Saturday, 18 April 2015

Pure INFORMATION — not more and not less — is RTI's promise

July 25, 2009: In this article, I am trying to clear the mental clutter that we passionate RTI applicants and apellants create with wishful thinking and righteous anger. My experience is limited and my knowledge is admittedly partial, but I’m doing my best to be objective. Shailesh Gandhi’s insights and mental discipline have helped me immensely. I am not claiming any expertise and authority, but only some common sense. 
Shailesh Gandhi once gave me two examples for how to ask for information:
a) ‘Why have I not got a ration card?’ is not asking for information; but ‘I want the progress of my file relating to my application for a ration card’ is asking information.
b) ‘ Why have I not got admission?’ is not asking for information, whereas ‘I want the cutoff marks at which admission was given’ is asking for information.
Under Chapter 2 of RTI Act 2005 titled “Right to Information and Obligations of Public Authorities”, Section 3 states: “Subject to the provisions of this Act, all citizens shall have the right to information.”
Please note: it says “information”, not “facts”, “explanations”, “reasons”, “answers” or anything else.
However, many of us don’t read the RTI Act, or read it very quickly. Therefore, in our minds, we carry the fuzzy impression that the RTI Act says something like this: “Citizens have a right to ask all sorts of questions to a public authority, and the public authority is duty-bound to answer these questions to the citizens’ satisfaction, or else there shall be serious penalties for the people responsible, especialy the PIO.”
Kya pharak padta hai? Is there a difference?
Zameen-aasman ka pharak hai, bhai! These are two totally different things, and the second thing, written in blue, is totally wrong!
Most questions that people ask cannot be satisfied with pure information; it is human tendency to demand explanations and justifications -- usually because we are eager to pin the blame for wrong-doings on a person or a group of people. This tendency causes us to lose focus in our RTI application. We frame questions asking for a .lot more than plain old information. We demand extras and add-ons such as explanations, justifications, reasons, feelings, theories, hypothesis, analyses, compilations of date etc. etc. Sometimes, we ask for only these extras, and no basic information!
The PIO cannot answer every question that is sent to him, just because it is written in an RTI format and has a Rs 10 revenue-stamp! Unless you have asked for “information”, the poor fellow is tongue-tied and genuinely unable to answer within the scope of his duties!
So, before making an RTI application, it is necessary to clearly understand:
What is the nature of “Information” that the RTI Act entitles us to? Like any legislation,  the RTI Act has limitations that we must recognize in order to enjoy the rights that it confers.
Just because an applicant is in search of “truth”, RTI does not confer on him the right to directly know “truth” from the PIO. And just because an RTI applicant is in search for “justice” or redressal for some wrongdoing (real or imagined), the RTI Act (and the system for administering it) does not automatically become a redressal mechanism for giving him “justice”.
However, if used correctly and with understanding, well-drafted RTI applications can help us all in uncovering information needed for getting justice or truth.
The RTI Act only entitles us to bland “information” as it exists, without the mirch-masala of justifications and reasoning, and without the delightful sweetness of truth and justice.  The Act codifies what we citizens are entitled to justly demand by way of information. We can’t ask any question we like without exercising mental discipline! We may ask, but PIOs cannot and rightly will not answer such questions.
Section 2 (f) of RTI Act 2005 defines information thus:
“Information” means any material in any form, including records, documents, 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;
And a fuller explanation of what information a public authority must routinely provide comes under section 4 (1):
4.         (1)       Every public authority shall­
(a)       maintain all its records duly catalogued and indexed in a manner and form which facilitates the right to information under this Act and ensure that all records that are appropriate to be computerised are, within a reasonable time and subject to availability of resources, computerised and connected through a network all over the country on different systems so that access to such records is facilitated;
(b)       publish within one hundred and twenty days from the enactment of this Act,-
(i)         the particulars of its organisation, functions and duties;
(ii)        the powers and duties of its officers and employees;
(iii)       the procedure followed in the decision making process, including channels of supervision and accountability;
(iv)       the norms set by it for the discharge of its functions;
(v)        the rules, regulations, instructions, manuals and records, held by it or under its control or used by its employees for discharging its functions;
(vi)       a statement of the categories of documents that are held by it or under its control;
(vii)      the particulars of any arrangement that exists for consultation with, or representation by, the members of the public in relation to the formulation of its policy or implementation thereof;   
(viii)     a statement of the boards, councils, committees and other bodies consisting of two or more persons constituted as its part or for the purpose of its advise, and as to whether meetings of those boards, councils, committees and other bodies are open to the public, or the minutes of such meetings are accessible for public;
(ix)       a directory of its officers and employees;
(x)        the monthly remuneration received by each of its officers and employees, including the system of compensation as provided in its regulations;
 (xi)       the budget allocated to each of its agency, indicating the particulars of all plans, proposed expenditures and reports on disbursements made;
 (xii)      the manner of execution of subsidy programmes, including the amounts allocated and the details of beneficiaries of such programmes;
 (xiii)     particulars of recipients of concessions, permits or authorisations granted by it;
 (xiv)     details in respect of the information, available to or held by it, reduced in an electronic form;
(xv)      the particulars of facilities available to citizens for obtaining information, including the working hours of a library or reading room, if maintained for public use;
(xvi)    the names, designations and other particulars of the Public  Information Officers; ,
 (xvii)    such other information as may be prescribed; and thereafter update these publications every year;
(c) publish all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect public;
(d) provide reasons for its administrative or quasi judicial decisions to affected persons;
Please assimilate the above and understand that there are only a couple of occasions where the public authority is required to provide some sort of reasons or justifications.  These are covered under section 4 (c) and (d), highlighted above.
Summing up, one of the key grounds for denial of information by PIO is when what is asked for is ‘not information’ as defined under the Act. Information has to EXIST for it to be provided to a citizen; the PIO or public authority is not required to CREATE information in response to someone’s RTI Application.
I hope this article helps some good people in improving the quality of their RTI applications, so that there are fewer rejections and denials of information.
Satyameva Jayate. Jai Hind.
Warm Regards,
Krishnaraj Rao
98215 88114

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