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karira

National advisory council to examine new rti draft rules

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karira

As reported by Danish Raza in governancenow.com on 11 December 2010:

GovernanceNow.com | Hurting from the RTI bites, govt readies muzzle and leash

 

Hurting from the RTI bites, govt readies muzzle and leash

 

DoPT rules await notification, will water down the landmark law

 

The going might get difficult for RTI applicants. The government has started the process of notifying the RTI rules. As per the new rules, each RTI application can have questions related to only one subject matter and the word limit is 250 words. This is excluding the address of the central public information officer and the address of the applicant.

 

Further, the applicant will be required to pay the actual amount spent by public authority on hiring a machine or any other equipment, if any, to supply information.

 

“There is no logic behind this word limit. It will become a problem for semi-literate people to draft an application in 250 words. It is like telling me that I can speak to you in these many words before I actually start speaking. This is something fudamentally erroneous,” said Venkatesh Nayak, programme coordinator, access to information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.

 

"As an alternative, there should be no word limit to the original RTI application. The public information officer can go through the application and in case he or she finds it very lengthy, can ask the applicant to prioritise the questions," he added.

 

Nikhil Dey of national campaign for people's right to information said, "This is against the very spirit of the act. The public authorities will surely misuse the word limit rule to reject the applications. This will act as a big deterrent."

 

Bibhav Kumar of the NGO Kabir said that the word limit rule went beyond the original RTI act which did not mention any word limit on RTI applications.

 

About postal charges, the rule says “in excess of rupees ten, if any, involved in supply of information, will be gven by the applicant.”

 

The rules are contained in the office memorandum circulated by the department of personnel and training (DoPT) on Friday (see file attached below).

 

The rules will override the RTI (regulation of fee and cost) rules, 2005 and the central information commission (appeal procedure) rules, 2005.

 

Also, appeals to the first appellate authority and the CIC will be made as per a given format.

 

You can comment on the proposed rules by sending an email at usrti-dovt@pic.in by December 27, 2010.

 

"It is a good thing that they have invited suggestions from civil society in accordance with Section4(1)© of the RTI Act. But the notification gets limited to only those who are Internet friendly and the two week's time for people to send comments, is, too short," said commodore L K Batra, RTI activist.

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RAVEENA_O

Nidhi Sharma

The Economic Times, New Delhi, 12 Dec, 2010

National Advisory Council (NAC) will examine threadbare the new draft rules framed for Right to Information Act, which make it mandatory for applicants to file questions in 250 words and pay for hiring photocopy machine used to provide information.

 

NAC’s sub-group on transparency and accountability, headed by social activist Aruna Roy, would discuss the draft rules in its meeting on Monday. The draft rules for Right to Information Act have been put up on the website to seek public opinion. The rules lay down provisions for application process, fee for providing information, filing first appeals and appointments in Information Commission. One of the provisions is that an applicant will file an application in not more than 250 words, excluding the address of the public information officer and the applicant.

 

 

The Government also seeks to bring changes in fee for providing information. So far, the applicant could just pay Rs.10 in cash or through a postal order for receiving information. However, the draft rules lay down that applicants would have to pay the actual amount spoent by a Government department in hiring a machine or equipment to supply information. It also says that postal charges, in excess of Rs.10, spent in supplying information would also be recovered from the applicant.

 

 

Right to Information Act Activists have pointed out several flaws in the draft rules. Magsaysay award winner and RTI Activist Arvind Kejriwal said, "All the rules framed by the Department of Personnel and Training seem to take the bureaucracy in account. There is nothing that addresses the concerns of the common citizens. When the rules lay down that an application should be filed in 250 words, does the Government intend to check the common man’s writing skills? What happens to illiterate and the poor? Can they frame such an application?"

 

 

Mr Kejriwal termed provision on recovering cost of hiring a machine from the applicant as "absurd". He said "These rules are meant to further restrict the boundaries of transparency. There are o provisions in the Act or the new rules on appointment of information Commissioners. Why are the rules shying away from addressing the real concerns and problems with our transparency law?"

 

 

RTI Activist Commodore Lokesh Batra also said that the rules are trying to dilute the Right to Information Act. "The rules are not people friendly. We need to analyse not only changes but also omissions in the rules. The new rules lay down that documents need to be included when an applicant goes for first appeal. Why is a format prescribed. It is a national waste."

 

 

Angry with such inclusions in the rules, non-governmental organizations and Right to Information Act activists have deiced to give representations to NAC’s sub-group headed by Ms Roy. Nikhil Dey of National Campaign for People’s Right to Information sand the organization would hold a meeting on Sunday and frame their objections to be presented to NAC sub-group on Monday and also for submission to Department of Personnel. The Government has sought public opinion till December, 27 on the draft rules.

 

 

Draft RTI Rules can be viewed in this link: Ministry Of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions under the head 'What's New?"

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karira

As reported by Ravi Bajpai in indianexpress.com on 12 December 2010:

Govt proposes new RTI rule: Ask, but only in 250 words, on only one subject

 

Govt proposes new RTI rule: Ask, but only in 250 words, on only one subject

 

The government has proposed new rules that require a Right to Information (RTI) application to be restricted to 250 words and only one subject. There’s no word cap currently, and applicants can seek information on any number of subjects in a single application.

 

The 250 words do not include addresses of the Central Public Information Officer and the applicant. The proposed rules require the applicant to pay postal charges above Rs 10 incurred by authorities in replying to the application.

 

Applicants do not currently pay postal charges. They pay Rs 10 when filing the application.

 

The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) has uploaded a 10-page draft of the Right to Information Rules, 2010, on its website and has invited comments from the public by December 27, which is a procedural requirement before the rules can be enforced. Comments are invited to usrti-dopt@nic.in.

 

RTI activists said the proposed rules will dilute the landmark legislation.

 

“By restricting the application to 250 words the government will make it difficult for the common man to seek information,” said Noida-based RTI activist Lokesh Batra. “This act is meant even for illiterates, how can you expect people to follow such a tight word limit? Everyone is not capable of summarising thoughts so well.”

 

Delhi-based Anil Sood said the proposal was a “clear attempt to create grey areas in a transparent law and allow scope for harassment of applicants”.

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karira

As reported by Aloke Tikku in hindustantimes.com on 12 December 2010:

RTI applicants may have to keep it short and sweet - Hindustan Times

 

RTI applicants may have to keep it short and sweet

 

Getting information out of government bodies under the RTI law may get tougher and pricier. The government has drawn up a proposal for a overhaul of Right to Information rules, empowering public information officers to reject outright applications longer than 250 words and raising questions on more than one subject.

