Right to Information Act
About RTI Act, 2005
- Under the Right to Information Act, 2005, Public Authorities are required to make disclosures on various aspects of their structure and functioning.
- This includes: (i) disclosure on their organisation, functions, and structure, (ii) powers and duties of its officers and employees, and (iii) financial information.
- The intent of such suo moto disclosures is that the public should need minimum recourse through the Act to obtain such information. If such information is not made available, citizens have the right to request for it from the Authorities.
- This may include information in the form of documents, files, or electronic records under the control of the Public Authority. The intent behind the enactment of the Act is to promote transparency and accountability in the working of Public Authorities.
Who is included in the ambit of ‘Public Authorities’?
- The RTI Act defines “public authorities” in Section 2(h).
- A “public authority” means any authority or body or institution of self- government established or constituted
- by or under the Constitution;
- by any other law made by Parliament;
- by any other law made by State Legislature;
- by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government, and includes any –
- body owned, controlled or substantially financed;
- Non-Government organization substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government.
Section 8 of the RTI
- This provides for exemption from disclosure of information that are more valid in reasons
- Which would affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State;
- Which has been expressly forbidden to be published by any court of law or tribunal;
- Which would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or the State Legislature;
- Information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property;
- Information received in confidence from foreign government;
- Information which would endanger the life or physical safety of any person;
- Information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders;
- Cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers, Secretaries and other officers: Provided that the decisions of Council of Ministers, the reasons thereof, and the material on the basis of which the decisions were taken shall be made public after the decision has been taken, and the matter is complete, or over;
- Information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause an unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual.
- Section 24 of the RTI Act exempts certain security and intelligence organizations from the purview of the Act.
How is the right to information enforced under the Act?
- The Act has established a three tier structure for enforcing the right to information guaranteed under the Act.
- The first request for information goes to the Central/State Assistant Public Information Officer and Central/State Public Information Officer, designated by the Public Authorities. These Officers are required to provide information to an RTI applicant within 30 days of the request.
- Appeals from their decisions go to an Appellate Authority.
- Appeals against the order of the Appellate Authority go to the State Information Commission or the Central Information Commission. These Information Commissions consist of a Chief Information Commissioner, and up to 10 Information Commissioners.
Right to Information (Amendment) Act, 2019
- The Act amended Sections 13 and 16 of the RTI Act, 2005.
- Section 13 of the original Act sets the term of the central Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners at five years (or until the age of 65, whichever is earlier). The amendment changed that the appointment will be for such term as may be prescribed by the Central Government.
- According to the amendment act, the salaries, allowances and other terms of service of the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners shall be such as may be prescribed by the Central Government. Previously it was equivalent to that of the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners respectively.
- The government said that the amendment was required because the election commission is a Constitutional body while the information commission, formed under the Right to Information Act, is a statutory one.
Why in News?
- According to the Central Information Commission’s annual report, the Centre has only rejected 4.3% of all Right to Information requests in 2019-20, the lowest ever rate.
- However, almost 40% of these rejections did not include any valid reason, as they did not invoke one of the permissible exemption clauses in the RTI Act, according to an analysis of report data. This includes 90% of rejections by the Prime Minister’s Office.
- Public authorities under the Central government received 13.7 lakh RTI requests in 2019-20, out of which 58,634 were rejected for various reasons. Rejection rates have fallen since the 13.9% rate in 2005-06, and have been steadily trending downwards since the 8.4% spike in 2014-15. In 2019-20, they hit their lowest level so far.
- The RTI Act allows public authorities to reject RTI requests on a number of grounds, ranging from information which would endanger life and safety to that which involves irrelevant personal information, Cabinet papers, foreign governments, copyrights, or sovereignty, security and intelligence matters. Public authorities are expected to cite the relevant clause of the Act to invoke the exemption.
- In 38.7% of rejections in 2019-20, however, public authorities failed to cite these permissible exemption clauses, and were classified under the ‘Others’ category in the CIC data. This is an increase from the 33% seen the previous year.
- Of the permissible grounds for rejection, Section 8(1)(j) saw the highest use. It permits denial of access to personal information if disclosure has no relationship to any public activity or public interest or is likely to cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual concerned. One third of all permissible rejections invoked this clause.
- Section 24 of the Act which exempts information related to security and intelligence organisations — except allegations of corruption and human rights violations — was also frequently used, with one in five permissible rejections coming under this category.
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