Vistas of Right to Information
Right to Information Act, which came into force in India in October 2005, should open up new vistas for journalists doing investigative, in-depth and analytical reporting. It would not be of much help in routine work on account of time delays and procedure involved in getting information. Besides, the Government is trying to make critical information such as file notings unavailable through an amendment to the Act.

Mandatory provisions:
The Act makes it mandatory for public authorities to make information available within 30 days from the date of request. Requests are to be filed with respective public information officers or their assistants with a nominal application fee. A cost based fee would be payable on information received. It will be economical to get large chunks of information in the electronic form.

 The law comes at a time when Governmental data is increasingly becoming available in the electronic format. ComputerThis opens up the possibility of obtaining large databases in electronic form  for analysis. Even Geographical Information and maps could be obtained in this form. The journalist will have to learn the necessary computer skills to make use of such data. This site features an article on using census data and primer on using database elsewhere.

Requests by email:
As per the law, requests for information can even be made through email and replies obtained through email. However, there is yet no provision for making electronic payments. Government departments are also reluctant and ill prepared to handle email requests though that would have speeded up matters.

The experience so far in India that many departments, especially in the States, hardly ever provide the requested information within the stipulated time. Retired civil servants who are not yet out of the colonial mindset regarding Governmental information often head the appellate Information Commissions. They are reluctant to act against their former colleagues.

Penal provisions:
Some commissioners are reluctant to impose the fines specified in the law for failure to supply requested information though the Act does not provide any discretionary powers to the Commissioners. These are challenges before the journalists and others. Much compulsion would be needed to make the system work before journalists could effectively use it.

This site provides links to Government Web sites dealing with Right to Information in the respective list of links to Government departments and other agencies (see home page). A list of databases, available online, is at