- The Right to Information Act, 2005 has come into force on 12th October, 2005. The Department of Posts is responsible to implement the Act in its own domain and 833* CPIOs have been nominated in the Postal Circles to process RTI requests. The Central Government has entrusted the Department of Posts to assist other interested public authorities under the Central Government including Ministries, Departments, PSUs, and Autonomous Bodies etc. in implementation of the RTI Act by designating CAPIOs on their behalf. While the role of the Department in implementation of the Act stems directly from the provisions of the RTI Act, the latter role, and perhaps the more demanding one, arises out of a decision taken by the Prime Minister of India that the Department of Posts should provide its services to the Central Government as a collection point for request for information under the Act by designating its CAPIOs as CAPIOs for the Central Government. Currently, 1153* Public Authorities of Central Government who have designated their own CPIOs are availing this service. (*As on 30.06.2011).
- The Department has already designated 4707* CAPIOs at least one in each Tehsil level across the country. The officers in charge of the computerized Customer Care Centers have been identified to act as CAPIOs for the Department and to receive RTI requests and appeals on behalf of other Central Public Authorities who have agreed to avail of this facility in Post Offices in pursuance of Section 5 (2) and 19 of the RTI Act, 2005. The designated CAPIO at a Post Office receives requests and appeals under the RTI Act 2005 for forwarding the same to the Central Public Information Officer or senior officer specified under sub-section (1) of section 19 the RTI Act 2005 or the Central Information Commission (CIC), as the case may be. The CAPIOs in the Postal Circles receive the requests/appeals from the public and enter them in the CAPIO Module within the time frame prescribed in the RTI Act. The CAPIO subsequently generates three copies of forwarding letter. The first copy is addressed to the Nodal Officer/Central Point of the concerned Central Public Authority, second is meant for the requester/appellant as intimation and the third is kept as an office copy. The onward transmission of the request/appeal is done through Registered Post. (*As on 30.06.2011).
What is Information?
Information is not an abstract concept under the RTI Act. It is conceived as being contained in any material including records, documents, memos, e mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form. It also includes information relating to any private body which can be accessed by the public authority under any law for the time being in force. Only such information is required to be supplied under the Act which already exists and is held by the public authority or held under the control of the public authority. It is not required under the Act to create information or to interpret information or to solve the problems raised by the applicants or to furnish replies to hypothetical questions.
Maintenance and Computerization of Records
Proper management of records is of utmost importance for effective implementation of the provisions of the Act. A public authority should, therefore, maintain all its records properly. It should ensure that the records are duly catalogued and indexed in such a manner and form that it may facilitate the right to information. The Public authorities should computerize all its records which are appropriate to be computerized. Records so computerized should be connected through a network on different systems so that access to such records is facilitated.
Identification of a request under RTI stamping etc.
Appropriate arrangement should be made to ensure that a matter under the Right to Information Act 20, 05 is distinctly recognized as such. Records etc. related to the RTI Act should also be separately maintained to facilitate submission of periodic reports as required under the Act. A clear stamp “ Right to Information – priority” should be impressed on each request received, each envelope in which these requests are forwarded and also on the receipts issued in acknowledgement of receipt of these requests.
Checks to be performed by CAPIO while receiving a request
At the time of receiving a request, the CAPIO should ensure the following:
- Receive the request, personally, so far as possible and Check whether the application has the following details:
- Name of the applicant.
- Contact details of the applicant including complete postal address, telephone numbers and email address (if any).
- Name of the public authority from whom the information is being requested.
- Nature and details of the information requested.
- Whether proof of payment of application fee is attached or not.
- If the applicant claims fee waiver whether proof of BPL status is attached or not.
- Whether the applicant wishes to receive the information by post?
- Date on which application is being submitted.
In view of the above points CAPIOs can follow these guidelines:
- If the application is not legible assist the applicant to write it clearly. If the applicant has not filled in one or more of the above details bring the same to his/her notice and request him/her to fill in the details. Make sure that the date mentioned on the application matches with the date on which the CAPIO is actually receiving the application. This is very important for calculating the deadline while forwarding the application to the CPIO. The applicant may have attached a bank draft or a Banker’s Cheque or UR Receipt or proof of payment of application fee by any other mode prescribed by the Government. All such payments are valid. The CAPIO may not insist on a particular mode of payment. If claiming fee waiver, the BPL applicant must attach a photocopy of a BPL / Antyodaya ration card or any other valid proof of BPL identity that may be prescribed by the Government.
