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  1. It looks like transparency has become a pain in the neck for most public authorities. Section 4 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, which makes suo motu disclosure mandatory and which is the most powerful section of this transparency law, is being dodged by most government departments despite innumerable circulars, orders and recommendations. Read more at: Section 4 of RTI Act - Moneylife
  2. [h=1]Government invites people's view on mandatory information in RTI reply[/h] Based on the recommendations of the Committee and in consultation with Ministry of Law and Justice, draft guidelines have been prepared regarding the elements that RTI reply should essentially contain. After rejecting a proposal for a model format for replying to RTI queries, the Centre has invited comments from people on what mandatory information a reply should contain under the transparency law. A Committee, comprising representatives of Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), Ministry of Home Affairs and Central Information Commission, has recommended there should not be a model or standard format for reply to the RTI applications. However, the Committee recommended that few points can be uniformly adopted by Public Information Officers while replying to RTI applications. Based on the recommendations of the Committee and in consultation with Ministry of Law and Justice, draft guidelines have been prepared regarding the elements that RTI reply should essentially contain. "It has been decided to invite views or suggestions from the citizens on the draft guidelines," a DoPT order said. The guidelines said name, designation, official telephone number and email-id of the Central Public Information Officers (CPIOs) should be clearly mentioned in the RTI replies. In case, the information requested for is denied, reasons for denial quoting the relevant sections of the RTI Act should be clearly mentioned, as per the draft guidelines. In case, the information pertains to other public authority and the application is transferred, details of the public authority to whom the application is transferred should be given, it said. The concluding para of the reply should clearly mention that the First Appeal, if any, against the reply of the CPIO may be made to the First Appellate Authority within 30 days of receipt of reply of CPIO. "The name, designation, address, official telephone no and e-mail ID of the First Appellate Authority should also be clearly mentioned," the draft guidelines said. Wherever the applicant has requested for certified copies of the documents or records, the CPIO should endorse on the document 'true copy of the document/record', sign the document with date, above a seal containing name of the officer, CPIO (in place of designation) and name of public authority, it said. Read More: Government invites people's view on mandatory information in RTI reply | Latest News & Updates at Daily News & Analysis
  3. Only 25% of government bodies making mandatory RTI disclosures: CIC New Delhi: The Central Information Commission on Wednesday questioned government bodies with regard to meeting the requirement of mandatory suo-motu disclosures under the RTI Act and said that there was need for "introspection" as only a little over one-fourth of the 2,276 public authorities have followed statutory guidelines. AFPAFP Under Section IV of the Right to Information Act, a public authority is mandated to publish on its website 17 classes of information about its working and the records held by it so that people need not burden it with RTI applications. The annual report of the CIC, which was released on Wednesday, shows that only 667 of the 2,276 public authorities have fulfilled the mandatory requirement. "This needs introspection by Ministry/Department/Public Authorities as to the reasons why despite having good ICT infrastructure available with them, its usages for strengthening the system of mandatory disclosure norms remains unattended," the report said. The report said that the public authorities with field formations need to assess the quality, citizen friendliness, and the periodicity of dissemination of information so as to institutionalise the disclosure mechanism as mandated under Section IV of the RTI Act, 2005. "Ultimately, it is the creation of robust and dynamic citizen-government interface through sharing of information that should be talisman of our democracy," it said. Giving details of the mechanism through which the figure of 667 for the year 2013-14 had been arrived at, the report said that all public authorities have to submit their returns online in a pro-forma prescribed by the CIC. "In (block V), the Ministries/Departments/Public Authorities have to respond to a query 'Is mandatory disclosure under Section 4(1)(b) posted on the website of public authority?' If the response to the query is yes then Ministry/Department/Public Authorities have to provide detail/URL of webpage where the disclosure is posted," the report said. It said that the pro-forma also provides for other mode of dissemination if a public authority has not posted the disclosure on its website. "Only 667 Ministry/Department/Public Authorities have given response in affirmative. This means that 667 Ministry/Department/Public Authorities have posted their mandatory disclosure norms through their websites," it said. Read More: Only 25% of government bodies making mandatory RTI disclosures: CIC - Firstpost
  4. Friends I think we should insist upon the CIC to make it mandatory for all Government Departments (under State and Central Governments) to accept payments for provision of information made in favor of the Accounts Officer of respective Department. I have faced situations where the payment is accepted only if drawn in favor of the Director or PIO etc. I think its worthwhile to deliberate on this. Further organisations are not accepting personal cheques towards fees for provision of copies of documents. Atleast the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics at Hyderabad does not accept. Why should a citizen be penalised for paying commission charges to the bank which is sometimes more than the actual charges to be paid. CIC should further make amendments to RTI Act so that the National Electronic Funds Transfer/Electronic Funds Transfer (NEFT/EFT) system is adopted for easy transfer of fees. This is a system whereby anyone who wants to make payment to another person / company etc. can approach his bank and give instructions / authorisation to transfer funds directly from his account to the bank account of the receiver / beneficiary. CIC should amend rules so that complete details such as the Public authorities name, bank account number, account type (savings or current account), bank name, city, branch name, etc., should be furnished to the citizen while seeking fees for provision of documents at the time of replying to the citizen seeking information. We need to seriously pursue such matters which is convinient for all of us. .
