The right to information (RTI) is an important tool for advocacy worldwide. In authoritarian regimes, access to information is generally restricted or cut off, and the world has witnessed the weakening of RTI acts globally. The Global South has recently witnessed severe digital authoritarianism. There is perpetual news of RTI activists being harassed, yet they continue to be one of the most effective and impactful ways to obtain information.
This is a brief guide as well as some tips for filing Right to Information applications in various countries based in South Asia.
- Read through the procedure thoroughly before you start. If possible, write out the procedure and list down the requirements ahead of time.
- Try to be as objective as possible in asking for information. Try to make your questions as specific as possible as well.
- Address the application to the correct authority. There might be some initial research and digging around that you might need to do to reach the correct authority.
- In the case there is a provision for your application to be transferred, do mention it in your application.
- Preferably type your application out. In the case you are writing the application by hand, make it as legible as possible.
- Try to attach a source of information, for example, a copy of a newspaper article to support your request.
- Be specific with the time period of the information sought.
- Ensure that your return address is exact, detailed, and correct.
- Ensure that you keep track of the application. Follow up within the prescribed time period.
- Give a lot of thought on how you frame your questions. You can get much more information with a well framed question.
India has enacted a Right to Information Act replacing a former act by the name of the Freedom of Information Act, 2002. Under the RTI act, any citizen of India can request any information from a public authority. The right to information is not a fundamental right in India but it can be read in conjunction with freedom of speech and expression and that of personal liberty guaranteed by the Constitution.
Procedure for filing RTI applications: A Right to Information Application can be filed either through an online or offline platform. However, not every state in India has an online portal for filing applications. Each application that is filed in the offline platform must be addressed to the Public Information Officer which is appointed by each public authority and falls under the ambit of the Right to Information Act. The application can be handwritten or typed. The application must be accompanied by the fee prescribed by each state. In case of filing an application online, a self-explanatory form has to be filled out and the fee is also paid using the online platform.
Time frame for providing information: Each application has to be answered within a period of 30 days.
Appeal mechanism: Each public authority must send a response to the applicant within 30 days of receiving the application. In the case no response is received or the applicant is dissatisfied with the response, then an appeal can be filed with the First Appellate Authority. This appeal has to be filed within 30 days of receiving a response or from the expiry of the 30-day statutory limitation. A first appeal can be filed online. Further, in the case of a grievance with the response received from the First Appellate Authority (FAA) or if no response is received, a second appeal can be filed with the State/Central Information Commission. This can be filed within 90 days.
Grounds for denying information: There are 3 possible grounds which information can be denied. The first is if the information sought does not belong to a public authority, the second is if the information does not exist and the third is a denial of information under Section 8 of the act. Section 8 denies information based on a number of factors such as information that is prejudicial to the security of the state, and information that may impact the integrity of the country among other such reasons.
Information Commission: The Central Information Commission is a statutory body that is set up under the RTI Act, 2005.
Sri Lanka recognizes the right to information as a fundamental right and was expressly adopted as one through the 19th Amendment to their constitution, which added Article 14A. In 2016 the country enacted the Right to Information Act.
Procedure for filing RTI applications: Sections 24 and 25 lay out the procedure for filling an application to request information. As per these sections a person can make a request to the information officer. This request can be made in written form, orally or through an email. The information officer is responsible for providing assistance in the filing of applications and taking down requests if made orally.
Time frame for providing information: As per section 25(1) the information officer has to make a decision to give information or to not give information within 14 days. After this, if the officer decides to grant access to this information, then it must be done so within the next 14 days. In the case of a request made in relation to life and liberty of a person, the information is to be given in 48 hours.
Appeal mechanism: Sections 31 to 33 provide for an appeal mechanism. Upon rejection of a request an appeal can be made within 14 days to a designated officer. Appeals against the decision of the designated officer can be referred to the information commission within 2 months. Subsequently, appeals can be made to the court of appeal within 1 month.
Grounds for denying information: Section 5 of the Act lays down the grounds for denying the access to information. Access to information can be denied on grounds such as: if the information is personal in nature and holds no relevance to public interest, if the disclosure of information will undermine the defense and security of the country, related to international relations or obligations, or if the information is related to economy, trade secrets, intellectual property, or health records of an individual among other things.
