Right to Information

Right to Information

This article deals with topic titled ‘Right to Information.’ This is part of our series on ‘Ethics’  . For more articles , you can click here



Right to Information  Act

Sweden was the first country in the world to give Right to Information in 1766. USA gave it after 200 years in 1966. Other countries include France (1978), Canada (1982) , Japan (1999) , Britain (2000) & finally India in 2005


Role of Political Parties and Government

Constituent Assembly Prof KT Shah gave suggestion to include it in Constitution . But it wasn’t debated properly
1975-77 During Emergency, Rights of Citizen were blatantly violated . JP led movement emphasised on Right to Information
1977 Morarji Desai Government made Taskforce which suggested against making RTI Act
1989 Boforce Scandal – RTI again came to limelight . But governments formed during this period were unstable and nothing came out
1997 IK Gujaral Government made HD Shorey Committee to frame RTI Act. Present RTI act was drafted by HD Shorey Committee
2000 Atal Bihari Vajpayee promised in UN to make RTI Act
2005 14th Lok Sabha passed RTI act



Role of Judiciary in RTI Act

  • Judiciary has given many judgements since 1950s that RTI is part of Right to Freedom of Expression.
  • PUCL vs GoI (2003) gave right to citizens to ask any information from their representatives (MPs & MLAs)
  • TN was the first state to make RTI Act in 1997 based on Judicial Judgement regarding this .



Role of Civil Society in RTI Act Movement

Civil Society or NGOs have tried to make informed citizenry. Eg : Rajasthan’s Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) , gathered information about services being  provided to citizens by government and gave it to citizens. They organised Jan Sunwais which was platform to address issues raised by Citizens where Ministers and High Officials were invited and asked critical questions which forced them to become accountable . This Andolan and Jan Sunwais became world famous and in 2000 Rajasthan passed RTI Act at state level


  • RTI Act,2005 empowers the citizen of India to seek information from a public authority
  • Under the provisions of the Act,
        • Any citizen may request information from a “public authority” (Act defines what is Public Authority)
        • Public Authority is required to reply expeditiously or within thirty days.
        • Every public authority must computerise their records  so that the citizens need minimum recourse to request for information formally
        • Applies to all States and Union Territories of India



Downside of Information Sharing

  • Freedom brings with it added responsibility as well  . Hence, it must be used with responsibility . Non-serious applications should be avoided.
  • Information can be used by anti- social elements to create disharmony  &  sense of mistrust & despair 


Thus adequate checks & balances need to be built to ensure that it is not misused


Provisions of the Act

Objective : To bring transparency in governance


How to apply

  • It is said to be most citizen centric and friendly act
  • No specific format is required . It can be applied by writing on blank paper or online
  • Language : English or Hindi or Any official local language
  • Fees is not barrier : Fee is ₹10 and free for BPL
  • Public Information Officer (PIO) has legal obligation to assist the person in application of form
  • No reason required to be given for seeking information


Central Information Commission shall consist of : 1 Chief Information Commissioner and upto 10 Central Information Commissioners.



  • PIO = Public Information Officer (at Tehsil or District level)
  • PIO are officers who provide information requested under RTI
  • APIO = Assistant PIO .
    • He is the connecting link between rural masses and PIO. Essentially they are created at Post Office level because poor person cant travel to Tehsil and District  to apply to PIO due to transportation costs and losing work day .
    • Actual information is given by PIO in this case too.
  • Duties of PIO
    • PIO will examine requests
    • If desired information is related to some other public authority , then PIO will forward that application within 5 days to that Public Authority and inform the applicant
    • PIO can take help of any other officer for proper disposal of his duties
    • PIO will provide information within 30 days of application or dismiss application under Section 8 or 9 of RTI
    • Where desired information has question of life and liberty , then information is to be provided within 48 hours
    • If PIO fails to provide information within stipulated time  , it is presumed that he has denied to provide information.
  • If PIO dismisses application , he must
    • Tell reasons
    • Tell the time limit in which an appeal must be made against that.
    • Provide details of Appellate Officers


Mechanism of processing of information

Time : 30 working days unless stated otherwise .

