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Putting India's Right To Information Act to Good Use

Discovering the best methods for procuring information from the Indian government makes life much easier for you as you set up and grow your business. Lucky for you, a recent legislative development has greatly simplified the process — the Right To Information (RTI) Act.

The RTI Act was passed in June 2005 and went into effect in October of that year. It superseded the Official Secrets Act and other special laws that had until then guarded government information in independent India.

Put simply, the act gives all Indians the right to ask for information from any public body, which, in turn, is required to respond within 30 days. As a foreigner, you may not be able to take advantage of the act directly, but you can always get your Indian contacts to submit information requests on your behalf. And you (or your Indian contacts) don't even have to say why you need the requested information — you just have to provide your contact details.

The RTI Act empowers Indians to

  • Request any information (defined as any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, contracts, reports, papers, models, data material held in any electronic form, and information relating to any private body that can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force)
  • Make and take copies of documents
  • Inspect documents
  • Inspect the progress of works
  • Take samples of materials used at work sites

Information sought via the RTI Act is provided by designated Public Information Officers (PIOs) or Assistant Public Information Officers (APIOs).

The information doesn't come free. Fees are involved, and each department is different. Don't worry; they won't set your bank balance back too much. The rules of payment vary from state to state, and so do the application formats.

The RTI Act leaves the state of Jammu and Kashmir out of its purview. If you're particularly keen on getting some information out of that state, don't throw this law in the faces of the officials there. They'll throw it right back at you.

Some corollaries to the RTI Act exist. For example, if information is deemed crucial to India's sovereignty and security or of strategic scientific or economic interest, or if disclosure of the information would constitute a breach of privilege of legislatures, it can't be procured. You also can't get information that can harm the competitive position of a third party, including commercial confidence, trade secrets, or intellectual property, unless the authorities are satisfied that larger public interest is served by disclosing this information. Many other restrictions exist as well. Get the full scoop at www.rtiindia.org.

Make a copy of any RTI Act applications your business submits and keep them on file for your records.

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