Selvi applied for land from a government housing scheme. After paying and having it allotted, she found to her dismay that two high-tension electricity poles were right on her plot. Repeated requests for re-allocation went in vain, with the government refusing to even acknowledge the presence of the poles. Finally, Selvi applied to the electricity department under the Right to Information Act (RTI Act) asking for details of all high-tension poles around her plot. She got the information, and was able to furnish proof to confront the housing department.

Priya, a teacher, found a lot of ambiguity about eligibility criteria, selection process, and other details of government education loans and scholarships. She used the RTI Act to find out exact details from various departments, and was able to share the facts with her students.

The RTI Act is a landmark legislation that makes information from all government authorities available to the public as a matter of right. Such authorities include government departments, institutions established by the centre or state, institutions that are owned, controlled or substantially funded by the government, or even NGOs that receive government funding.

Here’s how it works:

There is no specific format of application. Address it to the Public Information Officer (PIO) of the concerned department. Most government websites list the name and contacts of their PIO. Give your name and address, and say you are applying under the RTI Act, 2005. You must have proof of submission of application.

You can seek information on circulars, orders, memos, opinions, press releases, contracts, reports, salary details etc. It is very widely defined. You can also inspect public records and registers.

You don’t have to give reasons for seeking the information.

Ask clear and precise questions rather than general queries. Instead of saying ‘Please provide information on schemes available for women’ say ‘Please list out all education schemes available for women under your department. What is the eligibility and selection criterion for each?’ Departments prescribe a fee, usually Rs. 10 or sometimes more, for an RTI application. Applicants from below the poverty line need not pay. If the information runs to several pages, extra charges apply for photocopying. Information can also be obtained on CDs.

The PIO must respond within 30 days, failing which you can appeal to the First Appellate Authority. If there’s no response within 45 days, appeals go to the State or Central Information Commissions. If addressed to the wrong department, applications must be forwarded to the correct PIO within five days and the applicant informed.

Fines or departmental enquiries can be initiated against PIOs for delays. Information that involves trade secrets, affects privacy, compromises the security of the nation, and certain other categories are exempt from the Act.

For a simple guide on the RTI Act, visit rti.gov.in/rticorner/guideonrti.pdf.