 

The amendments - which would enable people to make online payments - also require applicants to pay the postage charges if it costs more than Rs 10 and the actual amount spent by public authorities on hiring a machine or any other equipment to supply the information.

 

The draft rules - put out for a public discussion - is the first attempt to make the law easier on public officials after an earlier proposal to push amendments to the RTI Act that would empower officials to reject frivolous information requests had to be put away.

 

"At this rate, people will have to take language lessons on concise writing before they can ask the government any questions," said Arvind Kejriwal, RTI campaigner who had won the Magsaysay award for his efforts.

 

Kejriwal said the proposed rule violated the spirit of the RTI Act that required public information officers to assist people to put their requests in writing.

 

"The law recognised the reality of India - that one-third of the population could not read or write an alphabet," he said, complaining the rules only addressed the bureaucracy's concerns.

 

Information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, however, suggested the rule was a response to instances of applications running into a dozen page and more.

 

The Central Information Commission had, however, objected to the rule restricting an application to one subject only, saying this could be interpreted by officials to suit themselves and reject requests.

 

Kejriwal agreed.

 

"The focus of the rules is to put hurdles rather than help applicants."

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karira

As reported by Mathang Sheshagiri in Times of India on 12 December 2010:

e-paper Sign-in

 

Centre proposes 250-word limit for RTI applications

 

Bangalore: You may soon have to stop asking everything under the sun in your RTI application. Attempting to curb lengthy, vague applications, the Centre on Friday came out with draft rules that places limits on the number of words and subjects information-seekers can ask in a single application.

 

The draft Right to Information (Regulation of Fee and Cost) Rules, 2005, now proposes to restrict request for information to only one subject matter and within 250 words. The address of the public information officer and that of the applicant will be excluded during the word count. If the draft rules are accepted in toto, information-seekers will have to file separate applications on different subject matters.

 

The rules, notified by the ministry of personnel, public grievances and pensions, has kicked off a nationwide debate on whether the new restrictions go against the letter and spirit of the five-yearold Right to Information Act.

 

“I feel that 250 words is a decent limit. I have come across applications that run into 50 pages. Sometimes the number of questions go up to 10. How is the public information officer supposed to handle this? The draft rules will encourage focussed inquiry. Applicants should know what exactly they want from the public authority,” Shailesh Gandhi, information commissioner at the Central Information Commission, told STOI.

 

Subhash Chandra Agrawal, an RTI activist, sees this as a move “to obstruct one’s right to access information under the RTI Act.”

 

When the Karnataka Information Commission amended its rules to restrict the request for information to 150 words in 2008, CommonWealth Human Rights Initiative, a NGO championing the cause of RTI, had vehemently opposed it. “By restricting the application to access information on only one subject matter amounts to placing limitations on the right of access beyond the grounds mentioned in Sections 8 and 9 of the Act. This is both illegal and undesirable and goes against the letter and spirit of the Act,” it stated in an appeal to the Karnataka government.

 

Since the words “subject matter” is left undefined in the rules, the NGO argued, that public information officer will have “unreasonable amount of discretion” while deciding what constitutes single subject matter.

 

The Centre is open to receiving comments on the proposed rules until December 27, after which it will issue a final notification.

 

PROPOSED AMENDMENT

 

 

A person who desires to obtain any information from a public authority under sub-section (1) of section 6 of the Act, shall pay an application fee of Rs 10, to the public authority along with the application; provided that the request for information shall relate only to one subject matter and shall be limited to two hundred and fifty words, excluding the address of the central public information officer and the address of the applicant

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prasad.dhirendra

I do agree with Karira the vetran R.T.I.activist. In my considerd view/opinion the appointment process of ChiefInformation Commissioners/Information Commissioners of central and state information commissions is required to be amended. It is also sugested persons of eminence may be attached with the process like Honble Mr.Justice V.R.Krishna aiyyar,Justice HariShaker Prasad and luminary of same status.Further provision of penalty may be aded for appelate authoritys.

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karira

Editorial in Indian Express on 13 December 2010:

A new brief

 

A new brief

 

 

Good things should not be curbed. Certainly not a legislation to which so much is owed by so many. The Right to Information Act is a fundamental democratic achievement for India, one that took a long time in coming for a proclaimed democratic state. And when it did, the system became more transparent, if not cleaner. Ordinary citizens, urban and rural, with little or no ability to negotiate their way through bureaucratic information labyrinths — whether something that affects them personally or some policy matter or law — could make use of the RTI Act, to either put relevant information in the public domain or act on it or both. A brief recollection brings to mind illegal mining in Karnataka, allegations of corruption in the Commonwealth Games, or even something as recent as the Adarsh Society scam. The power and necessity of the RTI Act was common knowledge, akin to the UK’s Freedom of Information Act 2000.

 

Certainly, the RTI can do with streamlining to enable the law to serve citizens better. Any empowerment of citizens to exercise vigilance and demand systemic accountability has to be balanced against unnecessary or frivolous citizen activism, as taxpayers’ money and the state’s time are taxed in the process. However, can the department of personnel and training’s proposal to introduce radical restrictions on RTI applications be welcomed with enthusiasm? Unfortunately not. Limiting a single RTI application to a single subject may be open to debate. But the 250-word cap that the DoPT proposes for a single query sounds like a gag order that could compromise the efficacy and hitherto success of the landmark legislation.

 

This ridiculous appeal to, or constraint of, brevity is too arbitrary. Where RTI applications are filed by citizens of vastly differing degrees of literacy and financial solvency across the expanse of this vast country, the 250-word cap and the limitation to a single topic can all add up to derailing a still new and immensely empowering law that’s been operating more or less without a hitch. The government needs to reconsider not the need to smoothen the RTI Act but the particulars of this proposal.