  • In exceptional cases like issue of violation of Human Rights , it has to be processed in 48 hours
  • If giving application to APIO, add 5 more days (35 working days)
  • If the desired information has vested interests of Third Party , it can take maximum 40 days
  • If PIO fails to provide information within stipulated time  , it is presumed that he has denied to provide information.


Appellate Authorities

  • Process of Appeal : Appeal can be made when no information is given in 30 days or  application has been rejected  for some reason or given information is  not satisfactory. There are two appeals
    • 1st Appeal : Officer of the rank higher than PIO of concerned Public Authority within 30 days of decision
    • 2nd Appeal : Can be made in Central or State Information Commission within 90 days of first appeal
  • But CIC is the only appellate authority which may declare a body as public authority if it is convinced that the organization fits into the criteria for being under the RTI Act.


When information can be denied

  • Section 8 of RTI (dealt below)
  • If an information violates copyright act (Section 9)


Wrt Official Secrets Act

  • Act overrides the Official Secrets Act, 1923. The information commissions can allow access to the information if public interest outweighs harm to protected persons.


Exemptions under Section 8

Exemption to certain Information under Section 8 of RTI

  • National security or sovereignty
  • National economic interests
  • Relations with foreign states
  • Law enforcement and the judicial process
  • Cabinet and other decision-making documents
  • Trade secrets & commercial confidentiality
  • Individual safety
  • Personal privacy


Public Authorities

Section 2(h) of the RTI Act states that “public authority” means any authority or body established

  • By  Constitution
  • By  law made by Parliament or State Legislature
  • By notification issued by the appropriate Government or substantially financed by government

Issue : RTI Act does not define substantial financing. Consequently, courts are often required to decide whether a particular form and quantum of financial aid constitutes substantial finance.)


Different Obligations on Public Authorities

  • Act imposes obligation on public agencies to disclose the information suo-moto to reduce requests for information
  • To make all the information online (digitization of information)
  • Proactive disclosure of public information on website
  • Timely appointment of PIOs & APIOs
  • Creating the awareness wrt Act


Different Rights under Right to Information Act

  • Right of Inspection
  • Right to obtain Carbon Copies of information . This can be in form of Physical Copies (Xerox) , Digital form (CD, DVD)
  • Right to take the certified samples


Amendment to RTI Act in 2013

  • Amendment said that Political Parties are not Public Authorities under RTI Act ie  they are outside the purview of RTI Act
  • The amendment will ensure that political parties are not obliged to disclose the basis to choose their candidates & the source of their funding



2019 Amendment

1 . Security of Tenure of CIC , IC & SIC taken away

        • original law = Fixed 5 year tenure or 65 years age
        • Amendment =  Center to decide their tenure.


2. Position of CIC, IC , SIC

  • Original Act : Position was as follows

Chief Central Information Commissioner

Same as Chief Election Commissioner

Central level Information Commissioner Same as Election Commissioners
State Information Commissioners Same as Chief Secretary of State
  • Amendment :  empowers Central government to unilaterally decide the tenure, salary, allowances and other terms of service of Information Commissioners, both at the Centre and the States
  • Rationale : Election Commissioners are Constitutional Body while Election Commissioners are Statutory



  • Will impact independence of the institution
  • Against Federalism


Analysis of RTI

  • Transparency
  • Accountability
  • Efficiency increased
  • Strengthened democracy
  • Increase in people’s participation in governance

Number of scams RTI has helped unearth in past decade include Adarsh Housing Society scam, 2G scam, Commonwealth scam, MNREGA etc


Issues 1 . Lack of Awareness

  • There is very less awareness in people about provisions of Act .
  • It is mostly used by NGOs and enlightened people
  • Over the last decade, less than 2 % of the Indian population has used the law


2. Victimisation of RTI Activists : large number of RTI Activists are killed and there is no effective act to provide security (Whistle-blower’s Act is too weak) .


