Under the Act, all complying departments must appoint their Public Information Officer (PIO). Any citizen of India may submit a request to the PIO for information in any format, paper or electronic. It is the PIO's responsibility to ensure that the information is obtained from the appropriate department or section. If the request pertains to another public authority (in whole or part) it is the PIO's responsibility to transfer/forward the concerned portions of the request to a PIO of the other within 5 days. In addition, every public authority is required to designate Assistant Public Information Officers APIOs) to receive RTI requests and appeals for forwarding to the PIOs of their public authority.
The citizen making the request is not obliged to explain why the information is needed. The Act specifies time limits for replying to the request.
- If the request has been made to the PIO, compliance is expected within 30 daysof receipt.
- If the request has been made to an APIO, compliance is expected within 35 daysof receipt. This is allowed, only of the APIO transfers the application to another Public Authority. If the APIO and the PIO are of the same Public Authority, irregardless of the distances involved, the compliance is expected within30 daysof receipt.
- If the PIO transfers the request to some other public authority (better concerned with the information requested), the time allowed to reply is 30 days but computed from the day after it is received by the PIO of the transferee authority.
- Information about Human Rights violations by Security agencies (of only those listed in the Second Schedule) is to be provided within 45 days but with the prior approval of the Central Information Commission.
- However, in any of the above cases, if life or liberty is involved, the PIO has to reply within 48 hours. Since the information is to be paid for, the time between the reply of the PIO and the time taken to deposit the further fees for information is excluded from the time allowed.
If information is not provided within this period, it is treated as deemed refusal. Refusal with or without reasons may be ground for appeal. Further, once the period has transgressed, the information has to be provided free of charge. For Central Departmentsas of 2006, there is a fee of Rs. 10 for filing the request, Rs. 2 per page of information and Rs. 5 for each hour of inspection after the first hour. If the applicant is a Below Poverty Card holder, then no fee shall apply. Such BPL Card holders have to provide a copy of their BPL card along with their application to the Public Authority. States Government and High Courts fix their own rules
What is not open to disclosure?
The following is exempt from disclosure [S.8)]
- Information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, *strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence.
- Information which has been expressly forbidden to be published by any court of law or tribunal or the disclosure of which may constitute contempt of court;
- Information, the disclosure of which would cause a breach of privilege of Parliament or the State Legislature;
- Information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party, unless the competent authority is satisfied that larger public *interest warrants the disclosure of such information;
- Information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship, unless the competent authority is satisfied that *the larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information;
- Information received in confidence from foreign Government;
- Information, the disclosure of which would endanger the life or physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purposes;
- Information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders;
- Cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers, Secretaries and other officers;
- Information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual (but it is also provided that the information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied by this exemption);
- Notwithstanding any of the exemptions listed above, a public authority may allow access to information, if public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interests. (NB: This provision is qualified by the proviso to sub-section 11(1) of the Act which exempts disclosure of "trade or commercial secrets protected by law" under this clause when read along with 8(1)(d)))