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Seeking information under RTI a tough task for NRIs

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As reported by Manoj Mitta of TNN in timesofindia.indiatimes.com on 12 July 2008:

Seeking information under RTI a tough task for NRIs-Indians Abroad-The Times of India

 

Seeking information under RTI a tough task for NRIs

 

NEW DELHI: It had first claimed that Indian missions abroad did not come at all under the purview of RTI. And now, making access more difficult for NRIs, the Indian embassy in US has been refusing to entertain RTI applications that did not pertain to information held by it.

 

This is despite an express provision, section 6(3) of the RTI Act, stating that if the subject matter of an application addressed to one public authority actually relates to another, then the former has to transfer it to the latter within five days.

 

The mission in Washington admitted under RTI about a month ago that in 31 of the 45 queries received till then, the NRIs had been "advised to send their applications directly" to the public authorities based in India.

 

The queries sought information on diverse public interest issues such as Narmada project, Nandigram, Dow Chemicals and Bhopal gas tragedy.

 

Though section 6(3) contains no such condition, the embassy announced on its website that NRIs could send their applications to it "only when the subject matter can reasonably be presumed to pertain to the embassy."

 

Disclaiming its statutory obligation to transfer such queries, the embassy said it would not entertain applications where "the information required obviously does not pertain to the embassy."

 

When one of the NRIs asked it under RTI to disclose the file notings that led to the website statement, all that the embassy said was, "The information contained in the website was created by the public information officer (PIO) with the approval of the government of India."

 

On the application filed by NRI Vishal Kudchadkar, the embassy also declined to provide the list of cases in which the applicants had been told to send their application directly to the public authorities in India. It said the disclosure of the list would violate the applicant's "privacy."

 

The ground cited by the embassy for withholding information on the applicants flies in the face of the transparency maintained by the independent appellate body in New Delhi, Central Information Commission (CIC), which lists all its decisions on its website along with the names and addresses of the applicants.

 

But NRIs are aggrieved with the conduct of CIC too. For, despite repeated reminders, the complaints sent by them to CIC all the way from US have not even been acknowledged, let alone being listed for hearing. Though Preeti Sampat, for instance, filed her complaint against the embassy way back on February 17, CIC has so far not sent any acknowledgement of it.

 

Sampat's complaint is gathering dust although it brings out more evidence of the embassy's cavalier approach to RTI.

 

On an application related to the Narmada project, the embassy's PIO first replied that the information was not available with it.

 

When the applicant raised the section 6(3) argument in his first appeal, it was again the PIO who responded (instead of the designated appellate authority in the embassy) and he said that the transfer provision was not applicable since "an explicit request to do so" had not been made in the RTI application.

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      Appeal No.ICPB/A-1/CIC/2006


      Right to Information Act – Sections 6/18

      Name of Appellant : Satyapal
      Name of Public Authority : CPIO, TCIL

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      Shri Satyapal – appellant, a resident of Delhi, applied to the CPIO, TCIL seeking for copies of certain documents by a letter dated 17th October, 2005. By a letter dated 14th November, 2005, CPIO, TCIL furnished copies of certain documents, however, stating that a particular document sought for was a file noting in the Department of Telecom and as such it was exempt from disclosure. By a letter dated 17th Nov. 2005, Shri Satyapal again wrote to the CPIO, TCIL pointing out that the information sought for by him did not fall within the ambit of Section 8 of the RTI Act and as such the same should be supplied. He also brought to the notice of CPIO, TCIL that in respect of information already furnished, a copy of a bill in respect of advertisement relating to independence day 1996 had not been supplied. By a letter dated 28th Nov. 2005, the CPIO, TCIL while furnishing a copy of the bill, once again reiterated that file notings are exempt from disclosure in terms of the clarification given by the Department of Personnel in their website. Aggrieved by this decision, Shri Satyapaul preferred an appeal to the appellate authority by a letter dated 14th Dec. 2005 stating that file notings are not exempt from disclosure in terms of Section 8 of the RTI Act. He followed up the same by letters dated 14th Dec., 31st Dec. 2005 and 5th January, 2006. The appellate authority by a letter dated 5.1.2006 rejected the appeal stating “The information sought by you pertains to the file notings of the Department of Telecommunication as also that of TCIL. I am of the view that TCIL is exempted from disclosing the information sought by you under Section 8(1)(d)&(e) of the RTI Act. UO No.7-17/95-PP dated 4.10.1995 is a part of file notings. You have mentioned in your appeal that the information has been denied misconstruing it as “file notings” by CPIO, TCIL. I confirm that these are notings in the file”. Aggrieved with the decision of the appellate authority, Shri Satyapal has filed this appeal before this Commission. According to Shri Satyapal, there is no specific exemption from disclosure as far as file notings are concerned in Section 8 of RTI Act.
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      It is seen that while the CPIO declined to furnish the information sought for on the ground that file notings are exempt from disclosure, the appellate authority, without confirming or rejecting the stand of CPIO that file notings are exempt from disclosure, has relied on Section 8(1)(d) and (e) of the RTI Act to deny the information.
      As is evident from the Preamble to the RTI Act, the Act has been enacted to vest with the citizens, the right of access to information under the control of public authorities in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of any public authority. Conscious of the fact that access to certain information may not be in the public interest, the Act also provides certain exemptions from disclosure. Whether file notings fall within the exempted class is the issue for consideration.
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      Section 2(j) reads : “Right to information means the right to information accessible under this Act which is held by or under the control of any public authority and includes the right to (i) inspection of work, documents, records; (ii) taking notes, extracts or certified copies of document or records; (iii) …… (iv) …. “. In terms of Section 2(i) “Record” includes (a) any documents, manuscript and file;
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      Sd/-




      (Padma Balasubramanian)




      Information Commissioner




      Sd/-




      (Wajahat Habibullah)



      Chief Information Commissioner


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