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ambrish.p

As reported in Dainik Jagran on 13/12/10

 

 

आरटीआइ की धार कम करने की तैयारी में

 

नई दिल्ली, एजेंसी : सूचना का अधिकार (आरटीआइ) आवेदनों के संबंध में कार्मिक विभाग के सुझावों को अगर स्वीकार कर लिया गया तो ऐसे आवेदनों को 250 शब्दों तथा एक विषय तक सीमित करना होगा। आरटीआइ नियमों में प्रस्तावित संशोधनों के अनुसार नोडल निकाय कार्मिक विभाग ने कहा है कि ऐसे आवेदनों में 250 शब्दों की सीमा होनी चाहिए। इनमें अधिकारी और आवेदक के पते शामिल नहीं होंगे। इसके अलावा आवेदन में सिर्फ एक ही विषय होगा। सूचना मुहैया कराने के लिए किसी उपकरण के इस्तेमाल पर प्राधिकार की ओर से खर्च जाने वाली वास्तविक राशि भी आवेदक को देनी होगी। कार्मिक एवं प्रशिक्षण विभाग ने प्रस्तावित परिवर्तन पर आम लोगों की प्रतिक्रिया मांगी है। प्रतिक्रियाएं 27 दिसंबर तक दी जा सकेंगे। इसके लिए ईमेल आईडी भी जारी की गई है। इन नियमों से आरटीआइ आवेदकों में नाराजगी है। उनका कहना है कि कम पढ़े लिखे लोगों को इससे सुविधा नहीं होगी। कामोडोर (अवकाशप्राप्त) लोकेश बत्रा के अनुसार प्रतिक्रियाएं देने के लिए काफी कम समय दिया गया है और उन्हीं लोगों को मौका मिलेगा जो इंटरनेट का उपयोग करते हैं। उन्होंने कहा कि ग्रामीण इलाकों के उन लोगों को अपने विचार व्यक्त करने में मुश्किलों का सामना करना पड़ेगा जिनकी पहुंच इंटरनेट तक नहीं है। एक अन्य आरटीआइ आवेदक सुभाष अग्रवाल ने कहा कि शब्दों की सीमा 250 तक तय करने से सूचना के अधिकार में बाधा आएगी। उन्होंने कहा कि आवेदनों में शब्दों की सीमा तय करने की कोई जरूरत नहीं थी।

 

Source: http://in.jagran.yahoo.com/epaper/article/index.php?page=article&choice=print_article&location=49&category=&articleid=97802931837636

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karira

As reported in deccanchronicle.com opn 14 December 2010:

Activists not for changes in RTI rules | Deccan Chronicle | 2010-12-14

 

Activists not for changes in RTI rules

 

Dec. 13: City-based RTI activists oppose the government’s proposal to amend the RTI rules to restrict the application seeking information to 250 words and only one subject. At present, there’s no word cap and applicants can seek information on any number of subjects in a single application.

 

According to the proposed amendments, the DOPT, the nodal body for implementing the Act in the country, has said RTI applicants will have to pay the “actual amount” spent by public authority on hiring a machine or any other equipment, if any, to supply information.

 

The rules will be a modification of the present RTI (regulation of fee and cost) rules, 2005 and the Central information commission (appeal procedure) rules, 2005.

 

RTI activist V. Gopalakrishnan, who exposed the irregularities in TNHB allotments, said, “By restricting the application to 250 words, the government will make it difficult for the common man to seek information.”

 

He said the proposal was a clear attempt to create grey areas in a transparent law and allow scope for harassment of applicants.

 

Citing his own experience, Mr Gopalakrishnan said in one of his petitions seeking information on IPS officers who sought permission to purchase movable and immovable property, state information commissioner R. Perumalsamy dismissed the petition saying that the appellant should be considerate and reasonable in making request from any public authority, as the authority has to attend to their routine work besides the work under the RTI Act. “Now the new amendment would only help the PIOs to deny information to the applicant,” he said.

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karira

As reported in telegraphindia.com on 14 December 2010:

The Telegraph - Calcutta (Kolkata) | Nation | Sonia panel against RTI rule dilution

 

Sonia panel against RTI rule dilution

 

New Delhi, Dec. 14: The National Advisory Council is set to oppose the Centre’s proposal to dilute the Right to Information Act through a new set of rules.

 

A meeting of the panel’s working group on transparency, accountability and governance — headed by RTI activist Aruna Roy — objected to the move to compress applications for information to only one matter at a time and set a word limit of 250.

 

The sub-committee that recently consulted RTI stakeholders and advocates, including former chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah and Nikhil Dey, convener, National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, said the proposed change could lead to “misuse”.

 

“The rule about a single subject will be open to arbitrariness and misuse as it is difficult to define,” said a note it circulated and made available to The Telegraph.

 

“Limit of number of words is bad in law, unrealistic and will militate against rural applicants,” the note added.

 

The panel said there was no evidence that the existing rules had created problems.

 

The NAC, headed by Sonia Gandhi, stressed that no appeal to the information commission should be rejected on the ground that the accompanying documents were not attested or the required papers were missing.

 

The note made it clear that withdrawal of appeals should not be allowed and neither should applications be allowed to die with the death of an applicant.

 

These arguments are expected to be taken up when the NAC next meets on December 21.

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karira

As reported by Anindo Dey in timesofindia.indiatimes.com on 18 December 2010:

Amendments proposed, RTI rules likely to be more people-friendly - The Times of India

 

Amendments proposed, RTI rules likely to be more people-friendly

 

 

JAIPUR: The withdrawal on the limitation of number of words when asking for information, restructuring of fees, halting provisions to withdraw an appeal under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, are some of the amendments in the RTI rules that have been adopted by the Working Group on Transparency, Accountability and Governance under the National Advisory Council (NAC).

 

These amendments are likely to be placed before a full house of the NAC on December 21.

 

The amendments were adopted by the working group in a recent consultation on the proposed amendments to RTI rules held under the chairpersonship of NAC member Aruna Roy.

 

The meeting was also attended by NAC member Deep Joshi, Dhiraj Srivastava, former CIC Wajahat Habibullah, RTI activist Shekhar Singh, MKSS convenor National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI) Nikhil Dey and others.

 

According to Dey, "The areas of discussion included the RTI rules proposed by the department of personnel and training. These relate to autonomy and efficient functioning of information commissions, fees for providing information, appeal procedures and imposition of penalties on mala fide denial of information by PIOs etc."

 

"The NAC felt that the current provision that there should be a limit of 250 words for any request for information and that it relate only to one subject only should be deleted. The argument that are cited in its favour are that people may try to harass PIOs by writing a 10-page request but in reality if anyone wishes to harass, he may well do by writing 150 applications in the 250 word limit too," said Dey.

 

He added that the limitation on words will go against rural applicants. "Till now, there has been no precedence of such harassment and survey shows that only 2% of the total application received were of this nature," he said.

 

The NAC has also sought deletion of Rule 13 pertaining to the withdrawal of an appeal as the section was allegedly being used by some for blackmailing persons on whom information was being sought. Charging of unreasonable fees such as salary of staff, hiring equipment cost etc from the information seeker was also sought to be done away.

