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COMPLAINT UNDER SECTION 18 OF THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT, 2005
In order to promote transparency and accountability in administration, the Indian Parliament enacted the Right to Information Act, which came into force on 12th October 2005. The basic objective of the Act is to empower the citizens, promote transparency and accountability in the working of the Government, contain corruption, and make our democracy work for the people in real sense.
A citizen has a right to seek such information from a public authority which is held by the public authority or which is held under its control. This right includes inspection of work, documents and records; taking notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records; and taking certified samples of material held by the public authority or held under the control of the public authority. It is important to note that only such information can be supplied under the Act which already exists and is held by the public authority or held under the control of the public authority.
COMPLAINT UNDER SECTION 18
Section 18 of the act empowers Central Information Commission [CIC] and also State Information Commissions [SICs] to enquire into complaints against Public Authority, Public Information Officer [PIO] and First Appellate Authority [FAA]. The section has provided for enquiring and taking corrective steps by the respective commissions in respect of majority of problems that the applicant/appellant may face in getting information to which he is entitled to under this act.
GROUNDS FOR COMPLAINT
• No PIO or APIO or FAA is appointed by public authority.
• PIO/APIO/FAA has refused to receive application/appeal.
• No reply is received from PIO & FAA within time limit fixed by the act.
• Reply received from PIO is unsatisfactory, irrelevant, unreadable, misleading, unclear, false, incomplete etc.
• Information has been wrongly and unjustifiably refused.
• When applicant is required to pay fee/charges in excess of those prescribed in RTI rules applicable.
• PIO/APIO is not accessible in person or by post and his whereabouts are not easily available/prominently exhibited.
• Proactive disclosure under section 4  has not been made or it is not made publicly available/accessible.
• PIO/FAA has wrongly refused inspection of records of public authority or reasonable cooperation is not extended during inspection.
• PIO, FAA or any other person directly/indirectly intimidates or ill-treats or pressurizes the applicant/appellant or restraints him from exercising his right under the act.
• PIO/FAA disobeys orders of CIC/SIC.
• Any other situation where the citizen has been wrongly restrained/refused access to information to which he is entitled under the act.
• Any other violation of provisions of the act by public authority, PIO or FAA.
CIVIL COURT POWERS CONFERRED UPON THE INFORMATION COMMISSION
The RTI Act confers Information Commission with powers of a civil court only while dealing with complaints under Section 18(3). The powers include:
• Initiating an “enquiry”, which has much wider scope than a “hearing”
• Summoning witnesses ie. persons other than PIO and FAA. For example, the colleagues of the PIO and FAA, or other RTI applicants and appellants who are not complainants in this case may be called to depose before CIC/SIC.
• Compelling witnesses and others to makes statements on oath and to file affidavits
• Calling for any public record to be placed before it (not only the information requested in the Appellant’s RTI application).
• Any other power as may be prescribed.
There is no time-limit for filing a complaint. One may file a complaint immediately after PIO or Public Authority’s failure to comply with a requirement of the RTI Act, without filing a First Appeal. One may also file a complaint very late (say 18 months later) and Information Commissioner cannot dismiss it on the grounds of being late.
PROCEDURE TO LODGE COMPLAINT
1. Complaints relating to information of central government public authorities are to be lodged with Central Information Commission [CIC], August Kranti Bhavan, Bhikaji Kama Place, NEW DELHI 110066. [www.cic.gov.in].In cases of information of public authorities of State Govts, complaints have to be lodged with respective State Information Commissions [SICs]. Details are available on official websites of State Govts. /State Information Commissions. Please refer to www.cic.gov.in and visit icon- CICs of States.
2. CIC and some of SICs have prescribed minimum information or papers that must be submitted with the complaint. Some SICs have prescribed format for complaint. For CIC and those SICs, which have not prescribed format, complainants can use guidelines and format as available at http://www.rtiindia.org/guide/how-to-use-your-right-to-information-4/how... with minor changes.
3. CIC does not charge any fee for complaints. Some SICs charge fees for this purpose.
4. There is no time limit for lodging complaint, but it is advisable to lodge the same within reasonable time of happening of cause for complaint.
5. Send copy of complaint to PIO/FAA simultaneous with CIC/SIC. At times PIO/FAA solves your problem before hearing at CIC/SIC.
6. Ask for punishment to PIO/FAA under the act and also claim compensation for not getting the information in time.
7. Information Commissions are vested with powers of Civil Courts in respect of summoning, enforcing attendance, giving evidence on oath, producing records, etc.
8. Complaint is in addition to Second/final Appeal available to applicants.
9. It is advisable to simultaneously approach head of the organization or govt. dept at capital-level [secretary/chief secretary] for his intervention. This may help get information.
10. After lodging complaint, please check from concerned website if the same is registered and registration number and status.
11. In case of information pertaining to life and liberty, the complaint should be conspicuously branded as “Life & Liberty-Urgent” so that priority is accorded for its disposal before it is too late. Follow-up through email is recommended if available with SIC.
12. CIC/SICs are flooded with appeals/complaints and there is huge pendency. Thus it may take 12 to 36 months before complaint is heard.
13. It is advisable to take free help from experienced RTI activists/NGO if locally available so that matter can be effectively and properly represented through complaint.