Citizens' Issues
Citizens must use RTI to demand information and inspect documents in government offices

Section 6 of the RTI Act makes it mandatory for every government department to provide whatever information that a citizen may apply for, within a specified period. Section 4 empowers citizens to examine official files on the spot

Does it bother you that trees have been felled in your neighbourhood? Has the road you go by daily to work developed potholes within a month or two of it being re-laid, or have the inter-locking tiles on the footpath you often walk on got loosened within three months of fixing them? Are you curious to know why a multinational company has set up its plant in or around your city? Are you having a problem with disbursement of your pension? As a citizen, you can investigate these matters by invoking Section 4 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act that also enables citizens to conduct inspection of government files. Let us, therefore, examine the contents of Section 4 to better understand how potent it is for you and for me.

Generally. invoking Section 6 of the RTI Act is the most popular way to access information and this is done through filling an application form with a Rs10 court fee stamp in Maharashtra. (In most other states you have to pay the Rs10 in cash.) However, by this procedure, the Public Information Officer (PIO) has 30 days to give you a reply. If he does not answer your query, or he gives you a reply that does not satisfy you, or he gives wrong information, you need to appeal to the First Appellate Authority (generally a senior officer above the PIO) who is allowed a 45-day period in which to hear your case. If he, too, fails, or conducts a hearing that does not satisfy you, you should appeal to the Second Appellate Authority, who is the state or central information commissioner where your case may be kept pending due to an overload.

Now, if getting the information that you require is going to take so long through this process, it may seem like a futile exercise. But it is important to know that not all information is required urgently. Here is where Section 4 becomes useful. It is also vital to know that in many cases public information officers have complied with the request for information, though in some cases you could suffer frustrating experiences. (For the good of democracy and for the spirit of good governance, we all should be positive about the RTI Act.)

Section 4 helps to overcome the time period that is so typical when one files a query under Section 6. I call Section 4 "the way to get information instantly'' and pioneering RTI activist, the late Prakash Kardaley, used to urge citizens to "go on a Section 4 offensive'' by visiting government offices and demanding inspection of files right away. What's more, you can demand photostat copies and even CDs of documents immediately after you have inspected your files and the public information officer is obliged to give it to you for a charge of Rs2 per page.

In fact, if the government departments sincerely complied with the rules of Section 4 and if citizens simultaneously conducted inspection of files in large numbers, we would hardly have had to take the trouble of filing an application under Section 6, and the pendency with information commissioners would have reduced considerably. Why? Because, Section 4 makes it mandatory for every government department to upload most of what it is doing, in detail, putting it in the public domain.

Hence, sincere implementation by government departments would ensure mindboggling transparency. However, despite being directed to suo moto disclose information within 120 days of the enactment of the Act (12 October 2005) and to regularly update it, most of them have not done so, and hence five years down the line we are in a position where information is still being hidden from the public. For example, I recently visited the petroleum ministry website and the information is so grossly inadequate and outdated that one wonders whether this is an insignificant department of the central government.

Let us understand what Section 4 is all about in the two ways that constitutes it and makes it formidable-how its sincere implementation by government departments (termed 'public authorities' in the RTI Act), which means putting all information in the public domain and inspection of files by citizens, can make this sunshine law completely transparent, with good side-effects of accountability as well as to curb corruption.

So, what is the duty of every government department under this section? Section 4(1)(a) states that every department should, "maintain all its records duly catalogued and indexed in a manner and in the form which facilitates the right to information under this Act, and ensure that all records that are appropriate to be computerised are, within a reasonable time and subject to availability of resources, computerised and connected through a network all over the country on different systems so that access to such records is facilitated.''

To elaborate further, what is the kind of information mandatory for every government department to put in the public domain, preferably on its website? Section 4(b) states: Particulars of its organisation in terms of its functions and duties; powers and duties of its officers and employees; procedure followed in the decision-making process, including channels of supervision and accountability;  rules, regulations, instructions, manuals and records; details of private-public partnership (PPP) or build, operate, transfer (BOT). Every department must provide a directory of its officers and employees; salaries of the employees; budget allocated to it; details of plans and execution of subsidy programmes including beneficiaries; particulars of recipients of concessions and permits; the names, designations and other particulars of the public information officers; details of policies or decisions which will affect citizens at large and so on. Each department must provide as much information suo motu to the public at regular intervals through various means of communications, including internet, so that the public have minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information. So, you will see that even before the citizen asks any query, the government department has been compelled to provide information and because it has not been sincere about it, we, the citizens have to invoke Section 4 and Section 6.

As far as you and me are concerned, please remember that Section 4 clauses (3 and 4) give the right to every citizen to inspect files. It states: "Making known or communicating the information to the public through notice boards, newspapers, public announcements, media broadcasts, the internet, or any other means, including inspection of offices of any public authority."

(Next week: Examples of inspection of files under Section 4 of RTI Act: How Dow Chemical Plant had to bite dust and withdraw from Pune, thanks to documents procured under Section 4 and how a priceless botanical garden was saved from a 60 ft road cutting through it.)