 

But primarily the sub-group decided that all amendments to RTI rules must be based on extensive public consultations and where public objections or suggestions are ignored, the reasons must be made public. It also decided that the information commissions should have complete freedom to select its staff and allocate work and responsibility.

 

Some of the other changes in the ruled sought by the NAC include for non-rejection of appeals because of lack of self-attestation and verification of attached documents, or missing documents; announcing of order of the commission in open court.

 

The working group also felt the need for some additional rules such as disposal of second appeal or complaints within 90 days, no time limit to file complaints with the information commission, formulation of rules to ensure compliance of orders of information commissions, provisions for penalties to be noted in the PIO' service record in case he fails to give proper information etc.

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karira

An Editorial in The Deccan Herald on 25 December 2010:

Humbug move

 

Humbug move

 

 

Changes should only expand the right of the people.'

 

The department of personnel and training’s proposal to restrict applications under the Right to Information Act to one topic and impose a 250-word limit on them will not help strengthen and promote this right. The claimed justification for amending the rules is that, at present, they are misused to harass public authorities and to take out personal or professional grudge against people in power. There may be cases of misuse of the provisions but they do not provide sufficient grounds for changing the rules. Authorities complain that multiple applications, some of them running into many pages, will clog the system and make it difficult for the officials to respond effectively and promptly to genuine applicants. Even if vexatious and mischievous requests slip in, it is hard to believe that the authorities are flooded by requests running into tens of thousands of words which make departments’ work grind to a halt.

 

Since the RTI Act has greatly helped empower the citizens and has made the functioning of government more transparent, any changes in the rules should only expand the right of the people and not limit it. The word limit prescribed for the application is arbitrary and constraining. How did the department decide that the ideal word limit is 250 and everybody will be able to frame his query within that? The number of words depends on the kind of information sought and the applicant’s linguistic ability. And why only one question at a time? What is the difference if information on two topics is sought in one application or two applications? It should actually be more convenient for the applicant and the authorities if a single application is used to elicit information on more than one subject. Another proposal is to empower the applicant to withdraw his request for information. This can lead to forced withdrawal of requests.

 

The proposals, which have been widely criticised, should not be accepted. Those who wield political and official power are now wary of the RTI law. Attempts have been made in the past to restrict its scope. Last year, there was a move to provide for rejection of ‘frivolous and vexatious’ applications and to exempt cabinet papers from the Act’s purview. It was dropped after widespread opposition. It is unfortunate that the Chief Information Commissioner supported the latest move. He should have been the first to reject it.

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karira

An article by V Venkatesan in frontline.in:

Rule and intent

 

Rule and intent

The Central government's newly proposed RTI rules make its intentions suspect.

 

GOVERNMENTS which have only superficial commitment to the promotion of human rights often come under considerable pressure from within to impose stealthily restrictions on their exercise. They try to introduce such restrictions without much publicity, seek to execute them in a tearing hurry, and couch them in legal jargon. The Central government's proposal to notify the Right to Information (RTI) Rules is one such instance of acquiescence to bureaucratic pressure. There has been considerable pressure to curtail the ambit of the RTI Act, 2005, which is hailed as one of the progressive legislative achievements of civil society.

 

The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), under the Union Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, sought to notify the rules through an Office Memorandum on December 10, ironically celebrated as International Human Rights Day. Signed by R.K. Girdhar, Under Secretary of the Department, the memorandum proposed to notify the rules in supersession of the existing rules, namely, the RTI (Regulation of Fee and Cost) Rules, 2005, and the Central Information Commission (Appeal Procedure) Rules, 2005. It gave civil society just 17 days to respond to the proposed rules, without indicating whether the comments would be taken into consideration.

 

The draft notification of the rules, signed by Joint Secretary Rajeev Kapoor, has raised considerable concern among RTI activists and users.

 

WORD LIMIT

 

The proviso to Rule 4, which deals with request for information, says the request shall relate only to one subject matter and shall be limited to 250 words, excluding the addresses of the Central Public Information Officer and the applicant.

 

The proviso has caused widespread consternation. An observer remarked that it was like asking one to speak in only so many words before even he or she could begin talking. Another wondered whether the government viewed RTI as nothing more than a social medium like Twitter, which imposes a 140-character limit on entries. RTI applicants question whether the proposed change is a ruse to evade accountability and reject applications for want of clarity, as this is bound to happen in view of the word limit permitted and the requirement that the application be limited to one subject. The proviso, it is believed, will give Information Officers wide discretion to decide whether an application deals with more than one subject and reject it summarily for that reason.

 

It has been pointed out that there are very few applicants who misuse the provisions of the RTI Act by posing a large number of questions in one application, but the Information Officers enjoy enough powers to reject such applications or request the applicants to prioritise their questions. It is suggested that applications in different languages entail distinct word usage; therefore, it will be impractical to impose a uniform word length. RTI activists are concerned that the requirement to write brief applications will demand linguistic skills, which will discourage, if not disqualify, semi-literate people from using the RTI Act.

 

The proposed Rule 5, dealing with fees for providing information, has also stirred up a controversy. Rule 5(g) states that one could be charged the actual amount spent by the public authority on hiring a machine or any other equipment to supply information. Rule 5(h) requires the public authorities to collect postal charges, in excess of Rs.10, involved in the supply of information. These rules, some activists say, could result in harassment of applicants, apart from restricting the number of applicants by unjustly hiking the cost of an application.

 

P. GOUTHAM

 

State Information Commissioner Sarada Nambi Arooran holding an inquiry on RTI applications in Salem, Tamil Nadu, on November 26.

 

Rule 16, which states that the proceedings pending before the Central Information Commission shall abate on the death of the appellant, has also come in for criticism. RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak argues that appeal proceedings are about the violation of the RTI Act and, therefore, Information Commissions should continue to hear cases even after an appellant's death. Besides, there is the risk that RTI applicants seeking to expose corruption and wrongdoing could be killed by vested interests in order to stop the pending proceedings before the commission, he has warned. The rule appears to accord inadvertently a legal sanction to the spate of murders of RTI activists across the country.

 

Rule 19 requires that the head of a public authority shall ensure that an order passed by the Information Commission, unless varied or stayed by a validly passed order, is complied with and the compliance report filed with the commission within the time limit specified by the commission, or within 60 days if no such limit is specified. RTI activists suggest that the rules should also lay down punitive action to be taken against public authorities who fail to comply with the commission's orders.

