Sunday, January 23, 2011

Right to information act


The Right to Information Act 2005 (RTI) is an Act of the Parliament of India. It is the implementation of freedom of information legislation in India on a national level "to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens." The Act applies to all States and Union Territories of India, except the State of Jammu and Kashmir - which is covered under a State-level law. Under the provisions of the Act, any citizen (excluding the citizens within J&K) 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. 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 13 October 2005 [1]. Information disclosure in India was hitherto restricted by the Official Secrets Act 1923 and various other special laws, which the new RTI Act now relaxes.
State Level Laws
The RTI Laws were first successfully enacted by the state governments of — Tamil Nadu (1997)Goa (1997), Rajasthan (2000), Karnataka (2000), Delhi (2001), Maharashtra (2002), Assam (2002), Madhya Pradesh (2003), and Jammu and Kashmir (2004). The Maharashtra and Delhi State level enactments are considered to have been the most widely used. The Delhi RTI Act is still in force. Jammu & Kashmir, has its own Right to Information Act of 2009, the successor to the repealed J&K Right to Information Act, 2004 and its 2008 amendment.
Freedom of Information Act 2002
Passage of a national level law, however, proved to be a difficult task. Given the experience of state governments in passing practicable legislation, the Central Government appointed a working group under H. D. Shourie and assigned it the task of drafting legislation. The Shourie draft, in an extremely diluted form, was the basis for the Freedom of Information Bill, 2000 which eventually became law under the Freedom of Information Act, 2002. This Act was severely criticized for permitting too many exemptions, not only under the standard grounds of national security and sovereignty, but also for requests that would involve "disproportionate diversion of the resources of a public authority". There was no upper limit on the charges that could be levied. There were no penalties for not complying with
Enactment
The doomed FoI Act led to sustained pressure for a better National RTI enactment. The first draft of the Right to Information Bill was presented to Parliament on 22 December 2004. After intense debate, more than a hundred amendments to the draft Bill were made between December 2004 and 15 June 2005, when the bill finally passed. The Act came fully into effect on 12 October 2005.
Scope
The Act covers the whole of India except Jammu and Kashmir, where J&K Right to Information Act is applicable. Referred Under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, laws passed by the Parliament are not automatically applicable to the state of Jammu and Kashmir unless endorsed by the state's legislature.It is applicable to all constitutional authorities, including the executive, legislature and judiciary; any institution or body established or constituted by an act of Parliament or a state legislature. It is also defined in the Act that bodies or authorities established or constituted by order or notification of appropriate government including bodies "owned, controlled or substantially financed" by government, or non-Government organizations "substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds" provided by the government are also covered in it.
Private bodies are not within the Act's ambit directly. However, information that can be accessed under any other law in force by a public authority can also be requested. In a landmark decision of 30-Nov-2006 ('Sarbajit Roy versus DERC') the Central Information Commission also reaffirmed that privatised public utility companies continue to be within the RTI Act- their privatisation notwithstanding. The Act also explicitly overrides the Official Secrets Act and other laws in force on 15-June-2005 to the extent of any inconsistency.
Information
The Act specifies that citizens have a right to:
·         request any information (as defined).
·         take copies of documents.
·         inspect documents, works and records.
·         take certified samples of materials of work.
·         obtain information in form of printouts, diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes 'or in any other electronic mode' or through printouts.
Process
Under the Act, all authorities covered must appoint their Public Information Officer (PIO). Any person may submit a request to the PIO for information in writing. It is the PIO's obligation to provide information to citizens of India who request information under the Act. If the request pertains to another public authority (in whole or part) it is the PIO's responsibility to transfer/forward the concerned portions of the request to a PIO of the other within 5 days. In addition, every public authority is required to designate Assistant Public Information Officers (APIOs) to receive RTI requests and appeals for forwarding to the PIOs of their public authority. The citizen making the request is not obliged to disclose any information except his name and contact particulars.

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