6 years ago

Wonderful, Vineeta - thanks. After MasterJi's demise, as well as the other events in Pune, I withdrew from the RTI scene - also because there was so much misuse. However, your recent articles as well as support and "push" from some people has got me back on the track with what I would call "public good" kind of RTI applications again.

Thanks again.

jagbir singh

6 years ago

Recently sought some information from a State Co-op Bank, it replied that it had taken a stay order - they are not covered under RTI?


Vinita Deshmukh

In Reply to jagbir singh 6 years ago

Dear Mr Jasbir Singh, Two judgements of Mumbai High Court have ruled that Co-operatives are not covered by RTI until substantial finance and penetrative control of Government is proved. At the moment co-operative banks in Maharashtra cannot be said to be Public Authorities under RTI unless it is proved that they are substantially financed and governed by Govt.

K B Patil

6 years ago

I thought that I had sufficient knowledge of RTI. But this article is very informative and useful. My thanks to the author.


6 years ago

Oseful article.

Budget proposal for service tax on hospital bills may be rolled back

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, in his Budget 2011-12, had proposed to replace the service tax on health check-ups with a tax on all services provided by hospitals with 25 or more beds and having central air-conditioning, with an abatement of 5%

New Delhi: Hinting at the possibility of the budget proposal for imposition of service tax on 25-bed hospitals and diagnostic check-ups being rolled back, the government has said it is willing to discuss the issue, reports PTI.

"We can discuss 25-bedded hospitals with central air-conditioning... we can discuss whether a person who has malaria and needs to go for blood test, whether he should pay service tax for that diagnostic or not," revenue secretary Sunil Mitra said here.

Interacting with members of leading chambers, Mr Mitra yesterday said that service tax on healthcare is basically meant to apply to high-end treatment.

His comments came following opposition from various quarters with respect to the proposal to impose service tax on the sector.

Presenting the Budget for 2011-12, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee had proposed to replace the service tax on health check-ups with a tax on all services provided by hospitals with 25 or more beds and having central air-conditioning, with an abatement of 5%.

Mr Mitra added that more services are being brought under the ambit of taxation in preparation for the proposed Goods and Services Tax (GST), which will subsume all indirect taxes.

"... We are moving toward GST, which will have a comprehensive negative list. There should not be any apprehension," he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Mukherjee said that healthcare and education remain the two priority sectors for the government.

"Therefore the emphasis is on these two things- education and healthcare. Health is basically a state subject.

We will have to take up the matter with them and discuss how to increase allocation," he said.

Mr Mukherjee further added: "The 12th Plan will start next year. I have no doubt that the Planning Commission will be able to take this into consideration. I expect spending on healthcare to increase during the 12th Plan."

The finance minister accepted that healthcare spending in India as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) is still low compared to many other emerging economies.

"Therefore, we are making effort to achieve increase in expenditure... We can have full democratic dividend if we can make our workforce educated and healthy," he said.


GVK to increase shareholding in MIAL to 50.5%

MIAL is a public-private partnership joint venture between GVK, BSDM, ACSA Global and Airports Authority of India (AAI). As a result of the stake acquisition, GVK's equity shareholding in MIAL will increase to 50.5% from 37% at present

Mumbai: GVK Airport Holdings Private Limited (GAHPL) today said it has signed a share purchase agreement with Bid Services Division (Mauritius) Limited (BSDM) to buy an additional 13.5% stake in Mumbai International Airport Pvt Ltd (MIAL), reports PTI.

GAHPL is a step-down subsidiary of GVK Power & Infrastructure Limited.

As a result, the equity shareholding of GVK in MIAL will increase to 50.5% from 37% at present through the acquisition of 10,80,00,000 equity shares. The agreement is subject to regulatory and other approvals.

MIAL is a public-private partnership joint venture between GVK, BSDM, ACSA Global and Airports Authority of India (AAI). It was awarded the mandate for operating and modernising the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA), Mumbai, in April 2006.

Upon completion of this transaction, GVK will lead the consortium with a stake of 50.5%, BSDM's stake will be reduced to 13.5%, ACSA Global will hold 10% and AAI the remaining 26% in MIAL.

GVKPIL chairman GV Krishna Reddy said, "The Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai, is GVK's first and flagship airport project in India. As a part of our overall stated objective of consolidating our presence in the airports sector in India, we have taken this significant step of increasing our shareholding in MIAL."

"This signifies our commitment to the airports sector and further reinforces our vision of transforming CSIA into a world-class airport," he added.

GVK, which operates two key airports in India-Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai and the Bengaluru International Airport-has emerged as India's largest airport operator in the private sector. The two airports together handled passenger traffic of 40 million in 2010.

Since taking over airport operations in 2006, MIAL has brought about a number of changes at CSIA with an on-going focus on passenger convenience and comfort in the long-term.

MIAL is currently implementing a master plan which includes building a new integrated passenger terminal at Sahar with state-of-the-art infrastructure and facilities to cater to passenger traffic of 40 million per annum.


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