The Right to Information Act
The Right to Information Act, 2005 is a landmark legislation in the history of independent India. Before the passing of this historic Act, there was “The Freedom of Information Act, 2002” But to ensure smoother and greater access to information and to make it more progressive, participatory, and meaningful certain important changes was felt necessary. The Government examined the suggestions made by the National Advisory Council and others and decided to make a number of changes in the said law.
The Government in view of the significant changes proposed in the existing Act, decided to repeal the Freedom of Information Act, 2002. As a result, “The Right to Information Bill, 2005”, passed by Lok Sabha on 11th May, 2005 and by Rajya Sabha on 15th June, 2005 and received the assent of the President on 15th June,2005. The Right to Information Act, 2005 contains VI Chapters and 31 Sections.
Some of the important Sections of the RTI Act can be stated as follows—- Under the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005, any citizen can seek information in writing in the form of an application or by e-mail and should be addressed to the Public Information Officer (PIO) or Assistant PIO of the concerned office/public authority either in English Hindi or in the official language of the area.
Even if one submits an application for an information to a PIO whose public authority is not in possession of information, has to accept the information and forward the same to the concerned public authority about such transfer [section 6(3)] In such cases, the second public authority becomes responsible for providing the applicant with the information that is requested within prescribed time limit [section 5(5)] Reason for securing information is not required to be stated in the application.
Normally the PIO is to provide the information within 30 days. However in case of life and liberty, the PIO is bound to provide information within 48 hours. If the required information is part of a proactive disclosure of section 4 (I) (b), then it should be provided instantly by the PIO without any application fee, except the printing cost of the information. No prescribed format is necessary to apply under RTI Act,2005.
An application on a plain paper comprising full postal address of the applicant, PIO or Assistant PIO’s address, details of information required with a statement that the information is sought under RTI Act 2005, are the basic requirements. Application fee of Rs. 10 (in case of Government of Assam office/organization) is required in case of a Government of Indian office/organization. If the applicant does not receive the information or is not satisfied with the information received from the PIO, he/she can file an appeal with the first appellate authority (FAA) under section 19 (I).
There is no prescribed format for an appeal. Moreover, neither Govt. of India nor Govt. of Assam prescribed any fees for the first appeal till now. The Act prescribed maximum 45 days time for the disposal of first appeal by the FAA. If an applicant does not receive information within 45 days, then he/she can take the matter forward to the second appeal stage. The RTI Act, 2005 is a historic legislation and no such strong provision has been made in any Act or code in India till date.
The right to information covers inspections of works, document, record and its certified copy and information in the form of diskettes, floppies, video cassettes in electronic form, taped or stored information in computers etc. Though certain information are prohibited, every public authority is under obligations to provide information on written request or request by electronic means with payment of fee. The Act vehemently provides for restrictions for third party information.
It has been stated earlier that there is the appellate provision in the Act. As such, the appeal against the decision of central information officer and state information officer can be made to a senior officer in rank. The penalty for refusal to receive an application for information or for not providing information is Rs. 250 per day, but the total amount of penalty should not exceed Rs. 25000 The Central Information Commission is to be constituted by the Central Govt. and State Information Commission by the respective state governments.
In spite of having the various important and powerful provisions the state Governments are not ready to implement the RTI Act, 2005, in letter and spirit. The case is pertinent in Assam too, which so far has seen the government drag its feet when it comes to implementing the various provisions under the Act. Consequently Assam is among those states where the State Information Commission has been unable to perform to the desired extent, or simply failed to bring in probity and transparency in matters of public finance.
When state Government will come forward to implement the provisions of RTI Act then only the true objectives of the Act will be fulfilled. The Act will be able to curb corruption and misuse of taxpayer’s money will be stopped, and can be utilized for the sake of common good and welfare of the state. The posts of Information Commissioner should be filled up by qualified and impartial persons. Free legal education should be provided to the people, to be more conscious about the legal benefit of the Act and help to access the information and exert their rights in true spirit.