- The applicant may not always know the exact name and complete postal address of the public authority who has the information he/she wants. So please do not insist upon the applicant to furnish these details. It is the duty of the CAPIO to send the application to the concerned CPIO. (The CPIO directory published may be consulted for this purpose.)
- To check if the applicant has not already attached proof of payment of application fees or if the applicant has not attached proof of BPL identity in support of his/her claim for fee waiver please request the applicant to furnish the same.
- To issue receipt for receiving complete request along with fees/exemption there from in the prescribed format with due authentication (signature, stamp and date of receipt). The receipt cum acknowledgement may be issued to the requester. The cash collected for the entire day may be deposited under ACG-67 receipt in the Post Office on the same day/next morning under clear records maintained separately for department of Posts and other public authorities.
Record the particulars of the request received including date of receipt, identification number, name of the applicant with contact details, subject matter of the request, name of Ministry/Department/public authority to whom it is related, name and address of the CPIO, date of forwarding the application to the CPIO, particulars of mode of dispatch like RL No. date etc. The entries in the concerned register are to be made on the same day. Despatch should be made at the first available opportunity thereafter. The particulars in respect of the request received for the Department of Posts may be entered separately. A format has already been prescribed and available on the website.
If the application is not addressed to a specific CPIO or a public authority the CAPIO may read through the nature of information being requested. This will help the CAPIO to identify the public authority that is most likely to possess the information requested. The CAPIO may then dispatch the complete application to the concerned CPIO using the CPIO directory. The CAPIO need not maintain a copy of the application for their records.
- In certain cases, the application may be received by the CAPIO by post also. In such cases, the checks to be applied by the CAPIO would be the same as in cases where the application is received personally. If the request is complete in all respects and proof of payment of fees is also enclosed, the request should be entered in the register as in other cases and forwarded to the CPIO concerned.
Things to Do
If the applicant has not attached proof of payment of application fees and has also not claimed fee waiver – the CAPIO may send a communication by post to the sender requesting him to furnish proof of payment of the prescribed application fees. If the application contains a contact telephone number he may call up the applicant advising him/her to pay the application fees. This action saves time and effort and prevents wastage of stationery.
Similarly if the applicant has not attached proof of identity despite claiming fee waiver in the application – the CAPIO may send a communication by post/courier to the sender requesting him/her to furnish proof of BPL identity. If the application contains a contact telephone number he may call up the applicant advising him/her to furnish proof of BPL identity. This action saves time and effort and prevents wastage of stationery.
If any of the details are missing or illegible the CAPIO may return the application by post to the sender requesting him/her to fill in the missing or unclear details. If the application contains a contact telephone number he may call up the applicant requesting him/her to visit your office to fill in the missing details.
Receipt of appeals by the CAPIO
The CAPIO may also be required to receive appeals made to various departmental appellate authorities or to the Central Information Commission in cases where the citizen is not satisfied with the response of the CPIO. No fee is applicable in appeal cases.
- In such cases, subject to the checks mentioned above, the following particulars should be available in all appeal applications.
- Name of the appellant.
- Contact details of the appellant including complete postal address, telephone numbers and email address (if any).
- Authority to which appeal is being sent (whether DAA or the CIC).
- Details of the authority against whose decision the appeal is being made (whether CPIO or DAA).
- Nature and details of the information requested originally.
- Copy of the information request submitted to the CPIO/appeal letter sent to the DAA (whichever is applicable).
- Rejection letter issued by the CPIO against the appellant’s information request (if any).
- Copy of the order issued by the DAA (if any).
- Date on which appeal is being submitted.
- No receipt would be required in such cases but an acknowledgement for receiving the application along with date of application will be necessary.
- The entries required in case of original applications to CPIOs will also be required to be made in case of appeals along with dispatch particulars of the appeals received. A separate register for recording the details related to appeals should be maintained. A format has been prescribed in the regard and available on the website.
The duties of the CPIO
The Central Public Information Officer to whom a request is addressed has the duty to respond with the information required. Citizens can submit applications personally or by post/courier or through electronic means (such as email etc.) in English, or Hindi or the official language of the area Citizens are not required to give reasons for requesting information. The CPIO shall not demand an explanation from the requester as to why he/she needs that information. Refusal to accept an application from the citizen without reasonable cause is an offence under the law. The Central Information Commission may impose a fine of Rs. 250/- per day till the application is received up to a maximum of Rs. 25,000/- and also recommend disciplinary action for delays, providing wrong information and refusal.