 

As the government has not explained why these changes are required in the administration of the RTI Act, it has given rise to speculations about its intentions. According to RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal, these rules constitute a major policy change and are against the letter and spirit of the RTI Act.

 

Other activists, such as Lokesh Batra, are surprised that the government has not thought it necessary to explain, through a press release, the reasons for the formulation of these rules. By asking the public to respond to an e-mail ID (usrti-dopt@nic.in) by December 27, the government has deprived RTI users who are not Internet savvy of an opportunity to respond, Batra says. He also suspects that the rules seek to introduce complicated procedures, which may discourage people from all sections from voluntarily joining the RTI movement.

 

In its draft notification of the rules, the government has claimed that it drew its powers to notify the rules from Section 27 of the RTI Act. Subsection 1 of Section 27 enables the Central government, by notification in the Official Gazette, to make rules to carry out the provisions of the Act.

 

Subsection 2 seeks to enumerate matters that such rules may provide for. These matters include fee payable by the applicants, salaries and allowances of employees, and the procedure to be adopted by the commission in deciding the appeals.

 

Besides these, Subsection 2(f) includes “any other matter which is required to be, or may be, prescribed”. It is apparent that the government will seek to justify some of the controversial rules in terms of Section 27 (2)(f). It is, therefore, incumbent on the government to justify whether the changes in the existing rules are indeed “required to be prescribed”.

 

If there is no valid requirement to do so, then the government must explain whether the proposed rules are the only possible way to implement the Act. Failure to provide justifications will make the notification of the rules illegal. Section 4(1)© of the RTI Act requires the government to publish all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing decisions that affect the public.

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karira

As reported by Nidhi Sharma in economictimes.indiatimes.com on 11 Janaury 2011:

NAC differs with govt on new rules for RTI Act - The Economic Times

 

NAC differs with govt on new rules for RTI Act

 

NEW DELHI: UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC) is on collision course once again with the government. This time the bone of contention is the new draft rules framed for Right to Information (RTI) Act which make it mandatory for applicants to file questions on a single subject in 250 words.

 

NAC’s sub-group on transparency and accountability, headed by social activist Aruna Roy, has sent a strongly-worded critique of the draft rules to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) saying the draft rules were against the “spirit of the RTI Act” . According to sources, NAC discussed the issue for 15 minutes in its meeting on Monday and adopted the sub-group’s views.

 

NAC’s sub-group on transparency and accountability, headed by social activist Aruna Roy, has sent a strongly-worded critique of the draft rules to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) saying the draft rules were against the “spirit of the RTI Act” . According to sources, NAC discussed the issue for 15 minutes in its meeting on Monday and adopted the sub-group’s views.

 

The rules, which have been framed by DoPT, lay down provisions for application process, fee for providing information , filing first appeals and appointments in Information Commission. One of the provisions that NAC has expressed its strong reservations is that an applicant will file an application in not more than 250 words, excluding the address of the public information officer and the applicant . The draft rules lay down that the application would only be on a single subject. NAC has taken a strong exception to this and told the government that with this provision the government seeks to test the writing skills of the applicant and puts illiterate and semi-literate applicants at a clear disadvantage.

 

NAC has also pointed to the government that these rules should have been an opportunity to define certain grey areas or lacunae in the transparency legislation . However, this has not been done. Transparency in the appointment of information commissioners has been taken as a case in point. At present, information commissioners are appointed by a three-member panel comprising prime minister, leader of opposition and a minister nominated by prime minister. However , there is no clarity on the application process and the procedure followed to put names before this committee. Even the rules have not sought to clarify anything on the procedure.

 

NAC’s sub-group formulated its opinion after a long drawn-out discussion process with non-governmental organisations and RTI activists. In presentations , activists pointed out that the rules have left several lacunae in the legislation . So far, the applicant could just pay 10 in cash or through a postal order for receiving information. However, the draft rules lay down that applicants would have to pay the actual amount spent by a government department in hiring a photocopier machine or equipment to supply information. It also says that postal charges, in excess of 10, spent in supplying information would also be recovered from the applicant.

 

NAC has asked the government to take all these suggestions before formulating any rules. This is not the first time that the council has taken up an issue with the government. Last month, Sonia Gandhi had taken up the issue of minimum wages under National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. Last year, UPA chairperson’s intervention saw the government taking a re-look at the Food Security Bill.

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karira

As reported by Viju B in timesofindia.indiatimes.com on 11 January 2011:

Draft amendments may sound RTI death knell - The Times of India

 

Draft amendments may sound RTI death knell

 

MUMBAI: Proposed changes to the Right to Information (RTI) Act threaten to render it ineffective to a large extent. The amendments include restricting questions per RTI query to one and word count to 250 per query, and levying a 'hire' charge.

 

If the Department of Personal and Training's proposed draft comes into effect it would be applicable to all central government agencies and respective state commissions can follow suit and adopt these rules accordingly after issuing state resolutions.

 

RTI activists said the draft rules would kill the Act and citizens will not get adequate responses. "The manner in which the DoPT is pushing the draft rules without asking for suggestions shows they want to dilute the Act and make it ineffective. The DoPT just gave 17 days (December 10 to December 27) to invite suggestions and comments. The draft rules suggest major changes that need to be debated. The Centre should have given more time for people to respond and given far more coverage to the rules in public forums, informing everyone of these changes. After all this is a people's Act," Bhaskar Prabhu, convener of the Mahiti Adhikar Manch said.

 

Kurla-based activist Anil Galgali agreed: "The one-query rule is really absurd. How can one just ask one query when there are so many angles to an issue?'' he asks. He cites an example wherein he had to ask at 10 questions on an issue where politicians had usurped apartments reserved for the common man under the chief minister's discretionary quota.

 

A senior CIC official said though the one-query rule should not come into effect there should be some limitations on word count. "Some applicants send queries which are 20-25 pages long. This is plainly to harass the Public Information Officers and waste their time. Ideally all the queries can fit in one or two pages if drafted succinctly,'' the CIC official said.

 

RTI activist Krishnaraj Rao said the draft rule is silent on complainants." There is no mention of this important tool wherein an applicant can directly file a complaint with the information commission in case they do not get the correct information. If the department does away with this then we will be at the mercy of the PIOs and appellate authorities,'' Rao said.

 

The rules, Prabhu said, should in fact look at problems and limitations of the Act and amend them for the benefit of the citizens. "There is still no way we can challenge an order of the information commission and there is no prescribed time limit to comply with its order. These limitations should be looked into and amended accordingly,'' he said.

