How to seek information under the Right to Information Act 2009
Right to Information is one of the internationally recognised human rights. In 2009, we made a Right to Information Act to empower the citizens through which an individual can seek information from government organisations and other private bodies. It is a timely legal instrument for the citizens to know the activities of the state in a proper way by seeking information from the designated officials.
Article 39 of the Constitution of Bangladesh ensures freedom of thought, conscience, and speech of the citizens as a fundamental right and the right to information is an inalienable part of it. The preamble of the 2009 Act ensures the free flow of information and people's right to information. As all the powers of the Republic belong to the people, it is pertinent to ensure right to information for citizen's empowerment. The objective of the Act is to ensure accountability and transparency in all public, autonomous and statutory organisations and in private organisations so that good governance shall prevail in all these sectors. To ensure good governance and decrease corruption in public sector as well as private sector, an Information Commission has also been established under the Act.
The 2009 Act is enacted to secure the proper process of seeking information. The Act has elucidated how to seek information diligently and what to do if any authority does not provide information to the individual applicant. According to the Act, information includes any authority's constitution, structure, official activities, memo, book, design, map, contract, data, log book, order, notification, document, sample, letter, report, accounts statement, project proposal, photograph, audio, video, drawing, film, any instrument prepared through electronic process, machine readable documents and any other documentary material regardless of its physical form or characteristics. It is important to note that providing certain kinds of information under this Act is not mandatory and state intelligence agencies are not obliged to provide information to the citizens.
To seek any information, at first an individual has to contact the designated officer of the concerned department of any government or private organisation. Then the applicant must apply to the official through a proper application format. After receiving the application, the designated officer within 20 days (or 30 days in exceptional cases) must provide the required information to the applicant. If for any reason the officer is unable to provide information to the applicant, (s)he shall inform the applicant following the prescribed procedure within 10 working days. If the applicant feels aggrieved or is not satisfied with the answer received from the official, (s)he can appeal to the higher authority within 30 days by following the prescribed method. Such an appeal should be disposed of within 15 days by the appellate authority. However, after following all these procedures, if the applicant still does not get any information, (s)he can directly file a complaint to the Information Commission within 30 days. Ordinarily the Information Commission will take 45-75 days to dispose of a complaint from the date on which it receives the complaint.
A citizen must know about his/her right to seek information guaranteed by law. The statutory and the other organisations must realise the importance of legal framework to ensure transparency and accountability in their functionings.
The writer is a Law Desk Intern, The Daily Star.