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National advisory council to examine new rti draft rules

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As reported by Himanshi Dhawan and Nitin Sethi in timesofindia.indiatimes.com on 9 February 2011:

NAC & govt lock horns, now over RTI changes - The Times of India


NAC & govt lock horns, now over RTI changes


NEW DELHI: The government refused to budge on the controversial RTI amendments in a meeting with the National Advisory Council on Tuesday. In fact, the wedge between the Sonia Gandhi-led council and the government got deeper with yet another ministry — this time the Union ministry of personnel — defying the thinktank and not entertaining the group's foray into its turf.


Earlier the PMO, with the Planning Commission and the food ministry in tow, had taken on the NAC on the proposed food security law. Similarly, the tribal affairs ministry had outrightly rejected all the council's recommendations on reforms on the Forest Rights Act.


On Tuesday, the ministry of personnel met the NAC sub-group on Right To Information Act and the results were no different, sources told TOI. The bone of contention between the two was the mandate to limit a RTI application to one subject and 250 words and abatement of an appeal after an applicant's death.


Despite insistence by the Council headed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the department had rejected these key suggestions on the draft RTI rules and instead sent a 13-page reply to the council on its observations on the rules.


On Tuesday, while the NAC sub-group members argued that these rules should be dropped as they were against the spirit of the act, officials of the department of personnel and training (DoPT) did not give in. An activist who attended the meeting said, "The attitude of the officials was quite hostile. We don't think there will be a solution soon."


Yet another NAC member speaking to TOI said, "There was an exchange of views but the ministry officials did not budge on the critical concerns." Sources said that there could be another meeting with DoPT before the NAC meeting on February 26.


The rules framed by the personnel department lay down provisions for the application process, fee for providing information, filing first appeals and appointments in information commissions.


One of the provisions that the council had 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. Despite objections, the department has refused to budge and said that it is the well-educated who are unable to write an application in 250 words and instead go into long-winding explanations.


Abatement of an appeal in case of an applicant's death has also raised the ire of activists who have argued that this could be misused to kill people asking uncomfortable questions.

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News item from "Times of India" on Feb 27, 2011, 12.28am IST

Link: Sonia's NAC prevails over govt on RTI, Forest Rights Act - The Times of India


NEW DELHI: The Sonia Gandhi-led national advisory council (NAC) has won decisive victories in keeping at bay the governments attempt to regulate right to information and ensuring the pro-tribal Forest Rights Act is made more effective for its intended beneficiaries.


On the national Food Security Act -- the third bone of contention between the government and NAC -- the Council at its meeting on Saturday held its ground and advocated a staggered rollout. It disagreed with the government to insist that procuring 65 million tonnes of food grains for a full rollout of the programme is not a difficult task.


NAC, seen as a policy interface with civil society, is an influential body providing policy and legislative inputs headed as it is by the Congress president.


Prevailing on RTI and forest rights are major achievements while guaranteeing 35 kg of food grains a month to families below poverty line and sections of urban poor is a key Sonia scheme, too.


On RTI, the government ceded ground on its bid to restrict an application to 250 words and a clause stating an inquiry would end if the applicant died. Now, it will say an application should preferably not exceed 500 words. It has also agreed that a query will not cease on an applicant's death.


The government is still insisting that an RTI application should be focused on one subject. But NAC has decided not to give up. Sonia Gandhi told Council members on Friday that this should be pursued with the government.


Department of Personnel and Training had earlier opposed NAC's suggestions Information activists who saw the proposed amendments as a bid to dilute the powerful act can rejoice after a protracted three-month battle.


The 250-word cap and the single subject rule are in particular seen to be limiting clauses. Abatement of an appeal in case of an applicant's death has also seen activists arguing that this provision could be misused to kill people asking uncomfortable questions as has been reported in some cases recently.


While NAC feels the Forest Rights Act is doing well, it wants to tweak it to reduce the scope of tribal beneficiaries being defeated by red tape. Thus required quorum for convening a gram sabha may be reduced from two-third to half to increase the frequency of meetings for speedy settlement of claims. And the tribal representation in the forest rights committee may go up from one-third to two-third to increase their clout under the Act.


The Centre may also issue guidelines to allow tribals to transport and sell minor forest produce with a guaranteed minimum support price although this may imply removing restrictions that stipulate that forest dwellers can take away only as much as an individual can carry.


