India: Right to Information (RTI) Act

Freedom of information laws were first adopted at the state level beginning in 1997.  These statewide laws set the precedent for the Indian Parliament to implement the Right to Information (RTI) Act in 2005.  The RTI Act has since mandated government transparency for all of India except for the states of Jammu and Kashmir, which instead enforce individual state laws.  The provisions of the RTI Act are outlined below ( read the full text of the Act in English here). Records Covered

The RTI Act extends to all Indian public authorities, which include government bodies and agencies that are entirely or substantially funded by the government.  Each public authority was given 120 days after the RTI Act passed to publish information about its structure and operation as well as designate Public Information Officers (PIOs) to oversee RTI requests and compliance.

Materials subject to RTI requests include any records produced by public authorities, such as e-mails, microfilms, contracts, reports, orders or logbooks.  Public authorities must keep information indexed and publish information electronically when possible to facilitate openness.

Submitting a Request

Any Indian citizen, excepting those in Jammu and Kashmir, have the right to inspect approved records, take notes and obtain copies free of charge or at the cost of replication.  For materials that are not already posted online, citizens must submit RTI requests written in English, Hindi, or the official language of the area to PIOs at the relevant public authority.  Aside from contact information, no personal information or reason for the request is required when submitting a request.

Once a request is received, the PIO has 30 days to respond to the RTI inquiry by supplying the requested materials or denying the request.  If the situation constitutes a life-threatening situation, then a response must be provided within 48 hours.  If no response is made within the designated timeframe, then a denial is automatically assumed.

Grounds for Denial

If a request is partially or fully withheld, the PIO must cite the grounds for denial and provide instructions for submitting an appeal.  Information may be denied if it:

  • Threatens India's internal interests or India's relations with foreign countries.
  • Relates to a legal investigation or prosecution where it could affect the completion of the case or endanger the safety of an involved party.
  • Has been sealed by a court.
  • Is competitive information protected as trade secrets or intellectual property.
  • Is part of a fiduciary agreement.
  • Relates to unfinished Cabinet business, such as records of deliberations for a decision that has not yet been made.

In most cases, records that were created more than 20 years prior to the request are desensitized and provided, even if they were withheld for one of these reasons.

Appeals Process and Act Enforcement

If a person is unsatisfied with the PIO's response to their RTI request or has not received a decision within 30 days, he must submit an appeal to a higher ranking officer (the Central or State Public Information Officer at the public authority) within 30 days of the PIO's response.

Should the appeal be denied and the person wishes to pursue a second appeal, he would submit it to the Central or State Information Commission, as appropriate.

The central government formed the Central Information Commission to administrator the Act at a federal level.  The Commission is based in Delhi and is headed by a non-partisan Chief Information Commissioner who is appointed by the President and a government sub-committee.  The Chief Information Commissioner is responsible for directing the Central Information Commission with the assistance of up to ten Central Information Commissioners.  Similarly, each state also has a State Information Commission consisting of a Governor-appointed Chief State Information Commission and up to ten State Information Commissioners.  At both the federal and state levels, each Commissioner is restricted to a five year term and cannot serve more than one term.

In responding to responding to complaints and appeals, these commissions have the same privileges as a civil court during the course on an inquiry and have access to any record.  The commissions also receive annual reports from each public authority about the implementation of the RTI Act, with statistics on requests received, number of denials and appeals and any other related information.

Other Resources

The government has created an RTI website with more information about the Act and a keyword search for records published in the RTI sections of public authorities' websites.