In 2002, civil society organisation across the world came together and decided to observe September 28 as International Right to Know Day as a way of increasing public awareness of their fundamental human right to information. In 2019, the day was recognised at the 74th UN General Assembly. The Asembly proclaimed that September 28 be observed as the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI).
Today, more than 115 countries, including India, have the Right to Information Law.
The RTI Act 2005 is among the most successful laws in India. It empowers ordinary citizens of the democracy to secure access to information that are under the control of public authority and helps keep a check on the elected government.
What is the Right to Information Act, 2005?
The Right to Information Act was passed in 2005 to empower citizens to demand information from a public authority regarding the government and its functioning. The objective of the historic legislation was to ensure transparency and accountability in the governance of the country.
What can citizens do with this right?
Any citizen can approach any public information officer to provide him or her with certain details of a government department or its operations. For instance, you may seek information about how many government schools are there in your town and how many teachers are working there. You may also ask about how many COVID patients are currently being treated in hospitals in India or which company is manufacturing and installing ventilation in government hospitals. The Act mandates the officer in charge to give you these details.
Why is the Act hailed as people-empowering?
The Act enables citizens to hold the government responsible for its shortcomings, if any. Many RTI activists use information collected to expose the government. Did you know the RTI Act helped expose a number of scams including the Adarsh Housing Society Scam and the Commonwealth Games Scam? Every day, about 5000 RTI applications are filed. The RTI Act has been hailed as an iconic, people-empowering legislation because it has been used persistently to ask questions across the spectrum – from the village ration shop to the Rafale fighter aircraft deal.
The RTI is a constant challenge to the misuse of power. Our Constitution makes the freedom of speech and expression a fundamental right of every citizen. This includes the right to acquire information and to disseminate it. Hence, the RTI Act is a vehicle to facilitate the implementation of the fundamental right.
How should one file an RTI application?
The first step to filing an RTI application would be to identify the department from which information has to be obtained. The next step is to write your RTI application in the prescribed format. But this format isn’t mandatory and you can submit your application on a plain paper as well. The application can be in English or any of the Indian languages. Online applications are also accepted. The application form costs just 10, but other charges may be applicable (in case one needs a photocopy of a document, etc). One should send the RTI application via speed post/registered post to the public information officer and wait for the response. Besides, one need not cite the reason for seeking information. If one doesn’t get a reply from the department concerned within 30 days of sending the application, he or she can approach the Central Information Commission (CIC) to lodge a complaint.
What is CIC?
The CIC, short for the Central Information Commission, is responsible for the implementation of the provisions of the Act. It consists of one Chief Information Commissioner, who heads the Commission and not more than 10 Information Commissioners. The CIC is empowered to receive and inquire into complaints from any person regarding access to information under the control of public authorities.
What are the departments that do not come under the ambit of the RTI?
Certain intelligence and security organisations are exempted from disclosing information. They include the Intelligence Bureau, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Central Economic Intelligence Bureau, Directorate of Enforcement, Ministry of Finance, Aviation Research Centre, Special Frontier Force and the Border Security Force, among other departments.
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