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The Law Every Indian Should Know, But Very Few Of Us Do: Right To Information

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A retired railway employee, Ramesh, could not understand why there were deductions in his pension statement. Upon asking around at his old department he did not get a clear answer but was able to figure out that the ministry had levied some ‘mysterious’ tax on many ex-employees.

Angered at this unilateral decision taken by his old employers, he decided to challenge it. But in order to do so, he would need more information on the nature of this tax and his employer’s reason for levying it. He remembered reading about right to information in the newspapers and decided to search for more information on the internet.

Right to Ask for Information

Indian law guarantees freedom of speech and expression. This right is not just to express one’s opinion but also to receive information and a plurality of views, which further lets citizen express informed opinion. This right to receive information has been expressed in the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act).

Further, in a democratic setup, government offices are agents of the public, conducting public acts. In such cases, the citizens have a right to know about every public act carried out by government bodies and to exercise this democratic facet, the RTI Act plays an important role. It allows citizens to seek information from constitutional authorities, bodies set up by Acts of Parliament or State legislatures, and even non-governmental bodies that are substantially financed by the government. In some cases, even private bodies who receive over 95% infrastructure funds from the government have been considered to come under the ambit of this law.

Apart from asking information, the law even allows citizens to inspect government documents, government works and take samples of materials of any government work.

However, it is pertinent to note that not all information may be covered under this law. Like every right granted under the constitution, even this right comes with certain reasonable restrictions. There might be cases where the authority to whom the application is made may refuse your application because the information you requested falls under the category of ‘exempted information’. Some examples of exempted information include information that would expose whistleblowers or endanger lives, information that would affect the security and economic interests of the government with another country, information that would harm commercial interests, etc.

Who to Ask Information From?

The RTI Act has made provision for a Public Information Officer (PIO) to be set up in every government body who is responsible for receiving and managing applications under this law (also known as RTI Applications). The PIO is also the one who takes a decision on RTI Applications and send replies to them.

In Ramesh’s case, he can make an application to the PIO at the Ministry of Railways specifically requesting information on this new tax. The PIO would reply back with the information within 30 days of receiving the application.

How to Make Right To Information Application

An RTI application can either be made by sending an application by post or filling the form available online. If the application is made by post, it must be accompanied by a Rs. 10/- postal order. If the applicant is below poverty line, then application fees need not be paid. For online applications, there are various methods to pay online.

Reply to the RTI Application

The PIO has to respond to the application within 30 days with the information requested. However, in cases such as Ramesh’s, if one is not satisfied with the reply, or doesn’t get a reply within 30 days, the law allows you to file an appeal to an officer higher in rank to the PIO. If the applicant is not satisfied with the decision of the first appeal, a second appeal can be made either to the State Information Commission or the Central Information Commission.

However, in case the information was refused, the responsibility to prove whether the PIO’s refusal was justified or not lies only on the PIO.

Additional Costs

While assessing the application if the PIO needs to make copies of any documents to send to the applicant, the PIO will ask him to pay the cost of photocopying those documents accordingly. Apart from this, there are no other additional costs. For instance, Ramesh’s application that requested information on the new tax was available in a notification issued by the ministry. The PIO requested Ramesh to pay the cost of photocopying it and nothing more.

RTI – Achieving Access to Justice

At times the process of approaching a government body or an officer to ask questions might be a daunting process. Some might even give in to intimidation and not be able to access what is rightfully theirs. In such cases, to solve this problem and to make access to justice easier the RTI has proven to be a valuable asset for everyone.

In the last 13 years of its existence, the law on right to information has empowered many people with either just a few clicks of buttons or by a simple postal application. Be it a retired railway employee like Ramesh, who accessed information on his pension deductions, or any other person looking for information, records or samples of government work.

It allows citizens to approach their authorities without any fear and without the involvement of any intermediaries in a simple and user-friendly manner, be it online or by post. This not only speeds up the process but also increases transparency in the functioning leading to good governance.

Also Read: India’s First ‘No Caste-No Religion’ Certificate Approved For TN Lawyer Who Always Left ‘Caste’ & ‘Religion’ Columns Blank

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Emergency funds sent to 350 families, 75000+ meals served, 150+ ration kits and sanitary pads distributed
Quote
It's not how much we give
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- Mother Theresa Quote

Goonj Is Working With 1000’s Of Volunteers & Partner NGOs To Provide Covid-19 Relief In 18 States

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With the extension of the lockdown the crisis of migrant labourers and daily wagers has just grown bigger due to uncertainty and fear of future. In the migrant colonies, slums and for people in the villages hunger and desperation is building up day by day. This is high time we step up our efforts to support our people who are in dire need of food and hygiene essentials to survive the pandemic, Covid-19.

After the India-wide lockdown, a lot of jobless migrant workers are stuck in cities with hardly any resources while many started retreating back to their villages. With the loss of livelihoods, a large number of them are now struggling to support their families.

Goonj activated its pan India teams and a pan India network of partner organizations and volunteers in urban and rural India. This network, built over the last two decades, helps them learn from the ground, reach material quickly and review and adapt strategy periodically. Intensifying this network has helped Goonj reach and start work across 17produced states/UT in the last three weeks.
Support the cause you care for. Browse All CampaignsBrowse all campaigns
2,00,000 meals served
Emergency funds sent to 350 families, 75000+ meals served, 150+ ration kits and sanitary pads distributed

Goonj’s focus: 

Majority of the Covid-19 relief work by non profits right now is in the metros and cities but Goonj is the only non profit that is also simultaneously focusing on the people in the villages and the ones stuck on highways or somewhere.

Goonj is targeting daily wagers, migrants and other vulnerable groups, who even traditionally are left out like the disabled, sex workers, LGBTQ community.

“COVID-19 is a crisis, yes…But, it’s also an opportunity for us to build the society anew. Not ‘for’ the people…but, ‘with’ the people. And in the process, we will build ourselves too.” – Anshu Gupta, Founder-Director, Goonj.

Direct Monetary and Material Transfer

Wherever Goonj got the permission to open their centres for packing and disbursement of relief material kits, they are creating a kit consisting of 20-30 kgs material including dry rations, masks, sanitary pads and other hygiene material and reaching them to people, as per needs and as per regulations with all safety precautions. This kit will help a family survive for 30 days.

Information till 10th April 2020:

  • Distributed 15,100 ration kits reaching thousands of people
  • Reached 17,700 families
  • Supporting 12 community kitchen across India with 16,600kgs of ration
  • 77,800 food packets provided to migrant laborers and daily wagers walking on the roads across the country.
  • Provided direct financial support to 32 organisations
  • Made 42,800 cloth face masks
  • 24,900 cloth sanitary napkins produced
  • Produced 1500 litres of organic sanitiser

In Goonj’s processing centers its trained team of women are making cloth face masks and cloth sanitary pads (MY-Pads), keeping all the precautions and with the permission and cooperation of the local authorities.

In this lock-down phase if you are facing any difficulty getting sanitary pads or you are running out of stock, here’s a detailed but very simple process of making Cloth Pads at home created by Goonj. “This is how we make Goonj MY Pads.” This is how our mothers and grandmothers turned their spare cloth into pads.

This disaster, unlike any other, is unprecedented in its scale and impact and that’s why we all must do our bit with Goonj to continue its relief work for millions of people in this still unfolding long-tailed disaster.

The need is huge.. We are there.. Need You too !!

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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