Right to Information (RTI) is an act of the Parliament of India which sets out the rules and procedures regarding citizens' right to information. It replaced the former Freedom of Information Act, 2002. Under the provisions of RTI Act, any citizen of India may request information from a "public authority" (a body of Government or "instrumentality of State") which is required to reply expeditiously or within thirty days. In case of matter involving a petitioner's life and liberty, the information has to be provided within 48 hours. The Act also requires every public authority to computerize their records for wide dissemination and to proactively publish certain categories of information so that the citizens need minimum recourse to request for information formally.
This law was passed by Parliament on 15 June 2005 and came fully into force on 12 October 2005. Every day, over 4800 RTI applications are filed. In the first ten years of the commencement of the act over 17,500,000 applications had been filed.
RTI is a fundamental right for every citizen of India. The authorities under RTI Act 2005 are called quasi-judicial authorities. This act was enacted in order to consolidate the fundamental right in the Indian constitution 'freedom of speech'. Since RTI is implicit in the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, it is an implied fundamental right.
Information disclosure in India is restricted by the Official Secrets Act 1923 and various other special laws, which the new RTI Act relaxes. Right to Information codifies a fundamental right of the citizens of India. RTI has proven to be very useful, but is counteracted by the Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2011.
The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019, seeks to amend Sections 13, 16, and 27 of the RTI Act. Section 13 of the original Act: It sets the term of the central Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners at five years (or until the age of 65, whichever is earlier). Finally in ashwanee k. singh case on 20 september 2020, it is stabilised that right to information is a fundamental right
Governance and process
The Right to information in India is governed by two major bodies:
- Central Information Commission (CIC) – Chief Information commissioner who heads all the central departments and ministries- with their own public Information officers (PIO)s. CICs are directly under the President of India.
- State Information Commissions – State Public Information Officers or SPIOs head over all the state department and ministries. The SPIO office is directly under the corresponding State Governor.
State and Central Information Commissions are independent bodies and Central Information Commission has no jurisdiction over the State Information Commission.
A citizen who desires to seek some information from a public authority is required to send, along with the application (a Postal order or DD (Demand draft) or a bankers cheque) payable to the Accounts Officer of the public authority as fee prescribed for seeking information. If the person is from a disadvantaged community, he/she need not pay. The applicant may also be required to pay further fee towards the cost of providing the information, details of which shall be intimated to the applicant by the PIO (Public Information Officer) as prescribed by the RTI ACT.
Digital right to information systems
A digital portal has been set up, RTI Portal, a gateway to the citizens for quick search of information on the details of first Appellate Authorities, PIOs etc. amongst others, besides access to RTI related information / disclosures published on the web by various Public Authorities under the government of India as well as the State Governments. It is an initiative taken by Department of Personnel and Training, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions.
Intellectual property rights
Many civil society members have recently alleged the subversion of the right to information Act by the invocation of Intellectual Property rights argument by the government agencies from time to time.
Most notable are:
- The Right to Information denied by RBI on Demonetization citing Intellectual Property Laws.
- The Right to Information Denied by Uttar Pradesh Irrigation Department after more than 8 months of a wait on under construction Gomti Riverfront Development Project. A group of researchers requested for environment Impact and Project Report on the project which is flagged for negative impacts, tax money wastage by environmental scientists and research reports.