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karira

As reported in hindustantimes.com on 12 January 2011:

NAC questions govt's draft RTI rules - Hindustan Times

 

NAC questions govt's draft RTI rules

 

The National Advisory Council (NAC), headed by Sonia Gandhi, has sought a reply from the Centre on a report by its working group on transparency. The report says the Right to Information (RTI) rules are against the basic spirit of the law drafted by the NAC in its first avatar. The report prepared by Aruna Roy, a council member, had highlighted that RTI rules fail to address several lacunas in the law and will instead create problems in its implementation. The NAC has also pointed that these rules should have been an opportunity to define certain grey areas in the transparency legislation. But, this has not been taken care of.

 

The department of personnel and training has circulated the draft RTI rules claiming that it will make implementation of the law more effective.

 

Roy says the rules should empower the central information officers to get information from their parent departments and improve functioning of the Central Information Commission. The issue will be discussed at the next NAC meeting.

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karira

As reported by PTI in deccanherald.com on 20 January 2011:

Govt proposed RTI rules may encourage blackmail, murder: NAC

 

Govt proposed RTI rules may encourage blackmail, murder: NAC

 

 

Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council has recommended deletion of some of the RTI rules proposed by the Government, holding they are ''legally wrong'' while some others may encourage ''blackmail'' and ''murder'' of information seekers.

 

The Government had proposed rules for processing RTI applications. One of them suggested that one application shall relate "only to one subject and shall be limited to 250 words..."

 

Objecting to the proposed rule, the NAC has said, "This would be introducing an exemption which is not in the Act. It is legally wrong for rules to go beyond the Act. The rule about a single subject will be open to arbitrariness and misuse as it is difficult to define."

 

The Council has also recommended deletion of another proposed rule which allowed abatement of proceedings before the Information Commission on the death of the appellant, saying such a rule could encourage "murder" of RTI Activists. "This (abatement of proceedings) could encourage murder of RTI Activists. Besides information sought might often be of interest to others apart from the applicant," it said.

 

The body objected to "allowing withdrawal" of an appeal during the course of hearing at the Information Commission. It said withdrawal of appeals could become a source of "harassment/blackmail". Going further on the word limit rule, the NAC has recommended its deletion, saying "limit of number of words is bad in Law, unrealistic and will militate against rural applicants." The council also said there is no evidence that either a subject or word limit are "widespread problem" in the processing of RTI applications.

 

The council has sent its recommendations to the Department of Personnel and Training which had invited public comments on the proposed rules. The suggestions for changes in the rules were formulated in a meeting of the NAC working group on Transparency, Accountability and Governance on December 13, 2010. These recommendations were accessed through an RTI application filed by Subhash Chandra Agrawal.

 

On the proposal of appointing Chief Executive Officer and Registrar General for Central Information Commission, the NAC has recommended that Information Commissioner should have "freedom to select its staff from among Government Servants or from open market. Also, IC should have the freedom to allocate work and responsibility."

 

The NAC has suggested that Public Information Officers will have to "personally" bear the cost of "legal representation" during a hearing of appeal or penalty proceedings before the Central information Commission if they chose to send a representative of theirs to present the case.

 

The Council has said missing documents should not be a criteria while rejecting an appeal or application by the Information Commissions. It has also recommended that information should be sent in such a way that proof or receipt remains with the PIOs. It also recommended charging extra postal charges only when the amount is above Rs 50.

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Atul Patankar

As reported at sify.com on 21 Jan 2011

 

The National Advisory Council (NAC), headed by Congress President Sonia Gandhi, will meet here on Friday evening to discuss the Food Security Bill, Right to Information and tribal rights.

 

With respect to Right to Information, the Council had recommended deletion of some of the RTI rules proposed by the government stating that they were 'legally wrong".

 

The agenda concerning the Food Security Bill will also be discussed in today's meeting.

 

The NAC had recommended 75 per cent coverage of the population in two phases, with 90 per cent rural and 50 per cent urban population included.

 

The recommendations were disfavored by the Rangarajan expert committee, which went into proposals suggested by the NAC.

 

On the proposed food security bill, the C. Rangarajan Committee favours legal entitlement of subsidised food grains to the poor (below the poverty line), but has rejected the National Advisory Council's recommendation that above the poverty line (APL) households be partially covered, saying it is not feasible at the current levels of grain production and procurement.

 

The issues concerning tribal rights will also be discussed in the meeting among other issues. (ANI)

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karira

As reported by Smita Gupta in thehindu.com on 22 January 2011:

The Hindu : News / National : NAC's suggestions for RTI rejected

 

NAC's suggestions for RTI rejected

 

The Department of Personnel and Training has rejected most of the changes suggested in the government's Draft Rules for the Right to Information Act by the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC). The NAC, therefore, decided on Friday to have a face-to-face consultation with the DoPT before finalising its recommendations on the subject.

 

The NAC had specifically objected to two proposed changes– abating of the proceedings before the Information Commission if an appellant dies, and limiting RTI applications “only to one subject and 250 words”. The first change, the NAC had said, would encourage “murder” of RTI activists, and the second, introduce an exemption which is not there in the Act, making it particularly difficult for the poor and uneducated appellants.

 

Important intervention

 

The NAC's intervention was important, especially as there has been a spate of killings of RTI applicants in the last one year.

 

The DoPT had sent its comments to the issues raised by the NAC's Working Group on Transparency, Accountability and Governance on the proposed amendments to the RTI Rules. Responses to the DoPT's comments were presented by Aruna Roy, convener of the working group, after which it was decided to have another consultation with the DoPT before finalising its recommendations.

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karira

Why is DoPT sending comments ONLY to recommendations/suggestions ?

As per information available in the public domain, more than 400 sets of suggestions were received by DoPT.

Why isn't DoPT sending comments and discussing face to face with each one of them ?

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karira

As reported in timesofindia.indiatimes.com on 22 January 2011:

Hyderabad oppose changes in RTI Act - The Times of India

 

Hyderabad oppose changes in RTI Act

 

HYDERABAD: City-based RTI activists have written to the Centre opposing the proposed changes in the Right to Information Act. The activists have written to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), New Delhi, which had invited public comments on the proposed amendments.

 

Activists here have expressed their objection to imposing a word limit on the RTI application.

 

"Putting a restriction on the number of subjects and the number of words can be considered a curtailment of the citizen's fundamental right to freedom of speech. Apex court judgments in the past have held "Right to Information" as an integral part of the fundamental right. Another proposed amendment is restricting an RTI application to one subject. This would lead to disputes in deciding what constitutes one subject," said C J Karira, city-based RTI activist.