3. Misuse of RTI :

  • To harass and blackmail public functionaries .


4. Section 8 of RTI Act (exceptions under RTI) : This affect transparency

  • Political Parties are not under ambit of RTI .
  •  collegium System of Judiciary not under RTI .


5. Issues wrt effective implementation

  • Under-staffing .
  • Issues wrt maintenance of information.


6. High Pendency

  • CIC & SIC post remains vacant and other appointments are not made with urgency.  Ruling parties want to make RTI ineffective



Reforms required

  1. Greater voluntary disclosure of information held with public Authorities.
  2. Strong Whistleblower Act .
  3. Some sort of protection should be provided to honest officers to stop harassment
  4. Timely appointment of PIOs, CIC, SIC, IC etc
  5. Extra finances for logistics Create awareness by organising awareness drives .
  6. Bring political parties under RTI .
  7. Some state level initiatives which can be used
        • Jankari Call Centre: Bihar Government has initiated a call centre which facilitates the  caller in drafting the RTI application and the fee is collected through the phone bill.
        • “Train the Trainer” concept in Assam: Government trains the NGOs to impart training to citizens on RTI in order to maximize the reach of RTI


(2013 UPSC Study ) A Public Information Officer has received an application under RTI Act. Having gathered the information, the PIO discovers that the information pertains to some of the decisions taken by him, which were found to be not altogether right. There were other employees also who were party to these decisions . Disclosure of the information is likely to lead to disciplinary action with possibility of punishment against him as well as some of his colleagues. Non-disclosure or part disclosure or camouflaged disclosure of information will result into lesser punishment or no punishment.


The PIO is otherwise an honest and conscientious person but this particular decision, on which the RTI application has been filed, turned out to be wrong. He comes to you for advice


The following are some suggested options. Please evaluate the merits and demerits of each of the options:

  • The PIO could refer the matter to his superior officer and seek his advice and act strictly in accordance with the advice, even though he is not completely in agreement with the advice of the superior.
  • The PIO could proceed on leave and leave the matter to be dealt by his successor in office or request for transfer of the application to another PIO.
  • The PIO could weigh the consequences of disclosing the information truthfully, including the effect on his career, and reply in a manner that would not place him or his career in jeopardy, but at the same time a little compromise can be made on the contents of the information.
  • The PIO could consult his other colleagues who are party to the decision and take action as per their advice.


Also please indicate (without necessarily restricting to the above options) what you would like to advise, giving proper reasons. (20 marks| 250 words)

Present case presents a dilemma of Public Interest vs Private interest . Not giving correct information will jeopardise people’s right to information and giving it will make public his wrong decisions


First Option

  • Senior is experienced person and he can give better advice to resolve the dilemma
  • Following the orders of Higher official is in line with Code of Conduct.
  • Against provisions of RTI Act.


Second Option

  • There is case of Conflict of Interest . So , this action is completely in line with Code of Conduct .
  • Shows cowardice and lack of courage and running from responsibility  .


Third Option

  • Personal interest of person can be protected and can save person from any blot on career that can harm future prospects .
  • It will compromise integrity of person and credibility of office
  • It will compromise the rights of person who wants genuine information which is legal right under RTI
  • If his action of camouflage of information is detected in future , he will have to suffer double punishment .


Fourth Option

  • They are stakeholders too and consulting them beforehand can save him from future bitterness in relations .
  • As PIO , his duty is towards giving correct information to person who is demanding it and not to protect his colleagues
  • In legal sense, in future if wrongdoing in giving information is discovered, only he will be responsible and liable for this act.


Under RTI, it is the legal obligation of PIO to give Carbon Copy of Information available with authority without any modification. Right of citizen to have access to correct information cant be curtailed under RTI. Giving manipulated information can lead him to more troubles in future in case wrongdoing is discovered .


Hence, best decision is to give objective information without any manipulation which is his legal duty and give justification in future if any of his past actions are questioned based on the information disclosed.



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