Guidelines For The State Public Information Officers
The Right to Information Act, 2005 empowers citizens to get information from any ‘public authority’. The State Public Information Officer (SPIO) of a public authority plays a pivotal role in making the right of a citizen to information a reality. The casts specific duties on him and makes him liable for penalty in case of default. It is, therefore, essential for a SPIO to study the Act carefully and understand its provisions correctly. Following aspects should particularly be kept in view while dealing with the applications under the Act.
What is Information
Information is any material in any from. If includes records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic from. It also includes information relating to any private body which can be accessed by the public authority under any law for the time being in force.
Right to Information under the Act
A citizen has a right to seek such information from a public authority which is held by the public authority or which is held under its control. This right includes inspection of work, documents and records; taking notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records; and taking certified samples of material held by the public authority or held under the control of the public authority.
The Act gives the citizens a right to information at par with he Members of Parliament and the Members of States Legislatures. According to the Act, the information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature, shall not be denied to any person.
A citizen has a right to obtain an information in the from of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or though print -outs provided such information is already stored in a computer or in any other device from which the information may be transferred to diskettes etc.
The information to the applicant should ordinarily be provided in the from in which it is sought. However, if the supply of information sought in a particular from would disproportionately divert the resources of the public authority or may cause harm to the safety or preservation of the records, supply of information in the that form may be denied.
The Act gives the right to information only to the citizen of India. It dose not make provision for giving information to Corporations, Associations, Companies etc. which are legal entities/persons, but not citizens. However, if an application is made by employee or office- bearer of any Corporation, Association, Company, NGO etc. indicating his name and such employee/office bearer is a citizen of India, information may be supplied to him/her. In such cases, it would be presumed that a citizen has sought information at the address of the Corporation etc.
Only such information is requires to be supplied under the Act which already exists and is held by the public authority or held under the control of the public authority. The CPIO is not supposed to create information; or to interpret information; or to solve the problems raised by the applicants; or to furnish replies to hypothetical questions.
Information Exempted From Disclosure
Sub-section (1) of section 8 and section 9 of the Act enumerate the types of information which is exempt from disclosure. Sub-section (2) of section 8. however, provides that information exempted under sub-section (1) or exempted under the Official Secrets Act, 1923 can be disclosure overweighs the harm to the protected interest. Further, sub-section (3) of section 8 provides that information exempt from disclosure under sub-section (1), except as provided in clauses (a), (c) and (i) thereof, would cease to be exempted after 20 years from the date of occurrence of the related event etc.
It may be noted that section 8(3) of the Act does not require the public authorities to retain records for indefinite period. The records retention schedule applicable to the concerned public authority. Information generated in a file may survive in the from of an OM or a letter or in any other from even after destruction of the file/record. The Act requires furnishing of information so available after the lapse of 20 years even if such information was exempt from disclosure under sub-section (1) of Section 8.It means that the information which, in normal course, is exempt from disclosure under sub-section (1) of
Section 8 of the Act, would cease to be exempted if 20 years have lapsed after occurrence of the incident to which the information relates. However, the following types of information would continue to be exempt and there would be no obligation, even after lapse of 20 years. To give any citizen:
information disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interest of the State, relation with foreign state or lead to
incitement of an offence;
information the disclosure of which would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or State Legislature; or
cabinet papers including records of deliberation of the Council pf Ministers, Secretaries and other Officers subject to the conditions give in proviso to clause (i) of sub-section (1) of Section 8 of the Act.
Right Information Vis-a-vis other Acts
The RTI Act has over-riding effect vis-a-vis other laws inasmuch as the provisions of the RTI would have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in the Official Secrets Act, 1923, and any other law for the time being in force or in any instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than the RTI Act.
Rendering Assistance Applicants
The State Public Information Officer has a duty to render reasonable assistance to the persons seeking information. As per provisions of the Act, a persons, who desires to obtain any information is required to make a request in writing or through electronic means in English or Hindi or in the official language of the area in which the application is made. If a person seeking information is not able to make such request in writing, the State Public Information Officer Should render reasonable assistance to him to reduce the same in writing.
Where access to a record is required to be provided to a sensorial disabled person, the State Public Information Officer should provide assistance to such person to enable him to access the information. He should also provide such assistance to the person as may be appropriate for the inspection of records where such inspection is involved.
Assistance Available to SPIO
The State Public Information Officer may seek the assistance of any other officer as he or she considers necessary for the proper discharge of his or her duties. The officer, whose assistance is so sought by the SPIO, would render all assistance to him. Such an officer shall be deemed to be a State Public Information Officer and would be liable for contravention of any provisions of the Act the same way as any other State Public Information Officer. It would be advisable for the SPIO to inform the officer whose assistance is sought, about the above provision, at the time of the seeking his assistance.
Suo Motu Disclosure
The Act makes it obligatory for every public authority to make suo motu disclosure in respect of the particulars of its organization, functions, duties and other matters, as provided in section 3 of the Act. The information so published, according to sub-section (3) of section 3, should be easily accessible with the SPIO in electronic format. The SPIO should, therefore, make concerned efforts to ensure that the requirements of the Section 3 are met and maximum information in respect of the authority is made available on the internet. It would help him in two ways. First, the number of applications under the Act would be reduced and secondly, it would facilitate his work of providing information inasmuch as most of the information would be available ho him at one place.
Fee for Seeking Information
An applicant, along with his application, is required to send a demand draft or a banker’s cheque or an India Postal Order of Rs.10/- (Rupees ten), payable to the Accounts Officer of the public authority as fee prescribed for seeking information. He can also make payment of fee by way cash to the Accounts Officer of the public authority or to the Central Assistant Public Information Officer against proper receipt.
Additional fee has been prescribed by the Right to Information (Regulation of Fee and Cost) Rules, 2005 for supply of information as give below:
rupees two (Rs.2/-) for each page (in A-3 or A-3 size paper) created or copied;
actual charge or cost price of a copy in larger size paper;
actual cost or price for samples or models;
for inspection of records, no fee for the first hour; and a fee of rupees five (Rs.5/-) for each subsequent hour (or fraction thereof);
for information provided in diskette or floppy rupees fifty (Rs.50/-) per diskette or floppy; and
for information provided in printed from at the price fixed for such publication or rupees two per page of photocopy for extracts from the publication.
If the applicant belongs to below poverty line (BPL) category, he is not required to pay any fee. However, he submit a proof in support of his claim to belong to the below poverty line. The application not accompanied by the prescribed fee of Rs.10/- or proof of the applicant’s belonging to below poverty line, as the case may be, shall not be a valid application under the At and, therefore, dose not entitle the applicant to get information.