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APPLYING THE LAW

Receiving and Managing Applications

In India, RTI laws have always required that specific officers within each public body covered by the law is given the responsibility for receiving and managing RTI applications with their organisation. The Central Act gives this responsibility to:

One of the first duties of the APIO and/or PIO is to receive information requests. Sections 6(1) of the Central Act also specifically places a duty on these officials to assist information requesters to complete their applications for information properly. If an application is properly drafted, most of the Rules made under the Central Act require these officials to provide requesters with a receipt/acknowledgement of their application, which will enable the requester to more easily follow the request up at a later date. Even if the relevant Rules do not require this, in the spirit of proper implementation of the law, a receipt should be given to all requesters.

Here are some suggestions for how APIOs and PIOs can effectively deal with people trying to submit requests for information:

(1) Meet requesters with politeness
Public officials are in the service of the public. Every person who requests information should be met as a customer. You should treat all customers as equal, and meet them with politeness. It is important to identify with the citizen and help them with their requests. The citizen will not be aiming to make your life difficult by requesting information. It is important to remember that under the RTI law, citizens have a RIGHT to access information, and organisations covered by RTI law have a duty to assist them to exercise that right.

(2) Direct requesters to where information can be found already
If the information requested is already publicly available, for example on your organisation's internet site, in information bulletins, in an annual report or in publications for sale, you should indicate to the requester where he/she can find the information. If your organisation does not hold the information the requester is looking for, you should direct him/her to the correct person or body where the information can be found.

In such situations, the requester will not only save money by not submitting a request - but you will also save time because you will not have to process the request!

(3) Assist people to make their request properly
Most of India's laws require PIOs to assist requesters to make their applications. For example, some laws require that PIOs give special assistance to applicants who cannot read or write, don't speak/write the local language, or are disabled. Section 6(1) of the Central Act requires the PIO to accept the application orally and then help the requester to put their request into writing. The final application which is produced should include the date and the PIOs name and position, and a copy should be given to the person making the request.

Commonly, RTI laws also require that PIOs assist applicants to amend their applications, if they are likely to be rejected because they are too general or too ambiguous. You should note though, that the law does not require a requester to specify the exact title or reference of the record he/she is seeking. All that is required is that the description is sufficiently clear to enable the official to identify the information being requested.

Even where the law doesn't place a duty on a PIO to assist a requester, it is in your interest to help. Often requesters don't know what information your organisation holds and therefore, they can't work out exactly what they're looking for. As a result, some requesters will draft very broad requests, for lots of documents - even if they don't necessarily need them all. If the PIO assists a requester develop their application though, the PIO can help them develop a more targetted request, which might reduce the PIOs workload in the long run.

Requesters also often don't know which body they should be applying to. They don't understand how the government is set up and so they often don't know which body holds the information they want. PIOs can assist requesters to decide which is the best body for them to submit their information application to. In addition to speeding up the process for the requester, this will help reduce the number of requests which the PIO has to transfer to another body.

(4) Do not ask the requester the "purpose" for their request
Section 6(2) of the Central Act explicitly states that an applicant making a request shall not be required to give a reason for their request. The principles of maximum disclosure recognises that every person has a right to access information unless an exemption applies. Their motive for wanting the information is irrelevant. You should NOT reject an application or request it to be resubmitted simply because a requester has not explained the purpose for which they need the information.

(5) Provide requesters with a receipt and advice on the process
The Central Act provides that when the requester submits his/her request to you, it may be submitted either in person, by post or electronically (eg. by email or possibly even by telephone). In some cases, the application has to be submitted along with a prescribed application fee.

Application fees

  • Central and State Government Rules specify the exact amount of the application fee payable. The fees are different throughout the country.
  • The applicant may attach a bank draft, postal order, court fee stamp or proof of payment of application fee by any other mode prescribed by the Government. All such payments are valid. Please do not insist on a particular mode of payment.
  • If claiming fee waiver the BPL applicant must attach a photocopy of a BPL/Antyodaya ration card or any other valid proof of BPL identity that may be prescribed by the Government.

In all cases, when a PIO receives an application, they should provide the requester with a receipt/acknowledgement. At a minimum, the receipt should include the receiving officer's name, position in the department, the date the application and the amount of any fee received. Ideally, the receipt should also mention the date by which a response should be sent out (usually 15-30 days later) and the rights of the requester if no response is received on time.

(6) Provide requesters with advice on the process
On acceptance of the request, it is important that the PIO explains to the requester what will happen next. This will reduce the PIO's workload because they will not have to receive lots of inquiries during the processing period, if the requester already understands what will be happening with their request. The PIO should explain, in accordance with the provisions in the law:

  • The maximum time limit within which the organisation must respond to the request;
  • When it will be necessary to pay a fee and what the fee structure is;
  • The different options for providing access to the information (inspection, certified copy, floppy diskettes, CD, etc);
  • If the information request is refused, that a written explanation will be provided and an appeal is possible.

Please remember:

  • If an APIO receives an application, they must forward it to the relevant PIO immediately.

    NB: The RTI Act allows the PIO only 5 extra days over and above the limit of 30 days to give information to the applicant if the request is forwarded through the APIO. So it is important to send the application to the PIO without any delay.
  • The APIO must forward all appeals received by him to the concerned Appellate Authority or Information Commission immediately.
  • The citizen has the right to send a complaint to the Information Commission if the APIO or PIO does not accept his application. If proven guilty, the APIO or PIO may be fined from a minimum of Rs. 250/- up to a maximum of Rs. 25,000/- for each offence.

For more detailed advice re processing applications, please see:

  • CHRI (2005) Forwarding Information Requests and Appeals: A Step by Step Guide for Assistant Public Information Officers under the Right to Information Act 2005, prepared by Mr Venkatesh Nayak.
  • CHRI (2005) Processing Information Requests: A Step by Step Guide for Assistant Public Information Officers under the Right to Information Act 2005, prepared by Mr Venkatesh Nayak.

Please click on the link to the Central RTI Act to read the detailed provisions contained in the law. Please click on the link to CHRI's State RTI pages to find out more about relevant rules and implementation in your specific State.

 
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