Just like the DoPT on RTI, tribal affairs ministry had earlier opposed the suggestions of the NAC on Forest Rights Act.


The NAC and the tribal affairs ministry have narrowed differences on changes proposed in the landmark law giving settlement rights rights to tribals and other forest dwellers with sources saying that tribal affairs ministry accepted most of the councils suggestions.


On food security, the end to the government-NAC standoff might take some more time with the Sonia-led panel digging in its heels. It refused to accept the governments plea that covering 90% of the rural population and 50% of urban dwellers is not feasible in terms of food grain availability, storage and distribution.


Most recently, the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council sought a middle ground by paring down the NAC proposals while enhancing the government's offerHowever, NAC members argue that the governments view is conservative and the council has released its version of the draft bill on its website for public comment.


An NAC working group will prepare a draft food security bill taking into account the public feedback. In the first phase NAC estimates a total public distribution system food requirement of 49.4 million tones based on lower rural and urban coverage and smaller off-take of 85%. This is to allow improvements in food procurement and distribution.


In contrast to government's view, the Council considers assumption of 90% (final) offtake at proposed prices (Rs 3 a kg) to be reasonable. Theexperience of Tamil Nadu (with a near universal PDS system) shows the off take tends to be much lower than 100% at even lower prices (Rs 1 per kg of rice) than under the National Food Security Act, the NAC's note says.


More local procurement and reducing exports of about 7-14 million tonnes of cereals a year and could augment food procurement, feels the NAC.


On the Forest Rights Act, the NAC working group, it is learnt, wants the condition for non-tribals to claim right on forest land to be possession of land. Presently, they are required to be in possession of the land (75 years) and also be dependent on it for livelihood.


However, there are doubts on the efficacy of reducing quorum strength. While the objective is to facilitate frequent meetings sources said setting quorum at half the gram sabha strength would disadvantage tribals where they were numerically weaker. It would be easier for non-tribals to ignore the tribals in convening the gram sabhas.


On allowing tribals the freedom to sell and transport minor forest produce it is feared may bring in motorised vehicles for ferrying of minor produce and make the system vulnerable to exploitation by contractors and non-tribals.

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As reported in pib.nic.in on 03 March 2011:

Print Release


Proposal to Amend RTI


The Central Government has received some suggestions/communications suggesting amendments to the Right to Information Act. These include enlargement of the scope of exemptions from disclosure of information, rejection of vexatious and frivolous requests etc. It has, however, been decided that amendment to the Act, if any, shall be made after discussion with various stakeholders.


This information was given by the Minister of State in the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions Shri V.Narayanasamy in written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha today.

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As reported by Vandita Mishra in indianexpress.com on 18 March 2011:

RTI changes on NAC agenda


RTI changes on NAC agenda


The Right to Information Act 2005 is likely to figure prominently on the agenda of the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council when it meets on March 24. Discussion will centre on the two amendments to its rules that have been proposed by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT). One, to restrict each application to 250 words. And two, to confine one application to one subject.

The Right to Information Rules, 2010, of the DoPT propose to make it binding 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”.


According to sources, the NAC’s working group has discussed these two issues at length, and these talks have included DoPT officials. The working group’s recommendations were then presented to the whole Council at the last NAC meeting on February 26.


On the word restriction, the NAC is broadly said to be coming around to the view that the limit could be extended to 500 words with an important caveat — the application should not “ordinarily” exceed that limit but those that do so will not be rejected on that account. The word limit, according to this view, should be inserted only as an advisory to encourage people to make more pointed queries, or as a warning to the professional RTI applicant.


On the one-subject stipulation, the NAC has not reached a consensus and it is felt that the matter needs further discussion. According to sources, concern has been expressed in NAC discussions that such a restriction would be unfair to the villager, for instance, who may first have to seek an official’s help to file the RTI application only to be told that he cannot ask why he has not got the Indira Awaas and the ration card at one go.


The larger point the NAC appears to be making is this: RTI application format must not be revised and tweaked for administrative convenience alone. It must also remain sensitive to the needs and constraints of the applicants.


Meanwhile, word and subject restrictions in RTI applications have been brought into play in at least two major states. According to rule 14 inserted by the Karnataka Right to Information (Amendment) Rules, 2008, “A request in writing for information under section 6 of the Act shall relate to one subject matter and it shall not ordinarily exceed one hundred and fifty words. If an applicant wishes to seek information on more than one subject matter, he shall make separate applications.”


