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Information to be asked under RTI?

INFORMATION THAT CAN BE ASKED UNDER RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT, 2005

Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005 is one of the most powerful tools in the hands of the people, especially in a democratic country like India. Right to Information provides for transparency and accountability which are among the eight characteristics of ‘good governance’. The Right to Information Act came into force fully on the 12th October, 2005. Some provisions of this Act came into force with immediate effect i.e., Section 4(1), Section 5(1), Section 5(2), Section 12, Section 13, Section 15, Section 16, Section 24, Section 27 and Section 28.

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Under Right to Information Act, every citizen is empowered to seek any information from the Government, inspect any Government documents and seek certified photocopies thereof. Here, "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.Hence, Right to Information includes the right to:
1. Inspect works, documents, records.
2. Take notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records.
3. Take certified samples of material.
4. Obtain information in form of printouts, diskettes, floppies, tapes, video, cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts.

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The Right to information in India is governed by two major bodies, namely-

  • Central Information Commission (CIC) – It consists of Chief Information Commissioner who heads all the central departments and ministries- with their Public Information Officers (PIO)s. CICs are directly under the President of India.
  • State Information Commissions – State Public Information Officers or SPIOs head over all the state department and ministries. The SPIO office is directly under the corresponding State Governor.

It should be noted that both the State and Central Information Commissions are independent bodies and Central Information Commission has no jurisdiction over State Information Commissions.

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This Act extends to the whole of India except for the State of Jammu and Kashmir, as mentioned in Section 1 of the Act. It covers all the constitutional authorities, including executive, legislature and judiciary; any institution established by an act of Parliament or a state legislature, including bodies "owned, controlled or substantially financed" by government, or non-Government organizations "substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds". In a case of Sarbjit Roy v. Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission, the Central Information Commission also confirmed that privatised public utility companies fall within the ambit of RTI.

However, the Second Schedule of RTI Act exempts certain Public Authorities under the Central Government from disclosure of information, provided that these authorities have to respond to the RTI applications pertaining to Human Rights and Corruption as per Section 5(1) of the RTI Act. Some States within the union have also exempted certain Public Authorities in the respective states, from the purview of the Act.

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Section 8 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 exempts certain information from disclosure, which is as follows-

1.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;

2. 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;

3.Information, the disclosure of which would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or the State Legislature;

4.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;

5.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;

6.Information received in confidence from foreign Government;

7.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;

8. Information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders;

9.Cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers, Secretaries and other officers;

10.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;

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These exemptions are subject to public interest test. This means, 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.

The term ‘public interest’ is not defined in the Act. However, in a significant judgment of the Supreme Court of India, ‘S. P. Gupta v President of India’, AIR 1982 SC 149, referring to ‘public interest’, it was maintained that: “Redressing public injury, enforcing public duty, protecting social, collective, ‘diffused’ rights and interests vindicate public interest…  the public or a class of the community have pecuniary interest or some interest by which their legal rights or liabilities are affected.”In another case of State of Gujarat v. Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kasab Jamat& others AIR 2006 Supreme Court 212, the Apex Court held that “the interest of general public (public interest) is of a wide import covering public order, public health, public security, morals, economic welfare of the community, and the objects mentioned in Part IV of the Constitution i.e. Directive Principles of State Policy”.

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Further, Section 9 of the RTI Act states that any information whose copyright is not held by the state, cannot be provided by it in any situation. Section 24 of the Act rules that the intelligence and security organisations shall not fall within the ambit of this Act. It also states that any information given by such agencies to the Government is outside the scope of this Act.

Therefore, the sole objective of the RTI Act is to empower people, reduce corruption, and bring in transparency and accountability in the working of the Government, however, it is also subject to certain conditions.

For more info on the subject, please dial 99888-17966.

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