Proactive disclosure: Section 8 provides for proactive disclosure.
Information Commission: Section 11 provides for establishment of a Right to Information Commission. The commission shall have 5 members who are appointed by the President from the recommendations made by the Constitutional Council. The Council shall make recommendations from the following categories: the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, organizations of publishers, editors and media persons, and other civil society organizations.
The freedom to information ordinance, 2002 provides the right to information mechanism in Pakistan.
Procedure for filing RTI applications: Every authority is to designate a Freedom to Information Officer to whom the request for providing information is made. The designated officer has to provide assistance to make a request.
Time frame for providing information: The information is to be provided within 21 days from the request being made.
Appeal mechanism: Complaints against delay or denial of information may be first filed to the head of the concerned public authority (internal appeal) and then to the Wafaqi Mohtasib (Ombudsman) or if the complaint is against the Federal Board of Revenue, to the Federal Tax Ombudsman.
Grounds for denying information: A department can deny a request in the case the record is not maintained by them or if they do not have the information. Further, an authority is exempted from providing information on grounds such as international relations, personal information, and economic and commercial affairs.
Proactive disclosure: Only to provide acts and subordinate legislations.
The constitution of Nepal provides for the right to seek information under its Article 27. Further, the Right to Information Act, 2007 provides for the legislative framework for exercise of the right.
Procedure for filing RTI applications: As per section 7 of the Act, the application for information is to be filed to the designated information officer of a department. The reason for obtaining the information has to be stated.
Time frame for providing information: The act provides a 15 days time limit for providing information by the information officer. In matters related to life and liberty the limit is 24 hours.
Appeal mechanism: A complaint can be filed to the chief in the case a person is aggrieved with the processing of request by the information officer. The complaint has to be made within 7 days. Further, an appeal can be made against the decision of the chief within 35 days to the commission.
Grounds for denying information: An authority can be exempted from providing information on the grounds that disclosure of such information will seriously jeopardize the country's sovereignty, integrity, national security, public peace, stability and/or international relations, affect trade and economic relations, directly jeopardize the harmonious relationship subsisted among various caste or communities, or interfere with privacy of an individual. Further, there will be a committee to protect information and frame policy for protection of information, described in section 27.
Proactive disclosure: Sections 4-5 provides for proactive disclosures.
Information Commission: Section 11 stipulates that there will be a separate independent National Information Commission. It will have a CIC and two other information commissioners. In order to appoint Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioner, there shall be a committee comprised as follows: (a) The Speaker – Chairperson (b) Minister or State Minister for Information and Communication – Member (c) President, Federation of Nepalese Journalists – Member.
Procedure for filing RTI applications: The application can be made to a public authority in written form, orally, or through email. In the application, the following information must be given: Name, address, applicable fax number, and e-mail address of the applicant.
Time frame for providing information: Responsible officers shall provide information within 20 working days from the date of receipt of application. In case the officer rejects the request then such a rejection must be communicated within 10 days from the date of the application. For requests related to life and liberty the information is to be provided within 24 hours.
Appeal mechanism: An appeal can be made to the immediate senior of the responsible officer within 30 days from receiving a reply to the information request. The Appellate Authority shall within 15 days from the date of receiving the appeal direct the concerned Responsible Officer to provide the requested information, or reject the appeal if it is not fit for acceptance. A complaint can also be filed with the Information Commission.
Grounds for denying information: Information related to security, integrity of the country, economic relations, foreign policy, or information the disclosure of which would obstruct the enforcement of law or incite any offence among others is exempted from being disclosed. Further, section 32 provides for agencies and organizations which are completely exempted from providing information under the act.
Information Commission: The Information Commission includes one Chief Information Commissioner and two other Information Commissioners of whom one person shall be a woman. The Chief Information Commissioner is the Chief Executive of the Commission. In order to provide recommendations for the appointment of the Chief Information Commissioner and the Information Commissioners a Selection Committee shall be constituted which includes the following five members: a judge of the Appellate Division to be nominated by the Chief Justice, who shall be the Chairperson of the Committee; a Cabinet Secretary to the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh; one member each from the ruling party and the opposition, nominated by the Speaker while the Parliament is in session; a representative nominated by the Government from a group of journalists who have the capabilities and qualifications to be an editor or from the prominent members of society.