- As a CPIO there are certain obligations that are to be carried out carefully. If the CPIO receives a request for information that is not available with his office but is likely to be available with another office or public authority, it is his duty to transfer that request to the concerned public authority. If the CPIO advises the requester to approach the concerned public authority he/she may treat this as his refusal to accept the application and send a complaint to the DAA or the CIC. This could lead to litigation, which can be avoided by transferring the application to the relevant CPIO). The CPIO should transfer the application to the CPIO concerned as soon as possible and in no case later than five days. The CPIO should inform the applicant about the transfer of the application in writing immediately. There is no grace period stipulated in the law for communicating this transfer to the requester.
In cases where the CPIO is giving a response the following has to be kept in mind:
If the information requested is not covered by any of the exemptions the CPIO should ordinarily provide it within thirty days Do not let applications pile up on your desk. This will only increase your workload in future. Please dispatch all complete applications immediately.
If the requested information relates to the life and liberty of a person (Art. 21 of the Constitution) then you have a duty to provide such information within 48 hours. Ordinarily, if the requested information is given by a third party which treats it as confidential then ten extra days are allowed to seek its submission on whether such information may be disclosed (see below). This does not apply to cases involving the life and liberty of a person. Such information must be given within 48 hours because of the sense of urgency involved.
In cases of rejection of requests:
The CPIO is required to communicate to the applicant in writing:
- The reason/s for rejecting the request.
- The period within which the applicant may appeal against the rejection.
- The particulars of the appellate authority.
The law specifies 11 categories of information that may not be disclosed to the requester. Sec. 8 applies to categories of information and not categories of records. (Sec. 9 applies to cases where release of information may infringe upon the copyright of any person other than the State) A record may contain both exempt and non-exempt information. Non-exempt information contained in such records may be disclosed upon request.
No other exemption contained in any other law including the Official Secrets Act and the Indian Evidence Act, or rules, orders or procedures prescribed by any public authority will take precedence over the operation of the RTI Act.
Furthermore, if the public interest in disclosing exempt information weighs more than the harm to the protected interests then such information may be released.
If the requester appeals against the rejection order he/she is not required to justify why such information is being requested. Under the law the burden of proving why such information cannot be given is placed on the CPIO. The CPIO will have to prove before the appellate authority that the rejection order was based on reasons valid under this law. If the Information Commission finds the justification unreasonable the CPIO is liable to fine and also disciplinary action. The CPIO has to be very cautious while rejecting an information request.
- In cases where the CPIO decides to provide information he should ensure the following:
If he decides to provide the requested information he should immediately inform the applicant in writing about the additional fees he/she is required to pay as cost of providing the information. This additional fee must be calculated at the rate prescribed by the Government as per the Government of India, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions Notification No. 34012/8 (S)/2005-Estt. (B) dated 16.09.2005 .The time taken between dispatch of this intimation and the actual payment of fees will not be included while calculating the period of thirty days:
If the information requested is to be provided in electronic or printed format the CPIO may charge additional fees at the rate prescribed by the Government as per the Government of India, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions Notification No. 34012/8 (S)/2005-Estt. (B) dated 16.09.2005.The CPIO will be required to inform the applicant about this additional fee in writing. The time taken between dispatch of this intimation and the actual payment of fees will not be included while calculating the period of thirty days:
BPL applicants are exempted from paying additional fees for securing the requested information:
If for some reason the requested information is not provided within the deadline the requester has a right to receive such information free of cost.
The CPIO has a duty to inform the applicant in writing the details of how the additional fee were calculated and how the amount was arrived at:
The CPIO has a duty to inform the applicant in writing that he/she has a right to demand from the DAA and/or the CIC a review of the additional fees charged by the CPIO as cost of providing the requested information. The CPIO is required to inform the applicant in writing – the particulars of the appellate authority, the time limit and the process of appeal and any other forms that may be prescribed in this context.
The applicant may request information that might have to be extracted or compiled from one or more public records or documents. Furthermore the applicant may request that the information be provided in a specific format. Ordinarily, in such cases the CPIO is required to provide information in the format sought by the applicant unless such extraction or compilation –
Will require spending disproportionately large amount of time, money or human power resources or Will adversely affect the safety or preservation of the relevant record/s.