 

According to activists, the amendments would only empower the Public Information Officer (PIO) who will dismiss applications on one ground or the other.

 

Among other proposed amendments are a hike in the application fee and specification in the paper size, both of which have been objected to by activists.

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Sajib Nandi

As reported by expressbuzz.com on Jan 24, 2011:

 

Amendments can render Act toothless: activists | activists | | Indian Express

 

Amendments can render Act toothless: activists

 

CHENNAI: A group of activists has raised concerns over the government’s proposed amendments to the Right to Information (RTI) Act, saying they could limit the scope of the landmark legislation. The activists claimed that some of the proposed changes were tailor made for officials to reject RTI queries, which could pave the way for pressure tactics against RTI applicants.

 

“The government is trying to insert a provision that would allow an applicant to withdraw his or her query. This would just lead to RTI applicants being bullied into withdrawing their queries,” said advocate P Chandrabose, convenor of Voice of Indian, an activist and advocacy group.

 

Under the current set of rules, there is no provision for an applicant to withdraw an RTI query. This offers a certain amount of protection to the applicant against officials or stakeholders who might attempt to threaten the applicant to withdraw the query. This immunity, however small, could be lost, the activists fear.

 

They are also apprehensive over a change to the legislation that aims to limit the length of an RTI question to 250 words and also keeps all questions on one application pertinent to one subject only.

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Atul Patankar

As reported by Chetan Chauhan at hindustantimes.com on January 25, 2011

 

In yet another setback to Sonia Gandhi headed National Advisory Council (NAC), the government has rejected most of its recommendations on the proposed Right To Information (RTI) rules saying they could not be implemented and will compound problems for babus in implementing the law.

 

The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), which implements the transparency RTI law, sounds defiant by saying that most of the NAC suggestions are not feasible under law and will compound problems of the Public Information Officers.

 

The government has already rejected NAC recommendation on National Food Security law and linking wages under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Guarantee Scheme to mining wages Act.

 

The DoPT's reply to be discussed at NAC's next meeting on February 26 is third blow to NAC within the past few weeks.

 

The NAC wanted the DoPT to delete a provision that an RTI application should not be more than 250 words and should deal with one subject as it will harm the interest of the poor and less educated people. Most RTI activists said the provision limit citizens right to seek information.

 

But, the department took a different view and said such a provision was must to ensure that the Central Public Information Officers can implement the law effectively.

 

"For poor and less educated the PIOs can always help in filing the application," the DoPT has told the NAC.

 

Another reason given was that not prescribing the word limit was leading to unnecessary information being sought such as interpretations or solutions to the problem.

 

"There is a need to strike a balance and retain focus on specific issues," the department said in almost two page response to the provision.

 

The DoPT was also adamant that the PIOs should be allowed to charge up to Rs 50 per application for postage charges as providing bulky information results in due financial burden on the government.

 

"It will act as a disincentive as a cost of seeking information will be around Rs 100 as even photocopy costs are being doubled," said RTI activist Lokesh Batra.

 

But, the DoPT has accepted the council's recommendation that public authorities should not be allowed to charge money for obtaining the information such diverting services of employees to get the information. There will be a specific provision to prohibit such a practice.

 

On the sensitive issue of death of RTI activists, the DoPT has refused to delete a provision in the proposed rules which allows abatement of an application or an appeal in case of death of an application. The NAC had said that this provision should be deleted, as it will encourage killing of those seeking sensitive information using RTI.

 

Continuing its definitive no to NAC's proactive suggestions such as to make the information commissions more affective by prescribing time limit for them to decide cases, the DoPT said it will require an amendment in the RTI Act itself.

 

The Department has, however, accepted the NAC suggestion that instead of authenticated documents the appellate authorities should accept self-attested documents.

 

NAC versus the DoPT

 

Proposed RTI Rules

Information to be sought on subject and maximum 250 words

NAC: Delete the provision, as it will harm interest of poor and less educated people

DoPT: As applicant does not require togive explanation, 250 word limit is justified. Only educated people file lengthy applications. Short applications will help babus in providing information.

 

Proposed RTI Rules

Actual amount spent by public authority to supply information should be charged from the applicant.

NAC: Delete the section.

DoPT: Accepted NAC suggestion but wanted that up to Rs 50 for postal expenses should be charged.

 

Proposed RTI Rules

The Information Commission should not admit an appeal unless it is satisfied that the appellant had availed of all the remedies available.

NAC: The Commission can misuse the provision and should be removed

DoPT: The provision is sort of reminder to applicants that they should not directly make an appeal with the commission.

 

Proposed RTI Rules

Public authority can authorize any officer to represent it before CIC

NAC: The PIO should be personally liable for the cost of legal representation

DoPT: Not practical, as public authority has to be decide who will represent in light of the facts

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karira

As reported by Danish Raza in governancenow.com on 25 January 2011:

GovernanceNow.com | Multiple queries in single RTI application frustrate authority: DoPT

 

Multiple queries in single RTI application frustrate authority: DoPT

 

DoPT says this and more in its justification for rejecting NAC's advice on proposed changes

 

The department of personnel and training (DoPT) will go ahead with most of the provisions contained in the draft RTI rules which were put on its website in December last.

 

Documents available with Governance Now show that the DoPT has rejected the recommendations of national advisory council (NAC) on ‘one subject matter’ and ‘250 words per application’- rules which were met with lot of opposition from the civil society and the NAC.

 

The NAC wanted this provision deleted from the act considering that it would make drafting of the RTI query difficult especially for the applicants who were semi- literate.

 

Rejecting the proposal, the DoPT said, “Apprehensions that people who are not well educated may not be able to write an application within 250 words is without any basis insamuch as long applications are made by the people who are well educated and who try to seek explanation etc instead of seeking information as defined in the act.”

 

It further added that as per the act, the applicant could take the assistance of the public information officer in drafting the request.

 

The DoPT has added an entirely new dimension to the ‘one subject matter’ debate. It has said that since, the act requires one public authority to transfer the RTI application to another public authority to which the queries are closely related, there is a provision of one subject matter in the act itself. Also, the singular form used in the act, according to DoPT, suggests that the act requires an application to have request on one subject only.

 

Interestingly, on December 27, DoPT circulated an office memorandum to all the ministries/ departments of the government asking them to comment on the draft rules in general and on the issue of one subject and word limit of 250 words in particular. The move came after there was intense public outcry over these two rules that had been proposed.