It adds: “Provided that in case the request made relates to more than one subject matter, the Public Information Officer may respond to the request relating to the first subject matter only and may advise the applicant to make separate application for each of the other subject matters.”


The Bihar government followed Karnataka. According to the Bihar Right to Information (Amendment) Rules 2009, Rule 3A was inserted. “A request in writing for information under section of the Right to Information Act 2005 shall relate to one subject matter and it shall not ordinarily exceed one hundred and fifty words,” it says.


In 2007 and 2009, respectively, the Delhi High Court and the then Chief Information Commissioner expressed support for the subject restriction. Delhi HC held that “For each information sought, separate application shall be made. However, where more than one information sought is consequential or related to one another, applicant will be permitted to seek them in one application.”


And in 2009, then chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah decided that it is “not open to the applicant under the RTI Act to bundle a series of requests into one application unless these requests are treated separately and paid for accordingly... However, we concede that a request may be comprised of a question with several clarificatory or supporting questions stemming from the information sought. Such an application will indeed be treated as a single request and charged for accordingly.”

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As reported in governancenow.com on 24 March 2011:

GovernanceNow.com | Justice Shah finds draft RTI rule


Justice Shah finds draft RTI rule ‘misconceived’


Comes down heavily on the draft rule regarding ‘one subject matter’


Justice Ajit Prakash Shah, former chief justice of Delhi high court has come down heavily on the government’s draft RTI rule which says that in one application, the applicant can ask questions related only to one subject matter.


Calling the rule ‘misconceived’, justice Shah has cited section 13 of the general clauses act, 1897. The act says that in all central acts and regulations, unless there is anything repugnant in the subject or context, words in singular shall include the plural and vice versa.


Department of personnel and training (DoPT), the administrative department for the implementation of the right to information (RTI) act, holds the view that section 6 (3) of the act makes the mention of ‘one subject matter’.


Rejecting this argument, justice Shah said, “There is absolutely nothing in Section 6 to indicate that the legislature intended that the request for information should confine to one subject only.”


He added, “The only requirement of the Section is that the request shall be in writing and accompanied by prescribed fees and the particulars of the information sought by the applicant are specified. Contrary intention to exclude the operation of the rule that the singular includes the plural cannot be inferred merely because the relevant provision is drafted in the singular. The act has been enacted to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority and casts responsibility on every public authority to provide information unless

it is exempt under the act. The interpretation suggested by the department tends to defeat the very purpose of the act.”


DoPT has been maintaining that many applications are running into 10- 20 pages and a large number of issues contained in one application making it difficult for the public information officers to respond to RTI queries in time.


Draft rules were made public on December 10 last year after which DoPT had asked the public to send feedback and comments on the same.


Since then, the DoPT has held at least three meeting with the NAC working group in transparency and accountability to discuss the draft rules.


In all these meetings, DoPT rejected NAC’s views on the rules.


In a recent interview, NAC member Aruna Roy told Governance Now that while the government had taken a call on other draft rules, the ‘one subject matter’ rule was still under consideration.

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Honble Justice shah has given a considerd opinion it is expected while finalising the draft bill his lordships valuble advise/sugession may be considered in right perspective by NAC.

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As reported in deccanherald.com on 24 March 2011:

Sonia-led NAC opposed to RTI amendments


Sonia-led NAC opposed to RTI amendments


The National Advisory Council (NAC) headed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi has decided to ask the government to drop the proposed amendment in the Right to Information (RTI) Act that would limit the ambit of each application seeking information to one particular subject only.


In a meeting on Thursday, the NAC decided to recommend to the government that the restriction to “one subject matter” be dropped from the purview of the proposed amendments to the RTI rules.


The amendment has been proposed by the Department of Personnel and Training.

The NAC, which sets the United Progressive Alliance government’s agenda for social sector, had serious differences with the DoPT on the issue of amendments to the RTI rules.


The members of the advisory body’s Working Group on Transparency, Accountability and Governance had several meetings with the DoPT officials to iron out the differences over the past few weeks.


Apart from restricting each plea seeking information under the RTI Act to “one subject matter”, the NAC opposed at least two other amendments proposed by the DoPT – one for restricting the word limit of each application to 250 words and another for abatement of an RTI application in the event of the death of the applicant.


