Layman's Guide to Right to Information Part 1: How to Use Information from RTI?
1. What is Right to Information (RTI)?
Right to Information means our right to get information from “public authorities”. Broadly speaking, RTI means that We The People have the right to procure copies of documents from State and Central Government, and other organizations that are controlled, or substantially owned and financed by the government. Right to Information Act 2005 (RTI Act 2005) is called the “Sunshine Act”, because it helps people like you and I -- the citizens of India – to make the government transparent.
Also, just as sunlight destroys germs, the Sunshine Act helps the common man to fight against corruption, and to fight for getting his rights from various government authorities, and also from government-regulated private parties such as suppliers of various goods and services, builders and contractors, utility companies, etc.
2. What does RTI Act say?
In a nutshell, the Right to Information Act says that any citizen of India has the right to demand information from a government organization (e.g. BMC ward office, police station, Govt. Department in Mantralaya, District Collector’s office, etc.) by filing up an RTI Application form. Once such an application is received, it becomes the official duty of the Public Information Officer (PIO) in that organization to send the requested information, or a properly reasoned reply to the information-seeker, within 30 days.
3. What is the guarantee that PIO will give us information?
If the PIO – who is usually a government official -- does not do this duty, then you and I have the power to get him/her penalized. Penalty of Rs 250/- per day will be deducted from his salary if it is proved that the PIO neglected his duty to give you the correct information within 30 days. If the PIO is found to be habitually negligent in his duty to give you information, then departmental enquiry and disciplinary action can also happen, and he will suffer severe consequences such as loss of seniority. The PIO’s whole career as a government employee will be affected.
4. After proper information is given to us, what to do with it?
Information is power. After you get your hands on the necessary information – which is usually in the form of documents – you must promptly use these documents to take further actions for enforcement of your own rights, or the rights of your fellow-citizens. You may use these documents for fighting corruption, or for spreading knowledge in the public. Of you may use them for your own purposes, e.g. if you are a doctoral researcher or a journalist, you may use the documents for writing your PhD thesis or filing a newspaper report. If you are a policeman, you may use this information for detecting crime. If you are a lawyer, you may use it for fighting your case. If you are an RTI activist, you may share this information with your fellow-activists, or publish this information in the public domain to help others.
5. What actions can we take after receiving RTI documents?
Getting documents under RTI is only the first step. After that, you need to do some or all of the following things:
(a) Study, analyze and understand what each document shows.
(b) Understand exactly which laws and rules have been violated.
(c) Use these documents as evidences for writing complaints and representation to the proper authorities e.g. government department, police station, consumer court etc. for resolving your grievances.
(d) Issue a press release, or write a blog using these documents.
(e) Scan and upload the RTI documents, and make them accessible to the public through social media.
(g) Call a meeting of like-minded and knowledgeable persons to share and discuss these documents. Discussions give clarity!
(h) Hold meetings with government officials and support your arguments with RTI documents. Documents are a powerful way of asking for change and giving them a sense of urgency.
(h) Call a press conference if the documents are of public importance and reveal a scam.
(i) After you have used these documents in every possible way to improve the situation, then you may consider filing a Public Interest Litigation before the High Court.
(j) … And last but not least, follow up with further RTI applications based on the documents that you now have! There is no such thing as having “too much information”. Every additional piece of information and additional document makes you stronger and smarter, and makes your opponents less able to defeat you. If the subject of your RTI is important, you may continue filing a variety of RTI applications to various government departments, Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs), regulatory institutions etc. to build up a huge bank of documents that you can use for the actions suggested above.
6. What to do if proper information is not given to you?
If the PIO does not give you proper information (or proper reply) within one month, then file a “First Appeal” to the First Appellate Authority (FAA) in the same organization, within another 30 days.
Filing a First Appeal is as easy as filing an RTI application. After receiving and reading your first appeal, the FAA will write a letter to you, inviting you for a hearing, where the PIO will also be present. After listening to your arguments and also the PIO’s arguments, the FAA will hopefully pass an order that strictly instructs the PIO to give you the necessary information. (Sometimes, the FAA may uphold what the PIO says in his own defense. He may say, for instance, that the information that you had requested are exempted from disclosure under the RTI Act.) In case the FAA’s order is not in your favour, you have the option of going for a Second Appeal. Alternatively, you may accept the reply and use it as feedback to write a better RTI application next time!
7. What is Second Appeal, and when should we exercise it?
In case you have not got the proper information even after going for First Appeal, then it may be necessary to continue the battle. A Second Appeal must be filed within 90 days of filing the First Appeal, and it must be addressed to the Information Commissioner. The Commissioner will hold a hearing where you and the other party (PIO and FAA) will be allowed to present your respective arguments. The Commissioner has the power to order the PIO to give you the information, and to order the PIO’s department to deduct upto Rs 25,000/- penalty from the PIO’s salary. He also has the power to order the PIO’s department to hold a departmental enquiry and initiate disciplinary proceedings if there is evidence to show that the PIO is habitually disobeying the RTI Act.
8. Where is the office of the Information Commissioner?
That depends on whether you have to approach the State Information Commissioner or the Central Information Commissioner.
You should file Second Appeal to the State Information Commission if your original RTI application was to a State Government body (e.g. BMC, Chief Minister’s Office, any department in Mantralaya (Mumbai), Police, BEST, District Collector, Gram Panchayat, etc.) Names and contract details of various Maharashtra Information Commissioners, and other useful details, are at http://tinyurl.com/Maharashtra-SIC. The headquarters of Maharashtra SIC is at 13th floor, State Administrative Building, Opposite Mantralaya, Mumbai. Maharashtra SIC has benches at (and holds hearings in) Mumbai, Pune, Aurangabad, Nagpur, Amrawati, Konkan and Nashik.
Alternatively, if your RTI Application was addressed to a Central Government body (e.g. Union Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas, Prime Minister’s Office, Bharat Petroleum, etc.), then your Second Appeal should be filed to the Central Information Commission. Names and contract details of various Central Information Commissioners, as well as other useful details, are at http://cic.gov.in/ . Central Information Commission is at August Kranti Bhavan, Bhikaji Cama Place, New Delhi - 110 066 & Old JNU Campus, New Delhi - 110 067.
Standard format for RTI Application
(Can be used for RTI to Public Authorities under Maharashtra Govt. or Central Govt.)
Affix Indian Postal Order of Rs. 10/-
Application for obtaining information under the Right To Information Act, 2005.
The State Public information Officer, (Name of the Office with Address)
(1) Full name of Applicant:
(2) Full Address with phone No.:
(3) Particulars of the information required
(i) Subject matter of Information:
(ii) The period to which the information relates:
(iii) Description of the information required:
(iv)Whether the information is required by post or in person: (the actual postal charges shall be included in additional fees)
(v) In case by post (Ordinary, Registered or Speed):
(4) Whether the applicant is below poverty line
(if yes, attach the photocopy of the proof thereof.)
Place: Date: Signature of Applicant