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What you should know about the Right to Information Act 2005
(Source : rediff.com) TNC Rajagopalan in New Delhi | October 03, 2005 16:03 IST

There are many questions related to the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI) that readers would love answered. Here's an attempt at answering some frequently asked questions on RTI.

How to get the text of the RTI Act?

The Web site persmin.nic.in provides a link to RTI that leads to http://persmin.nic.in/RTI/WelcomeRTI.htm where the legal texts can be found. There are further links to frequently asked questions (FAQ) on RTI.

Where can one find the Public Information Authority (PIO)?

Each public authority must designate a PIO at every administrative unit or office under it to provide information to citizens under the RTI. The process of designating such officers is on and, by October 12, 2005, a PIO must be in place in almost all the offices of the public authorities.

It is possible that a designated PIO may not have the information requested for readily available. In that case, he may seek the assistance of any other officer and inform the person requesting the information accordingly.

The RTI says that any officer, whose assistance has been sought by the PIO for the proper discharge of his or her duties, shall render all assistance and for the purpose of contraventions of the provisions of this Act, such other officer shall be treated as a PIO.

What information can a PIO refuse to give?

A PIO can refuse information on 11 subjects that are listed in the RTI Act. These include Cabinet papers, information received in confidence from foreign governments, information prejudicial to security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the country, breach of privilege of legislatures, etc.

The central intelligence agencies need not give information, except on matters pertaining to allegations of corruption or human rights violations.

Can a PIO provide only partial information?

A PIO may give only partial information if he has enough grounds to determine that the information not made available get covered under the exemptions.

The decision of a PIO not to give certain information can always be challenged before the Information Commission.

How to find out which government authority handles a particular matter?

Well, each public authority must publish details such as the particulars of its organisation, functions and duties, the powers and duties of its officers and employees, the procedure followed in its decision-making process, including channels of supervision and accountability, the norms set by it for the discharge of its functions, the rules, regulations, instructions, manuals and records used by its employees for discharging its functions, a statement of the categories of the documents held by it or under its control, etc.

How to ask for information and what does it cost?

Information must be sought in the prescribed form along with a fee of Rs 10, plus nominal charges for making copies of documents such as Rs 2 per page or Rs 50 per diskette or actual cost of samples, etc.

Will RTI work, when file notings are kept away from public scrutiny?

We have to wait and see. The law can give rights and cast obligations on the public servants, but it is up to the citizens to exercise the rights and for public servants to co-operate.

Something in the RTI Act that can be of immediate utility to citizens is access to manuals and records that are used by public servants that throw light on the decision-making processes.