Four golden rules for writing effective RTI Applications
We often sit down to draft an RTI application in an angry and unrealistic mood. When we write RTI applications, our focus should be on getting information. Instead, we are thinking about stopping some wrongdoings, getting some officials and corrupt contractors penalized, making the authorities “answerable” for negligence etc, etc. At such times, we fail to think clearly about the items of information that we need.
Right to Information Act 2005 is a law, and effectiveness in legal work depends on using the law without anger, resentment and wishful thinking.
While asking for information, the 4 golden rules are:
1. Point to various specific documents. Your application should look like a shopping-list of documents.
2. Name documents using words from Sec 2(f) and Sec 4(1)(b) of the RTI Act – reports, logbooks, emails, advices, rules, regulations, manuals etc. Only after exhausting these should you use other similar names e.g. quality audit reports, correspondence etc. In case this information is denied, the similarity of wordings will help you to convince appellate authorities that your requested information is “records” and “information” that must be mandatorily given.
3. Don’t ask questions, don’t demand explanations, and don’t make allegations.
Don’t make your application sound like a letter of complaint or a letter-to-the-editor. Don’t preface it with a covering letter or an introductory paragraph. RTI applications should be emotionless and bland.
4. Avoid vague expressions and requests such as
- What is the status of my complaint?
What further action has been taken on my complaint/letter?
Give me action-taken report.
Words like “status” and “action” are open to interpretation, and usually fail to point towards any particular document; they can mean different things to different persons like applicant, PIO, APIO and appellate authorities. In most cases, there is no such document called “action-taken report” in existence, and therefore, the PIO cannot be rightly asked under RTI to generate such a document in reply to your application; PIO can only be asked to give you copy of a document that exists. The right way is to ask for signed and stamped copy of all correspondence till date in the matter of your complaint, including memos, emails, covering letters for forwarding your complaint etc. Ask for copy of logbook or any other book where details of your complaint are entered, marked to specific officers for their investigation and action. Ask for a copy of all their remarks, feedback, reports etc. If the case on your complaint is closed, ask for the closing remarks of the officer concerned.
- Give particulars of the project to build XYZ.
What “particulars” do you want? Engineering drawings? Budgets? Financial projections? Feasibility reports? Consultants’ studies? This is not clear. Don’t leave it to the PIO to decide what documents to include and what to leave out. Be specific and name the documents that you want copied. Make it difficult for the PIO to loosely interpret your request.
Shri Sailesh Gandhi
Central Information Commissioner
(Circulated in the interest of the public giving them tips to frame good questions while submitting RTI Applications to get the information)