- Appeals and the role of the Departmental Appellate Authority
Appeals may arise in the following cases:
- Where the CPIO fails to provide the requested information within thirty days in ordinary cases.
- Where the CPIO fails to provide the requested information within 48 hours where the requested information relates to the life and liberty of a person.
- Where the citizen believes that the additional fee charged by the CPIO for supplying the requested information is unreasonable (not to be confused with application fees)
- Where the citizen believes the rejection order issued by the CPIO in response to his/her information request is unjustifiable.
- Where the citizen believes the decision of the CPIO granting partial access to records is unjustifiable.
- Where the citizen believes the CPIO has knowingly provided incorrect, incomplete or misleading information.
Aggrieved citizens may file appeals directly by handing them over in person or send them by post. Additionally they may send the appeal letter to the CAPIO. The CAPIO is duty bound to forward such appeals to the concerned DAA.
There are no fees for filing appeals. Appeals must be received, processed and disposed of without imposing any financial burden on the appellant. However forms for filing appeals may be prescribed [Sec. 7(3)(b) mentions forms for filing an appeal against the intimation order of PIO requiring payment of additional fee]. Nevertheless keeping in mind the convenience of the common person living in remote areas who may not have easy access to such forms it is best to allow appeals made on plain paper as long as they contain the following details and enclosures:
- Name of the appellant
- Contact details of the appellant including complete postal address, telephone numbers and email address (if any)
- Authority to which appeal is being sent (whether DAA or the CIC)
- Details of the authority against whose decision the appeal is being made (whether CPIO or DAA)
- Nature and details of the information requested originally
- Copy of the information request submitted to the PIO/appeal letter sent to the DAA (whichever is applicable)
- Rejection letter issued by the CPIO against the appellant’s information request (if any) or
- Copy of the order of the CPIO/information disclosed which is being contested including order of partial access (if any) or
- Copy of the letter issued by the CPIO intimating additional fee to be paid towards cost of providing information which is being contested by the appellant (if any)
- Copy of the order issued by the DAA which is being contested (if any)
- Date on which appeal is being submitted.
It is good practice to issue a receipt for every appeal received by the DAA and the same must be entered in a register in the format prescribed.
The RTI Act allows the following time limit for filing appeals:–
If the citizen does not receive any decision on his/her application from the CPIO –within thirty days of the expiry of the time period (usually thirty days or 40 days if a third party’s submissions have been invited).
If the citizen is not satisfied with the information provided by the CPIO or is aggrieved by the decision of the CPIO where partial access has been provided - within thirty days from the receipt of such decision. (Please note – the time limit mentioned immediately above does not begin from the date of the issue of the CPIO’s order. It starts with the date on which the applicant receives the order).
If the DAA is satisfied that there was sufficient cause that prevented the appellant from filing the appeal within the time limit he/she may admit the appeal after the expiry of the deadline.
If a third party is aggrieved by the order of the CPIO – within thirty days from the date of such order.
Ordinarily the DAA is required to give its decision within 30 days of the receipt of the appeal. This time limit is extendable but in no case should it exceed 15 days. If additional time is taken over and above the thirty-day limit the DAA is required to record its reasons for the same in writing while issuing the order on the appeal. The appellant has the right to file a second appeal with the CIC within ninety days of the expiry of the time limit prescribed for the DAA whether or not a decision has been received.
The burden of proving that rejection of the application for information was justified lies on the CPIO concerned. It is not necessary to summon the appellant in every case. The DAA can and should apply its mind to the case to decide whether the decision of the CPIO was reasonable or not. The presence of the appellant is not always required for such an exercise. However if the appellant’s presence is required in order to seek some clarification in his/her information request in such cases the appellant may be summoned.
Similarly even the CPIO need not be summoned in many cases. The DAA need only ascertain whether the denial of the request was in good faith and whether the requested information may be disclosed in the public interest. As the DAA does not have the power to penalize, the question of giving the CPIO an opportunity to defend his/her decision of rejection of request need not arise.
- It is worth mentioning here that a significant number of appeals will be filed by citizens against rejection orders of CPIOs where Sec. 8 exemption/s have been invoked. The DAA will be called upon to interpret these exemptions in light of the public interest that may be upheld in disclosing such information. The Government has to draw up detailed guidelines for interpreting every category of exempt information as well as good practices to determine the primacy of public interest. If these practical guidelines are made available to the CPIOs in the form of a practice manual there may be a significant decline in the number of appeals filed by citizens.