Have right, will seek information
Have right, will seek information
1 Aug, 2007, 0310 hrs IST,
The Right to Information Act (RTI Act) finds its genesis in the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression as enshrined in the Constitution of India. Only an informed public opinion can ensure effective exercise of the freedom of speech and expression. Although it has been a little over two years since the revolutionary Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) was enacted, the level of awareness among the people regarding its use and effectiveness continues to be low.
The RTI Act provides a right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority. So, seeking information from public authorities as a matter of right, which had remained the prerogative of a select few hitherto, has devolved down to the common citizen of India. The RTI Act has provided an alternate redressal mechanism to combat a system, which is often addressed as lethargic and careless. And it works, how, because when you ask questions such as — why has my work not been done so far, who were responsible for doing my work, when will my work be done now — your work gets expedited.
Let us take an illustration of Dr PK Singh, an Indian citizen and a medical practitioner. He has a refund due as per his income tax return, which is pending for long. When the wait seemed endless, he ventured out to meet the tax authorities for his refund, which does not yield a result. What can Mr Singh do to know the status of his refund and the reasons for its delay?
Under The RTI Act, the income tax department, being one of the public authorities, has to necessarily appoint a Public Information Officer (PIO). Dr. Singh, being a citizen of India, can approach the jurisdictional PIO and specify the particulars of the information sought on a plain piece of paper along with a nominal fee of Rs 10.
In fact, he would not even be required to give any reason for requesting the information or any other personal details except those that may be necessary for contacting him. The PIO is duty-bound to provide the information within 30 days of the receipt of the request failing, which he is liable to a penalty of maximum up to Rs 25,000/- and a possible disciplinary action. Further, if Dr Singh is not satisfied with response of the PIO, he can appeal to the appellate authorities as appointed by the Income Tax department.
This brings us to an interesting question as to whether it is possible for Mr X, a third party, to seek information about the personal income tax details filed by Dr Singh under The RTI Act. The Central Information Commission (CIC), the nodal agency to implement and administer the RTI Act and the income tax department seem to differ on this point. CIC, in one of the cases, had held that the assessment order (not the tax return) can be made available to a third party under the RTI Act. However, the tax department has refused to divulge the information in the absence of the consent of the third party.
Can a company take recourse to the RTI Act for getting information from public authorities? Perhaps not, as only citizens are allowed to be the applicant and it has been interpreted to mean individuals only. However, NRIs are eligible applicants under the RTI Act.
There have been various successful stories of people using the RTI Act to successfully claim their rightful refunds or obtain other information. Various matters relating to the delay in refund, arbitrariness in proceedings, harassment, etc, has been successfully dealt with the use of this Act. Statistics show that states such as Maharashtra, Karnataka and Delhi have seen wider usage of the Act. However, the awareness levels remain low and the RTI Act is grossly underrated and underutilised. The message is clear — public authorities would find it increasingly difficult to say ‘No’ to your information request as long as you know that you have a ‘Right to Know’!
(The authors are with Ernst & Young)
Re: Have right, will seek information
Thanks Karira , but today unsuccesful stories are 95 % of total rti applicaants. Now we must search some sure methods of non-denial of info by the PIOs . Govt must attend such grievances urgently . Citizens r not having money to fight courtcases against CIC/ SICs. Pl collect innovative ideas so that citizen can get info within 30 days without any further complaints/ correspondence with PIO / info comisions.