Information is an asset. Before the Right To Information (RTI) Act enacted in 2005, information was limited and often, important public data remained within the access of a select few only. The state of affairs in India has changed undoubtedly after the RTI act, with citizens filing petitions, but there is still a lack of awareness that has limited its adoption. Even now, many civic activists follow the conventional procedure of visiting the government offices for information, when it could be done through a simple application.
There are others who complain that getting the relevant information from a government department through the RTI is next to impossible. While there may be a host of reasons for this, it improves the chances of the petitioner if the application itself is done following certain basic rules.
The biggest challenge for a lay citizen is often to file an RTI in the correct format, by mentioning appropriate sections and addressing it to the concerned public authority. This article lists the common mistakes that citizens make while filing RTI applications and explains the correct way to go about it.
How do I identify the relevant public authority to approach?
A simple Google search will help you identify the parent department, to which the petition has to be sent.
For example, if you intend to file an application to get data pertaining to air quality in your city, do a basic search on “Which department is in-charge of air quality in Tamil Nadu?” Once the department is known (in this example, it would be the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board), read about their roles and responsibilities.
It is always recommended that you mention Section 6(3) of the RTI act in your application (see sample below); this section requires the Public Information Officer (PIO) to transfer the petition to the appropriate government office in case it has not been addressed to him.
For example, an RTI petition filed by this reporter with the Chennai office of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) regarding the Sterlite Copper Smelter Plant in Thoothukudi was transferred to Thoothukudi, only because it mentioned the section at the end.
The PIO has no onus to transfer the application and can turn it down, if this section is not mentioned.
What is the fee for seeking information from the public authorities?
The applicant should send a demand draft or a banker’s cheque or an Indian Postal Order of Rs 10, along with the application, as fees prescribed for seeking information. The payment of fee can also be made by way of cash to the Accounts Officer of the public authority or to the Assistant Public Information Officer against proper receipt.
A BPL (below poverty line) applicant doesn’t have to pay the fee, but should submit documents supporting his claim to that category.
How do I draft the questions?
Be specific about the questions you ask. It is common to go wrong in framing questions — keeping them too generic or hazy — which helps the authorities to deny information.
There is no point in asking the questions, that cannot be answered by PIOs. For example,
Incorrect: When would the housing project at Perumbakkam be completed?
Correct: Kindly specify the usual time period prescribed for the completion of housing projects such as the Perumbakkam project
Secondly, always mention a specific place and time in respect of which you seek the data. Being ambiguous is a bad idea. Understand that in many government departments, the first inclination is to deny the information and so, any loophole in the application is an advantage.
For example, a good question to ask would be:
Kindly supply the certified copies in the format convenient to you about the total funds received by Chennai Corporation to remove water hyacinth from the water bodies in Chennai from 2012 – 2018
Do I have to pay the fees while filing the appeal?
If the applicant does not get a reply from the concerned public authority within 30 days of sending the application, there is a provision of filing an appeal. An appeal can be filed to the first appellate authority, who is an officer senior in rank to the Public Information Officer.
Under section 18 of RTI act, applicants are not obliged to pay the fees for the appeal, as it is filed as a consequence of official failure to provide the information in the first place.
What are the lesser known provisions in the RTI Act that you can benefit from?
Besides seeking information, applicants can ask the PIO for the possibility of a visit to the public authority to verify the data by themselves (Section 2J).
Generally, if the information you ask for is voluminous, the applicant should bear the expenses of photocopying it. However, if the PIO responds to the query after 30 days of filing the RTI, the latter should pay for the dissemination of information to the applicant (Section 7(6)).
Is it mandatory to attach your Aadhaar card with your RTI application?
It is important to send any document that proves you are a citizen of India. A photocopy of any proof — PAN card, driving license or an Aadhaar card should be sent along with the application.
What are the mandatory sections to be included in the RTI application?
Start the application by including Section 6(1) of RTI act, which says that a person, who desires to obtain any information shall make a request in writing or through electronic means in English or Hindi or in the official language of the area. Also, section 6(3) of the act, that would make the PIO transfer the application to the appropriate department, should be included. Please refer to the sample application format above to see how these sections could be included.
Are there any trusted online sites for filing RTI applications?
Filing an RTI online is simple. You can cut down on the number of visits to the court and post office (to collect the Rs 10 stamp and post the application respectively). Payment can be done through credit and debit cards for availing information.
RTI Online, an initiative of the Department of Personnel and Training, Government of India, makes the job easy, without extra payments. For beginners, who are unaware of how to file questions, there are numerous sites that help you frame these questions and send it to the right department for a charge. YouRTI.in and OnlineRTI are a couple of such services.
[If you have any more queries in regard to filing an RTI application, leave a comment below, or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org ]