In 2005, the Indian government passed the Right to Information Act, that gives every citizen the right to question the government and hold it accountable. The Act allows every citizen the power to seek information from the central, state and UT governments, barring the Jammu and Kashmir Government.
Since its inception until 2015, more than 1.75 crore RTI applications have been filed in the country. The RTI has been a successful tool in exposing corruption and malpractices, truly ‘revolutionising’ the citizen’s relationship with both the bureaucracy and the government. In the past, it has resulted in students receiving scholarships after huge delays and has also resulted in the unearthing of a scam as big as that of the Adarsh Housing Society scam, which resulted in the resignation of then Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan. Used judiciously, RTI is arguably the most powerful tool to hold those governing us responsible.
Anyone can file an RTI, but most of us aren’t sure of how to go about doing it, or where to begin. Here is a step-by-step guide on how you can file an RTI and hold the government accountable:
Step 1: First, ascertain which public authority will possess the information you want. This could be any department established, constituted, owned, controlled or substantially financed by funds provided directly or indirectly by the central government, state government or the Union Territory administration.
Step 2: Once you know whom to direct questions to, you can file an RTI online, where possible, to get the requisite information (Only the central government and the state governments of Maharashtra and Delhi currently offer online RTI services).
Step 3: In other cases, you will have to file your RTI application as a handwritten or typed letter on white paper that you can send by post or personally hand over to the designated Public Information Officer of the concerned department. All departments other than the ones mentioned above only accept RTIs via post or in person.
All RTI applications filed offline should be addressed to the State/ Central Public Information Officer with the subject: “Seeking Information Under The RTI Act, 2005”
Step 4: The fee for filing an RTI application is ₹10 which can be paid using money order, court fee stamp, bank draft or cash. If you are filing the application online, internet banking, debit/credit card and Paytm facilities are available. An applicant who is Below Poverty Line (BPL) doesn’t have to pay the fees. They just need to attach a copy of the BPL certificate along with the application.
Step 5: The law requires the Public Information Officer to dispense with the information within 30 days of them receiving the application. If you do not get a response within 30 days, you can file an appeal with the Appellate Authority. This can be done online as well if you have filed the RTI online. If you fail to receive a response from the Appellate Authority after 30 days, you can further make your appeals to the State/Central Information Commission, the Chief Information Commissioner or the Information Commission.
If you receive a response from the designated Public Information Officer within 30 days and are not satisfied with it, you can file an appeal with the designated Appellate Authority within 30 days of having received the response.
Holding the people you elected accountable is crucial to a healthy democracy. Be it the condition of roads in your locality, the absence of teachers in schools or knowing where your hard earned tax money is being used, RTI can help you demand answers from those in power. And when you do receive the answers, do share that information further. You can write and publish stories about the RTIs you have filed, on Youth Ki Awaaz. This way, it reaches thousands of people who will not only benefit from this knowledge but also be better equipped because of it.