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Appointing Officers to RTI Positions: Appellate Authorities

Section 19(1) of the Central Act requires that officers are appointed to who are "senior in rank" to the Public Information Officer (PIO) to deal with appeals from requesters who are unhappy with how their request has been handled. These officers are commonly referred to as Appellate Authorities.

When appointing Appellate Authorities, a balance needs to be struck between ensuring that they are accessible to the public, but at the same time that they are sufficiently senior officials to be both willing and able to override a PIO and order disclosure of information.

Whoever is appointed as an Appellate Authority needs to have the capacity to genuinely review the decision of a PIO and make hard decisions about whether information should be released. Otherwise, if the Appellate Authority is too junior in the overall hierarchy of the public authority they may tend simply to support the PIO. In recognition of this fact, under the Karnataka State RTI Act for example, the Appellate Authority was the head of the public authority.

There has been some confusion over whether every an Appellate Authority needs to be appointed who is directly senior to every PIO, or whether - so long as they are sufficiently senior in rank - a smaller number of Appellate Authorities can be appointed within every organisation covered by the Central Act. This approach could have benefits because if there are a smaller number of Appellate Authorities, then they can be given more targeted training and their expertise will be developed more quickly because they will handle more appeals. However, if this option is pursued, enough Appellate Authorities still need to be appointed to ensure that they are accessible to aggrieved requesters and will respond to complaints within the relevant time limits imposed by the Central Act.