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Legal Issues >> Right to Information Act, 2005
>> Right to Information Act, 2005


The Right to Information Act which replaces the Freedom of Information Act, 2002 received the assent of the President and has come into force on 21st June 2005. All public sector banks and other institutions, constituted by an Act of Parliament or owned and controlled by the Government are public authorities within the meaning of the above Act and are required to comply with the provisions of the Act. In terms of the provisions of the Act, certain parts of the Act have come into force with immediate effect. All the public authorities are required to take certain steps within 120 days from the date of commencement of the Act. One such requirement is that the public authority has to publish following particulars about its organisation:

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 authorizations 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

xviii.
publish all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect public

xix. provide reasons for its administrative or quasi judicial decisions to affected persons.

The Act also requires every public authority to designate Central Public Information Officers in all administrative units or offices under it as may be necessary to provide information to persons requesting for information under this Act.

Section 22 of the Act provides that the provisions of the Act shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in the Official Secrets Act 1923 and any other law for the time being in force. The effect of this provision is that the law overrides all provisions contained in the Banking Laws, which cast obligation on banks to maintain secrecy about the affairs of customers.

2. Certain aspects of the right to information need to be noted as under:
a) All Public Sector Banks constituted by an Act of Parliament or owned and controlled by the Government are Public Authorities within the meaning of section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

b) As Public Authorities, the public sector banks are required to publish information as specified in section 4 of the Act and also designate Public Information Officers under section 5 of the Act.

c) The right to information is provided to all citizens and a company or any other incorporated entity, which is not a citizen, cannot call for any information under the Act
.
d) In terms of sub section 2 of section 6 an applicant making request for information is not required to give any reason for requesting the information or any other personal details except those that may be necessary for contacting him.

e) In terms of section 7(1) of the Act, any request for information is to be disposed off within 30 days of receipt of request.

f) If request for information is rejected, the concerned Public Information Officer has to record reasons for rejection, state the period within which an appeal against such rejection may be preferred and particulars of the appellate authority, in the order of rejection.

3. In regard to the exemptions provided for in section 8 of the Act, the position is as under:
Clause (d) of sub-section 1 of section 8 provides for exemption from disclosure of information including commercial confidence trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party unless the competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information. The expression "third party" is defined by section 2 (n) as a person other than a citizen making a request for information and includes a public authority. Since the definition of third party includes a public authority, the exemption referred to in section 8(1)(d) is available to the banks if the disclosure of information is likely to harm the competitive position of the bank itself.

4. Exemption under section 8(1)(e) - Information available in fiduciary capacity
In cases where a bank is acting in capacity as a trustee, any information conveyed to the bank as a trustee can be treated as confidential and exempted from disclosure.

5. Section 8 (1)(j) - Personal Information
As stated above, clause (j) of sub-section (1) of Section 8 of the Right to Information Act exempts disclosure of personal information which has no relation to any public activity or interest or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual. As stated above, all information relating to affairs of the customers, including persons who have furnished information for the purpose of obtaining a loan from the bank can be treated as personal information. Further all information relating to employees such as employees who have taken VRS, terminal benefits paid to such employees etc. can be treated as personal information. Also a person may ask for information of name and address of persons who have taken car loans exceeding a particular amount or having a deposit above a specified amount, such information being personal can be declined.

6. Sub section (9) of section 7 - The form of information
Sub section 9 of section 7 provides that information shall ordinarily be provided in the form in which it is sought unless it would disproportionately divert the resources of the public authority or would be detrimental to the safety or preservation of the record in question.

7. In terms of subsection (3) of section 7 it is permissible for the public authority to demand further fees being the cost of providing the information. Hence, in cases where detailed information is called for month wise or vehicle wise or any other basis that involves collection of voluminous information and high cost, such costs can be computed and conveyed to the concerned applicant as further fee to be deposited for furnishing the information. While conveying the amount of the additional fees, the Public Information Officer will have to give details of the calculations made to arrive at the amount of the further fees payable.

8. Presentation of Records
All the public sector banks are advised to maintain records for 20 years as envisaged under the Right to Information act. Such requirement would be effective from the date the Right to Information Act has come into force, i.e. 15th June 2005. Such requirement will be applicable to all existing records not yet destroyed as also to the records created after the commencement of the Right to Information Act i.e. 15th June 2005.

Friday, August 22, 2014
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