The NAC, which comprises eminent civil society activists and intellectuals, was of the view that the restrictions the DoPT proposed to impose on the RTI pleas would in fact go against the spirit of the landmark legislation. It also shared the RTI activists’ views that the provision for abatement of an RTI application in the event of the applicant’s death, if inserted in the rules, could be misused by those who would like to hide information and would put the lives of whistleblowers in peril.


Aruna Roy, who heads the NAC’s Working Group, said on Thursday that the DoPT could be successfully persuaded, not only to enhance the word limit from 250 to 500 (excluding annexure and addresses of the applicant and its recipient) for each RTI application, but also to drop the proposed amendment for abatement of the pleas after the death of the respective information seekers. She told the panel that the DoPT was still adamant to restrict each RTI application to “one subject matter” only.


The NAC, however, decided to insist that no such restriction should be imposed on the RTI pleas.

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As reported by Chetan Chuhan in hindustantimes.com on 24 March 2011:

NAC prevails on govt over RTI reforms - Hindustan Times


NAC prevails on govt over RTI reforms


After months of bickering, the UPA government has agreed to Sonia Gandhi headed National Advisory Council’s proposed changes in the government’s draft of Right To Information (RTI) rules, except removing the proviso limiting one subject in an application. The council had opposed the Department of Personnel and Training’s (DoPT) draft RTI rules, which limited the word limit of an RTI application to 250 and prescribed new conditions for rejecting appeals before the Information Commissioners.

Magsasay award winner and NAC member Aruna Roy informed the council that there has been agreement on all issues except on “one subject matter.”


The DoPT still wants that an application should deal with only one issue, which the NAC believes can be misused by the Public Information Officers to reject RTI applications.


It wants a provision in the proposed rules that seeking information on more than one issue should not be a ground for rejection of an RTI application.


“Areas of agreement include, enhancement of word limit from 250 words to 500 words and also to drop the rules relating to abatement of RTI application upon death of applicant,” the NAC said in a statement.


This will protect the RTI activists, who have faced assault and even killed for trying to expose corruption.


The DoPT has agreed to the NAC recommendation that there should be a separate cadre for the Information Commissions and commission’s secretary should be appointed in consultation with the commissioners.


The department also agreed that any appeal with the information commissions would not be rejected on the ground of inadequate documents and the applicant not appearing in person before the commission.


NAC has agreed to the DoPT suggestion that the government should be allowed to charge up to R50 for providing information, if the postage charges are more than R50.

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As reported by Anil S in expressbuzz.com on 15 April 2011:



'One subject matter' a stumbling block to RTI


KOCHI: The amendment proposed by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) to restrict all RTI applications to 'one subject matter' is becoming a controversy. Though the National Advisory Council (NAC) has recommended dropping of the proposal, the DoPT has not agreed to it.


"The final recommendations were sent by the NAC at its last meeting on March 24. All recommendations were accepted by the DoPT except the one on the removal of restriction on 'subject matter' from the purview, which is still under the consideration of the DoPT," NAC sources said.


The amendments proposed by the DoPT include appointing a secretary to the commission, limiting applications to 250 words, charging the applicant the actual amount spent by the public authority to hire a machine to supply the information and charging the postal expenses in excess of Rs 10 involved in the supply of information from the applicant.


The department proposed that the appeals to the first appellate authority should be accompanied by copies of original application and the reply received. It has also been proposed that the commission may allow the request to amend or withdraw an appeal during the course of hearing if that is made by the appellant on an application made in writing.


There was another proposal to amend the clause regarding the personal presence of the appellant before the commission. Yet another proposal was on the recovery of penalty and payment of compensation.


After discussions, the NAC made a total of 12 recommendations which include deleting the proposal to charge money from the applicant to hire the machine, replacing the clause on postal charges in such a way that the expenses in excess of `50 can be charged form the applicant, dropping the proposal on appeals, withdrawal of appeals and abatement of complaint. The NAC has also recommended that the DoPT should ensure that penalties awarded under the act are entered in the ACR/service record of the official concerned.


The DoPT agreed to all NAC recommendations other than restricting applications to 'one subject matter.' The DoPT agreed to enhance the word limit from 250 to 500 and drop the amendments to abatement of the RTI application in the event of the death of the applicant.


Sources with the NAC said the recommendation on removal of the proposal that the RTI applications should pertain to only one subject matter would be submitted again.

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