 

“Many a times it becomes difficult even to ascertain as to who should deal with the application. It not only results in delay in reply to the application, it also creates frustration amongst the officers within a public authority,” commented DoPT.

 

The department has also justified draft rule 16 which says that the proceedings pending with the commission shall abate on the death of the appellant. Critisising the rule, NAC had said that it would encourage murder of the RTI applicants. However, equating the rule with the provision in civil procedure code, DoPT said, “RTI is the right of the individual (citizen) who makes the application and, thereafter, appeal. His right vanishes with his death.”

 

The recommendation to give a free hand to the information commissions to select staff, has also been rejected. The respective draft rule says that the government shall appoint an officer not below the rank of additional secretary as the chief executive officer of the commission.

 

The DoPT has accepted NAC proposal of charging the applicant where the postal charges of sending the information would exceed Rs 50. The draft rule had put the figure at Rs 10.

 

The government has also found sense in the comments on filing first appeal in a given format as required by the draft rule 7. “Provide that no appeal would be rejected if it was not in the given format but contained all the information required,” NAC had proposed.

 

On December 10 last year, the DoPT had put draft rules on its website. It gave the civil society 17 days to comment on the same.

 

On December 13 and 22, the NAC working group on transparency, accountability and governance und held discussions with the civil society to take their feedback on the draft rules.

 

Subsequently, NAC submitted a set of recommendations to the DoPT.

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karira

An article by V Kumara Swamy in telegraphindia.com on 26 January 2011:

The Telegraph - Calcutta (Kolkata) | Opinion | Information underload

 

INFORMATION UNDERLOAD

 

The proposal to introduce new rules to the Right to Information Act may end up restricting the citizen’s right to elicit information from government agencies. V. Kumara Swamy reports

 

Simpreet Singh, one of the right to information (RTI) activists who was instrumental in unearthing the names of the illegal beneficiaries in Mumbai’s Adarsh Housing Society scam, is “aghast” at the recent proposal by the department of personnel and training (DoPT) to introduce new rules in the RTI Act. DoPT is the nodal agency that handles the RTI Act in India.

 

“Had the rules proposed by the DoPT been in place at the time I filed the RTI applications in the Adarsh case, I am sure that they would have been rejected on one pretext or another,” says Singh. “The new proposals pose a challenge to every activist in the country,” says Singh.

 

According to Section 27 of the RTI Act, 2005, the central government, through the DoPT, has the right to frame rules to the RTI Act by a notification in the Gazette of India. Although the government says that the proposed rules would only be implemented after considering the views of all sides, activists say that it’s a “sinister” move by the government that’s only aimed at silencing them.

 

“DoPT is trying to misuse Section 27 of the RTI Act, which along with Section 28 needs to be repealed altogether so that any move to obstruct the RTI Act will only be possible by amending the RTI Act,” says RTI activist Subhash Aggarwal. Section 28 authorises state governments to change the RTI rules.

 

The first change that has been proposed concerns the secretary to the Central Information Commission (CIC). At present, the secretary is designated as the registrar, whereas under the proposed rules, he/she has been upgraded to chief executive officer and registrar-general to the CIC.

 

Activists say that since the officer would be an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) official, there would be a “conflict of interest”. “The CIC is supposed to act as a watchdog with respect to the RTI Act. But since the officer would continue to be part of the IAS cadre, there seems to be a clear conflict of interest here,” says Krishnaraj Rao, a Mumbai-based RTI activist who was among those who wrote a letter to the DoPT, criticising the proposed rules.

 

But the strongest criticism has been against the rule on restricting an RTI petition to 250 words. According to it, a person who desires to obtain any information from a public authority shall pay an application fee of Rs 10 to the public authority along with the application “provided that the request for information shall relate only to one subject matter and shall be limited to two hundred and fifty words, excluding the address of the Central Public Information Officer and the address of the applicant.”

 

Activists say that this 250-word restriction will obstruct the right of the poor and the less educated who may not be adept at drafting RTI petitions in formats laid down by the DoPT. “If anybody has benefited from the RTI, it is mostly the poor and the uneducated. Now the government wants them to be concise and stick to its format, which is unfair,” says Singh.

 

There is another problem with Rule 4, says Rao. “Disputes regarding whether an RTI application concerns one subject matter or two would not only lead to delays and denial of information but also result in an increase in the number of appeals and complaints,” he says. For instance, says Rao, if an RTI applicant asks for figures of births and deaths from a municipal hospital, the public information officer (PIO) could argue that “birth” and “death” were two different subject matters.

 

Singh says that had the rules been in force, government authorities would have made him run from “pillar to post” in the Adarsh Housing case on the “subject matter” issue alone. “This gives too much leverage to a PIO. It should have no place in the RTI,” he says.

 

The DoPT has also suggested that the petitioner should pay for the “the actual amount spent by a public authority on hiring a machine or any other equipment, if any, to supply the information.” Activists say that this would lay the petitioner open to harassment from the PIO. “If a PIO doesn’t want to share the information, he can ask the applicant to pay hundreds or even thousands of rupees on the pretext of obtaining the documents from a distant place,” says Singh.

 

Critics are also up in arms over the proposed changes to Rule 11(2) and (3) on the “Admission of Appeals”. This lays down that the CIC will have the power to accept or reject appeals if it feels that the RTI petitioner has availed of all the “remedies available to him.” Under the current rules, all the rejected RTI applicants can get a hearing from the CIC. As Rao points out, “This amounts to cancelling the citizen’s discretionary power (conferred by the RTI Act) to bypass the first appellate authority and file a complaint directly before the commission under the RTI Act, Section 18.”

 

S o isn’t there anything positive about the proposed new rules?

 

Some say that Rules 21 and 22 on the recovery of penalty and the payment of compensation and disciplinary action are to be welcomed. “But the negatives outweigh the positives by a wide margin,” asserts Rao.

 

As activists rip the proposed changes apart, the DoPT is trying to push the changes through. Says S.R.K. Girdhar, under-secretary, RTI, DoPT, “We are analysing the responses to the proposed changes and will decide on them soon,” he says.

 

However, the National Advisory Council (NAC) headed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi has already raised a red flag on the proposed changes. In a letter to the DoPT, Aruna Roy, one of its members, reportedly said that the proposed rules are against the “spirit of the RTI Act”. In fact, Girdhar reveals that the NAC will be studying DoPT’s final proposals before they are implemented.

 

But activists are keeping their fingers crossed. “I hope that the government is aware of the opposition to the proposed rules and it will not take any decision in haste,” says RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal.

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