As part of ongoing classes to let people become aware of RTI (Right to Information) Act, a class on 9th May was held in L B Shastri Nagar, and here we will discuss the main points and discussions in that class.
Since the participants had some knowledge of RTI already, it was decided to focus more on advanced topics like grounds for rejection of RTI application, filing first appeals under RTI, and how to use RTI as part of overall activism.
Grounds for rejection of RTI application
It is useful to know about grounds for rejection, because if your RTI application gets rejected, you need to decide whether to file first appeal, and then take action within a time limit.
- Sub-section 8(1) of RTI Act deals types of information which is exempt from disclosure. It has 10 clauses (a)-(j) each giving one reason why an RTI could be rejected. In case an RTI application is rejected on any of these grounds, the PIO still has to mention in RTI reply the specific clause due to which the application got rejected.
- Many of these clauses are not applicable in usual day-to-day RTI applications. You can read the complete sub-section 8(1) here. The important clauses of sub-section 8(1) which may be applicable in normal RTI applications are given below (with important words made bold):
- However, even for above grounds in sub-section 8(1), the PIO can provide information if it serves larger public interest, as given by clause 8(2) below:
- Section 9 may prohibit disclosure of information under copyright of a person other than the State.
- Under Sub-section 7(8), the PIO has to provide complete information on next steps the RTI applicant can take if the request for is denied (read below). It has been seen that many PIO will reject RTI application but fail to provide details on one or more of the following points. For example, they may cite Sub-section 8 as ground for rejection but fail to mention the clause. And the details of appellate authority, or period of appeal may not be mentioned either.
(d) 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;
(g) 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;
(h) information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders;
(j) 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 unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information:
(2) Notwithstanding anything in the Official Secrets Act, 1923 nor any of the exemptions permissible in accordance with sub-section (1), a public authority may allow access to information, if public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interests.
9 Without prejudice to the provisions of section 8, a Central Public Information Officer or a State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, may reject a request for information where such a request for providing access would involve an infringement of copyright subsisting in a person other than the State.
(8) Where a request has been rejected under sub-section (1), the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, shall communicate to the person making the request,—
(i) the reasons for such rejection;
(ii) the period within which an appeal against such rejection may be preferred; and
(iii) the particulars of the appellate authority.
What to do if RTI is rejected or no reply received at all
- Sub-section 7(1) of RTI Act says that information has to be given within 30 days, or within 48 hours if the RTI applicant mentions it as matter of life and liberty of a person.
- As an interesting aside, Sub-section 7(5) says that if PIO does not reply within 30 days, applicant is entitled to get information free of cost! This means that even if you asked for a bucket load of documents, and they did not arrive within 30 days, and you were not asked to deposit extra fees either within 30 days of application, then you are entitled to get them for free without paying the extra fees.
- Applicant can file appeal to senior officer to PIO in case reply is not received within 30 days, or if reply is rejected and applicant is not satisfied with PIO’s explanation/ reason given for rejection.
- The appeal must be filed within 30 days from expiry of reply period if information is not received at all. The normal reply period is 30 days, and 48 hours for matter of life and liberty.
- It must be filed within 30 days from the date of receiving of reply if applicant is not satisfied with reasons for rejection.
- The senior person to PIO is called appellate authority. So in filing of first appeals, the RTI application can be addressed to “First Appellate Authority under RTI Act”. One should sign as appellant rather than applicant (as in original RTI application).
- In first appeal, you can attach the copy of original RTI application for reference of the appellate authority.
Practical suggestions in filing first appeals
- Sometimes it has been seen that PIOs will not respond to RTI application within 30 days, but will send the reply immediately if you send a first appeal to appellate authority after the 30 days time limit is over. So one must track the filing date of RTI application religiously, and not forget to file first appeal if 30 days are over. In case you forgot to file first appeal within time period, you may have to start with fresh RTI application all over again, losing 60 days — 30 days for RTI reply period, added with 30 days for appeal period — in the process.
- The process of finding first appellate authority is similar to that for finding PIO. You can visit the website of concerned department, or visit their office, or call up the public relations officer of department to enquire about the first appellate authority for RTI.
Using RTI as a pillar of activism
Many people have used RTI effectively to highlight for required changes in policy . A case in point is the activism to get Supreme Court registry to come under ambit of RTI Act. However, even on a smaller scale, it helps to be aware how RTI can be used to solve public problems.
- The government officials are not as such afraid of supplying information. And for any government department which is honest and efficient, there should be no need to fear either. But the corrupt and inefficient among government do fear what may happen once the information is disclosed to applicant, and can then be distributed and known to everyone in public domain.
- Such information could be released to media, or may be used by vigilance officers, anti-corruption wings, or Lokayukta to uncover corruption. So any corrupt government official has to fear even a simple RTI application. There is no knowing what a simple RTI application could lead to next!
- So one must be aware of possible avenues to disclose the RTI information to in case the desired results are not being achieved. For example, let us assume you had asked in an RTI for information about budget and plan for roads in your area. You have got the information about budget, plan etc in RTI reply. But even after several months there is no progress to be seen as per plan or budget provided in RTI application. So this could be the right time explore avenues like highlighting this in media, or to committed activists who can make sure your grievance gets the exposure it needs. Usually corrupt and inefficient people will not do their work unless there is fear of larger exposure through media, or possibility of affecting of career by disclosure to vigilance officers, and so on.
- So to summarize, RTI can be used by citizens effectively as an important pillar using it within the framework of public entities like media, NGO, activists, associations, and last not but not the least, other citizens.