Maharashtra Facilitates Inspection of Files. Here Is How To Do File Inspection under RTI
Recently, the Maharashtra government took an important step towards transparency through a government resolution (GR) which directs every public authority in the state to provide two hours, once a week, for citizens to walk into the government offices, for inspection of files under Section 4 of the RTI Act. However, even though citizens can demand to see documents under this provision, not many know how to go about it.
In order that such a useful and citizen-friendly initiative is not lost due to citizens’ inhibition or ignorance, here are some tips on how to be on top of the board.
Just to reiterate, inspection of files was pioneered in Pune way back in 2005 and followed thereafter by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) in 2009, directing its public authorities to keep every Monday, between 3pm and 5pm, open for citizens to inspect files. At that time, even public information officers (PIOs) or heads of public authorities were not aware that it is not necessary for a citizen to write an application for inspection of files under Section 4 of the RTI Act.
In fact, I remember when I met the secretary, environment in the Mantralaya to inspect files regarding Dow Chemicals in 2010, despite my having sent him an email and an SMS (as I was coming to Mumbai from Pune), he asked me to write an application. I convinced him that I was not required to do so and the following note made by the late Prakash Kardaley and Vijay Kumbhar came in handy for me. (The secretary, environment then spoke to his legal cell about this provision in front of me and then asked his executive director to show me all the files pertaining to Dow Chemicals and directed him to give me any photo copies that I wanted).
Thus, when any citizen goes for file inspection, I would suggest you carry the following note which will be an eye-opener to the PIO, besides arming you with the required ammunition. Here it is:
1. Your kind attention is drawn to Section 4 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 under Chapter II on `Right to Information and Obligation of Public Authorities’.
2. As per the provision, it is obligatory for every public authority (including xxxxxx name the office you would be visiting) to publish certain categories of documents so as to make voluntary disclosure of information so that citizens have “minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information.”
3. Information covered by Section 4, in fact, should have been published on May 12, 2005 and disseminated widely in such form and manner which is easily accessible to the public and should have been updated at regular intervals later.
4. It is further explained in the provision that 'disseminated' means making known or communicated 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. " I am enclosing here the full text of Section 4 as adopted by the Parliament of India for your reference.
5. I regret to bring to your notice that no information covered under this Section 4 has been disseminated yet by you, a public authority under the state government, through notice boards, newspapers, public announcements, media broadcasts and Internet.
6. Nevertheless, citizens have a right to inspect these documents in the office of the public authority, including the (xxxx name the office), as explicitly mentioned in the provision under Section 4.
7. It may be noticed that a citizen desiring to inspect the documents containing information covered under Section 4 of the Right to Information Act, 2005, need not make any formal requisition under Section 6 of the Act because these documents should have already been published by the public authority (including xxx name the office) so that citizens have “minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information.”
8. Implementation of this provision of the Act (under Section 4) is the direct responsibility of the head of the public authority. In this specific instance, it is your direct responsibility as the municipal commissioner and the administrative head of the Pune Municipal Corporation. Hence this letter is addressed to you and not to any public information officer (PIO) since no formal requisition is needed to be filed, please note.
In case the public authority insists on a formal letter, then write it this way, says RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar:
VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: Intimation of inspection under Section 4 should be addressed to the top authority of the government department (meaning the municipal commissioner, if it is a municipal corporation) unlike an application under Section 6 which is addressed to the public information officer (PIO).
Draft of intimation
The Head of the Department
Subject – Intimation for inspection of files related to xxxxxxxxxx
Dear Mr. Head of the Department
As per the circular sankirn2018/ pra.kra. 45/ karya 6, dated 26/11/2018, the government of Maharashtra has allowed inspection of files in every department. Please note that as per section 4 of the RTI act and as per the said circular there is no need to give any intimation for inspection of files in any public authority. However, being responsible citizens, we thought it preferable to intimate you beforehand.
I intend to exercise my right as a citizen to inspect documents related to xxxxxx. I will visit your office on Monday xx/xx/2018.
Citizens must remember they are the custodian of most government files, except the ones under Section 8 of the RTI Act, says Kumbhar and, therefore:
• As these files belongs to citizens and citizens are owners of these files they should not to feel awkward, guilty or hesitate to demand a file for inspection
• Remember, once a citizen gives them the intimation, the citizen should not have to wait for a reply from the officer, simply because a citizen has the right to inspect files during the designated working hours of the public authority. The intimation is just for the purpose of convenience and to avoid excuses by officials.
• Once citizens have gone through the documents they can ask for the copies of the inspected documents. To obtain such copies, under section 6 of the RTI Act, one need not give an application. Merely giving a list of document on plain paper is enough. However, they need to pay the fees required for photocopying.
Text of Section 4 of the Right to Information Act, 2005
4. (1) Every public authority shall
(a) maintain all its records duly catalogued and indexed in a manner and 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;
(b) publish within one hundred and twenty days from the enactment of this Act,-
(i) the particulars of its organisation, functions and duties;
(ii) the powers and duties of its officers and employees;
(iii) the procedure followed in the decision making process, including channels of supervision and accountability;
(iv) the norms set by it for the discharge of its functions;
(v) the rules, regulations, instructions, manuals and records, held by it or under its control or used by its employees for discharging its functions;
(vi) a statement of the categories of documents that are held by it or under its control;
(vii) the particulars of any arrangement that exists for consultation with, or representation by, the members of the public in relation to the formulation of its policy or implementation thereof;
(viii) a statement of the boards, councils, committees and other bodies consisting of two or more persons constituted as its part or for the purpose of its advise, and as to whether meetings of those boards, councils, committees and other bodies are open to the public, or the minutes 'of such meetings are accessible for public;
(ix) a directory of its officers and employees;
(x) the monthly remuneration received by each of its officers and employees, including the system of compensation as provided in its regulations;
(xi) the budget allocated to each of its agency, indicating the particulars of all plans, proposed expenditures and reports on disbursements made;
(xii) the manner of execution of subsidy programmes, including the amounts allocated and the details of beneficiaries of such programmes;
(xiii) particulars of recipients of concessions, permits or authorisations granted by it;
(xiv) details in respect of the information, available to or held by it, reduced in an electronic form;
(xv) the particulars of facilities available to citizens for obtaining information, including the working hours of a library or reading room, if maintained for public use;
(xvi) the names, designations and other particulars of the public information officers; ,
(xvii) such other information as may be prescribed; and thereafter update these publications every year;
(c) publish all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect public;
(d) provide reasons for its administrative or quasi judicial decisions to affected persons;
(2) It shall be a constant endeavour of every public authority to take steps in accordance with the requirements of clause (b) of sub-section (1) to provide as much information suo motu to the public at regular intervals through various means of communications, including the internet, so that the public have minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information.
(3) For the purpose of sub-section (1), every piece of information shall be disseminated widely and in such form and manner which is easily accessible to the public.
(4) All materials shall be disseminated taking into consideration the cost, effectiveness, local language and the most effective method of communication in that local area and the information should be easily accessible, to the extent possible in electronic format with the central public information officer, or state public information officer, as the case may be, available fee or at such cost of the medium or the print cost price as may be prescribed.
Explanation: For the purposes of sub-sections (3) and (4), "disseminated" means making known or communicated 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.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.