Counter Illegal Refusals to RTI Applications with Provisions of the Act, Says Shailesh Gandhi
Moneylife Digital Team 23 September 2022
“While you can successfully counter rejections from the public information officer for requests of information made under RTI, there is no fixed format or guaranteed method to do so. Try to understand the RTI Act, especially the exemptions in section 8 and counter rejections to your RTI application with provisions of the law,” said former central information commissioner, Shailesh Gandhi while sharing his advice at a webinar organised by Moneylife Foundation.  
 
Even after 16 years since the Right to Information (RTI) Act was enacted, information officers still misinterpret provisions of the Act and make erroneous rejections to requests for information. While applicants might find this to be frustrating, Shailesh Gandhi urged people to put in the efforts to fully understand the RTI Act and its applicability. 
 
“Make use of precedents and orders given in the past by the Information Commission to argue your point when appealing against an illegal rejection. The law has been written to help citizens. If only they put in the efforts to apply the law correctly, will they see they see positive results. Effort has to be put in to legally change the perception of the information commissioner,” he explained. 
 
Since his retirement from the central information commission, Shailesh Gandhi has been active in educating citizens about the RTI Act and has also assisted many as an expert on Moneylife Foundation’s RTI Advice app. In an earlier webinar organised by Moneylife Foundation, Mr Gandhi had covered the important provisions of the RTI Act and explained, with examples, how the RTI Act can be used an important tool to improve transparency and governance within the government. 
 
As per the Act, an information officer can only reject a request for information under the exemptions listed in Section 8. If an application is rejected citing any other section of the Act, it can be deemed an illegal rejection and has to be appealed as such by the applicant. Furthermore, if an RTI application is refused or returned without a response, or with a claim that the information belongs to a different department or organisation, it can be deemed as an illegal refusal. 
 
In his presentation, Mr Gandhi covered each exemption under Section 8 and explained some of the common errors information commissioners make when illegally refusing an RTI application. He also explained how any particular rejection under Section 8 can be legally countered by using the provisions available in the Act.
 
Throughout his talk, Shailesh Gandhi emphasised that applicant should always argue with provisions of the law when a certain exemption does not apply and they should further ask the appellate authority to refute their arguments under points of law. Another important suggestion was to avoid trying to justify disclosure of information in ‘larger public interest’ as, in Mr Gandhi’s opinion, such an argument rarely works. 
 
“Perhaps a long term goal for applicants and citizens of India should be to demand that RTI applications and their responses be made available on government websites with a simple search functionality. This would potentially help reduce the number of requests for the same information and should also help in improving transparency and faith in public authorities and government organisations,” he suggested in his closing comments in the webinar. 
 
The session was hosted on Zoom and broadcast live on Moneylife Foundation’s YouTube and Facebook channels, with over 180 people participating and watching it live across all channels.
 
A video recording of the webinar can be viewed here:
 
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