Scope of the RTI Act
The Act covers the whole of India except Jammu and Kashmir. It is applicable to all constitutional authorities, including the executive, legislature and judiciary; any institution or body established or constituted by an act of Parliament or a state legislature. It is also defined in the Act that bodies or authorities established or constituted by order or notification of appropriate government including bodies “owned, controlled or substantially financed” by government, or non-government organizations “substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds” provided by the government are also covered in it. Private bodies are not within the Act’s ambit directly. However, information that can be accessed under any other law in force by a public authority can also be requested for. The Act also explicitly overrides the Official Secrets Act and other laws in force on 15 June 2005 to the extent of any inconsistency.
The Act specifies that citizens have a right to:
i.e. - any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advises, press releases, circulars, orders, log books, 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.
- Take copies of documents
- Inspect documents, works and records
- Take certified samples of materials of work
- Obtain information in form of printouts, diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes “or in any other electronic mode” or through printouts.
Structure of the Machinery for Providing Information
- First level of the regime, every public authority has designated officers - Public Information Officers (PIO) - for receiving applications [Section 5]
- Second level, every public authority has designated senior officers to look into those cases where citizens request for information have been refused i.e., Departmental Appellate Authority (DAA) [Section 19 (1)]
- Third level, independent Central or State Information Commissions have been constituted to look into those cases where citizens are not satisfied with the action / decision of the PIO and with the decision of DAA [Section 12,13,15,16,18 and 19(3)]
- It is the responsibility of the Public Authorities to designate Public Information Officers and Assistant Public Information Officers (APIO) within 100 days of its enactment [Section 5(1) and 5 (2)]
- The PIOs/APIOs are not only responsible for the request from the citizens but also to assist them in seeking information [Section 5 (3)].
Time Limits for Replying to the Request
- If the request has been made to the PIO, the reply is to be given within 30 days of receipt.
- If the request has been made to an APIO, the reply is to be given within 35 days of receipt.
- If the PIO transfers the request to another public authority (better concerned with the information requested), the time allowed to reply is 30 days but computed from the day after it is received by the PIO of the transferee authority.
- Information concerning corruption and human rights violations by scheduled security agencies (those listed in the Second Schedule to the Act) is to be provided within 45 days but with the prior approval of the Central Information Commission.
- However, if life or liberty of any person is involved, the PIO is expected to reply within 48 hours.
- Since the information is to be paid for, the reply of the PIO is necessarily limited to either denying the request (in whole or part) and/or providing a computation of “further fees”. The time between the reply of the PIO and the time taken to deposit the further fees for information is excluded from the time allowed.
- If information is not provided within the given period, it is treated as deemed refusal. Refusal with or without reasons may be grounds for appeal or complaint. Further, information not provided in the times prescribed is to be provided free of charge.
Exemptions from Disclosure
- Information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, “strategic, scientific or economic” interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence.
- Information which has been expressly forbidden to be published by any court of law or tribunal or the disclosure of which may constitute contempt of court.
- 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, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party, unless the competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information.
- Information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship, unless the competent authority is satisfied that the larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information.
- Information received in confidence from foreign government.
- Information, the disclosure of which would endanger the life or physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purposes.
- Information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders.
- Cabinet papers, including records of deliberations of the council of ministers, secretaries and other officers.
- Information which relates to personal information, the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual (but it is also provided that the information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a state legislature shall not be denied by this exemption).
- Notwithstanding any of the exemptions listed above, a public authority may allow access to information, if public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interests.
Section 10 of the Act allows those part(s) of the record which are not exempt from disclosure and which can reasonably be severed from parts containing exempt information to be provided.
Central intelligence and security agencies specified in the Second Schedule like IB, RAW, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Central Economic Intelligence Bureau, Directorate of Enforcement, Narcotics Control Bureau, Aviation Research Centre, Special Frontier Force, BSF, CRPF, ITBP, CISF, NSG, Assam Rifles, Special Service Bureau, Special Branch (CID), Andaman and Nicobar, The Crime Branch - CID-CB, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Special Branch, Lakshadweep Police. 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 violation could be given but only with the approval of the Central or State Information Commission which is concerned with the matter.