Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Layman’s Guide to RTI Act 2005 Part 2: Where can you file RTI, and what information can you demand??


 From which organizations can you demand RTI info?
A wide variety of offices of government and administration, PSUs, and some privately owned and run bodies also, are covered under the RTI Act 2005. You have the right to demand information from any body that is covered under the definition of “public authority” under RTI Act. Your RTI application has to be addressed to “The Public Information Officer, [Name of Public Authority, Postal Address of Postal Authority.]” For example, if you want some information from Kasturba Marg police station, your RTI application should say, “To the Public Information Officer, Kasturba Cross Road Number 1, Chinchpada, Borivali East, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400066.”

The beauty of RTI Act is that you don’t even have to know the name of the Public Information Officer, or the name of the office about which you need information. You only need commonsense and the information that is easily available on the internet. For example, you can file RTI applications to, “Public Information Officer, Department of Panchayati Raj, Mantralaya,” OR “Public Information Officer, Transport Department, BEST” OR “PIO, Ministry of External Affairs”.

First, let us understand the definition of Public Authority.

 Definition of Public Authority
Section 2(h) of RTI Act 2005 says: "Public authority" means any authority or body or institution of self- government established or constituted—
  1. by or under the Constitution;
  2. by any other law made by Parliament;
  3. by any other law made by State Legislature;
  4. by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government, and includes any —
  1. body owned, controlled or substantially financed;
  2. non-Government organization substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government;
This definition covers not only all the bodies that are part of the government, but also those controlled or substantially financed by the government. It includes everything that is considered part of “state” i.e. nation, from the top to the bottom. For example, under RTI, you can get the daily logbooks of the President, Prime Minister and Chief Justice of India at the top of the pyramid, to the daily logbooks of beat-marshalls of a particular police squad, or the cleaners and garbage collectors of a particular conservancy squad of a remote municipality or panchayat in a remote corner of India.

 Private Entities under RTI Act
Just being a private entity does not automatically exempt it from RTI Act. Private entities that have been “substantially funded” from taxpayer’s money are covered under RTI Act, including NGO’s, schools, colleges that are aided by the government. Substantially funded means either the government has given it subsidies or grants in cash, or subsidies or grants in kind, such as land or building or other facilities for operating, or even leased it land at a concessional rate of lease rent that is much less than the market value. Alternatively, government may be providing aids in the process of working. Or such an organization may be working in a private-public partnership (PPP) arrangement with the government. Such organizations are expected to appoint a Public Information Officer.

All schools and colleges – whether aided or unaided -- have been declared as “public authorities” by the Central Information Commission, and their information may be accessed through RTI. The principal or dean of every educational institution is automatically presumed to be the Public Information Officer. One may address the RTI Application to “Public Information Officer, [Name and Postal Address of School]”.

Also private organizations that are given licenses by the government may be accessed through the licensing authority. For example, one cannot rightly file an RTI application to a cooperative society. However, the Registrar of Cooperative Societies is a public authority that gives licenses for every cooperative society in the state, and therefore, one may file RTI application to the relevant Deputy Registrar’s office and request information regarding any society in his jurisdiction.

For example: you may not directly file RTI application to utility companies like Reliance Energy Co. and Tata Power Co., but you can seek information about it through the government regulatory bodies with which they are regulated, such as Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC). Similarly, you may not file RTI application to Airtel and Vodafone, but you may seek information regarding the rules governing their charges through Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), which is their industry’s regulatory body. 


What information can you demand under RTI?

While drafting your RTI applications, try to use the terms that are used in the RTI Act, as this will tremendously increase your power vis-à-vis the PIO, FAA and Information Commissioner. Using these terms makes it extremely difficult if not impossible for anybody to deny you the information.

It is important to remember that although an RTI application is commonly referred to as a “request” for information, it is really a “demand” for information, as it has the force of law behind it.

Read the below sections of the RTI Act 2005 very carefully when you are drafting your RTI application.

 Definition of Information
Section 2(f) of RTI Act says: "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.

 Definition of “Records”
Section 2(i) "Record" includes—
  1. any document, manuscript and file;
  2. any microfilm, microfiche and facsimile copy of a document;
  3. any reproduction of image or images embodied in such microfilm (whether enlarged or not); and
  4. any other material produced by a computer or any other device;

 Definition of Right To Information
Section 2(j) "Right to information" means the right to information held by or under the control of any public authority and includes the right to —
  1. inspection of work, documents, records;
  2. taking notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records;
  3. taking certified samples of material;
  4. obtaining information in the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts.

 Duty of Public Authorities to publish or provide basic information without being asked for it
Section 4(1) Every public authority shall —
  1. maintain all its records duly catalogued and indexed in a manner and the form which facilitates the right to information under this Act and ensure that all records are computerised and connected through a network all over the country on different systems
  1. Every public authority shall publish, —
  1. the particulars of its organisation, functions and duties;
  2. the powers and duties of its officers and employees;
  3. the procedure followed in the decision making process, including channels of supervision and accountability;
  4. the norms set by it for the discharge of its functions;
  5. the rules, regulations, instructions, manuals and records, held by it or under its control or used by its employees for discharging its functions;
  6. a statement of the categories of documents that are held by it or under its control;
  7. 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;
  8. 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 advice, 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;
  9. a directory of its officers and employees;
  10. the monthly remuneration received by each of its officers and employees, including the system of compensation as provided in its regulations;
  11. the budget allocated to each of its agency, indicating the particulars of all plans, proposed expenditures and reports on disbursements made;
  12. the manner of execution of subsidy programmes, including the amounts allocated and the details of beneficiaries of such programmes;
  13. particulars of recipients of concessions, permits or authorizations granted by it;
  14. details in respect of the information, available to or held by it, reduced in an electronic form;
  15. 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;
  16. the names, designations and other particulars of the Public Information Officers;
  17. such other information as may be prescribed and thereafter update these publications every year;
  1. Every public authority shall publish all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect public;
  1. Every public authority shall provide reasons for its administrative or quasi-judicial decisions to affected persons.
 

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