the PIO who has withheld information or provided wrong information. This has to be paid until the information is provided. However, the total amount of the penalty should not exceed Rs. 25,000.

    The PIO has to be given a chance to present her case before the penalty is decided - however, the burden is on her to prove that she acted lawfully. Disciplinary action can also be taken against the PIO in accordance with their service rules.

    Excluded Organizations

    The list of organisations in the Second Schedule and security and intelligence organisations of State Governments (mentioned in government notifications) are exempt from giving information. However, information relating to corruption or human rights violations in such organisations can be asked for and provided after the Central Information Commission agrees to it. This has to be provided in 45 days.

    Questions and Answers
    Click on a question to view the answer

    No, this act does not apply to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. However, Jammu and Kashmir has its own Right To Information Act, 2009 and you can file under it.

    It is the same as the RTI Act elsewhere.

    Yes, all public authorities must have a Public Information Officer (PIO) and an Assistant Public Information Officer (APIO) for each of its offices. Depending on whether the public authority falls under the Central or State Government, the PIO will be called the Central PIO or the State PIO.

    Central or State Assistant Public Information Officers had to be appointed at the sub-divisional or sub-district level. They had to be appointed within 100 days of the Act coming into force.

    You need to address the application to the Central/ State PIO or the Central/State APIO. The APIO can take 5 extra days to process the application.

    While applications for information are made only to the PIO/APIO, every officer in the public authority has a duty to help the PIO/APIO if she asks for help. If she does not help, she can be held liable under this Act just like the PIO/ APIO.

    The PIO should take care to ensure that the information is provided in such a way that the person can access it. For example, if the applicant is blind, the PIO should deliver the information in Braille.

    The person will not be required to pay and the information will be provided free of charge.

    If the information contained in the record can be separately provided (not containing the exempted information), then the public authority should give you the information in response to your request. For example, details regarding vendors for the purchase of defence equipment can be provided separately from details regarding the defence equipment being deployed during a conflict.

    In such a case, the PIO has to give you a notice containing the following details:

    • Fact that only a portion of the records you asked for is being provided (the exempted information has been removed from the record)
    • Reasons for why this decision was made
    • Name and designation of the person who gave the decision
    • Details of fees to be paid and
    • Your right to review this decision (including details of the appellate authorities/ officers and fees to be paid).

    If the RTI application you have made is in relation to confidential information belonging to a third party which was supplied to the public authority, the PIO has to follow certain steps.

    1. The PIO has to send a notice to the third party within 5 days of getting the application.
    2. The third party has 10 days to agree with or object to the PIO releasing its confidential information to you.

    After giving the third party an opportunity to make its submissions, the PIO has to make a decision on whether to disclose the information to you within 40 days of receiving the application. The PIO will at the same time send a notice to the third party regarding her decision - the third party has the option to appeal against this decision.

    No, all disputes should be resolved by the bodies created under this Act such as the officer in charge of an appeal in a public authority or a Central/State Information Commission

    No, it does not make any difference. The PIO will still consider it as filed by you.

    Public duty
    As a public servant, a public duty is the responsibility you have towards the government, the people or society, in doing your duty. Just as you have a duty to take care of your parents in their old age, public servants have a duty towards the government, people and society at large.
    Appellate Authority
    The commissioners where appeals can be fined when the PIO does not respond within the stipulated time.