  5. Sunshine Week (March 11-17) is the news media's industrywide effort to alert the public to the importance of open government and the right of access to public information and public meetings. Through news coverage, editorials and other offerings, newspapers and broadcasters are shining the light on the public's right to gain access to government information. The week draws attention to the Freedom of Information Act and to the dangers of official secrecy. The week also includes National FOI Day, March 16, marked each year by the First Amendment Center with a major conference on access issues. Governmental agencies seems to abhor open government laws and in some circles, spend more time trying to thwart public access to records than they do to letting the sun shine in. The Reporters Committee For Freedom of the Press has published Open Government Guides for each state and they contain a wealth of information. http://www.rcfp.org/ogg/ Tips on how to write a basic FOIL request letter can be found at http://www.trt-ny.org/How_to_do_FOIL_Request.htm. New York's Freedom of Information Law and Open Meetings Law can be found at http://www.dos.state.ny.us/coog/foil2.htm , updated as of August, 2006, and http://www.dos.state.ny.us/coog/openmeetlaw.htm "Democracies die behind closed doors. The First Amendment, through a free press, protects the people's right to know that their government acts fairly, lawfully, and accurately." Judge Damon Keith, U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has written. The were two significant amendments to New York's Freedom of Information Law last year, a major step forward in making government more accountable to the people. New Yorkers are now allowed to use e-mail to submit requests under FOIL for most government records. Enabling the public to request records by means of e-mail and to require the government to respond by e-mail when they have the ability to do so simply makes the Freedom of Information Law must more usable to so many people", said Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government. By using e-mail, the cost of copying is eliminated and public agencies can't manipulate the law to make obtaining public information cost prohibitive and accessible only to those who could afford to pay the exorbitant costs imposed by officials. The new law is also designed to expedite the release of public information. No longer do government employees have to stand at the photocopy machine; rather, they will simply hit the send key on their keyboards. The only instance in FOIL that authorizes agencies to charge fees involves the reproduction of records. The law states that agencies generally may charge up to twenty-five cents per photocopy, or the actual cost of reproducing other records, those that cannot be photocopied. When records are made available through email, no copies are made, and no fee can be charged. Thousands of citizens will be able to acquire information they need to improve their lives or to affect the activities of their government for free. We believe that to be nothing short of revolutionary. In August, an amendment was passed broadening courts' authority to award attorney's fees when agencies engage in stonewalling or foot dragging. A court now may award attorney's fees when an applicant substantially prevails and the agency had no reasonable basis for denying access or when the agency failed to comply with the new provisions requiring timely responses to requests. The law also allows a court to force governmental and school districts to pay court costs if officials had "no reasonable basis for denying access" in addition to failing to respond to a request within the time required by law. Although governmental participation is a crucial component of our democratic heritage, it is also a fragile one. For every citizen seeking to discover what's going on behind the closed doors of government offices, there's often at least one bureaucrat coming up with reasons to keep things secret. Secret government is dangerous. Public trust is the nucleus of our democracy and open government keeps public officials accountable and presumably honest. The more government hides, the more distrust there is in government. In association with Sunshine Week, the Associated Press conducted a nationwide survey about record-keeping in government. Unfortunately in all too many cases not only does government fail to comply with open government laws, but there are few penalties and in most cases, if legal challenges are raised to government's denial of information, attorney general's offices and other agencies generally side with the government or issue a mild rebuke, a slap on the wrist. According to the AP survey, while nearly all state have penalties in place for those who violate the "sunshine" law most don't keep records of who breaks the law and what penalties, if any, were assessed. Even New York State, considered a leader in open law government laws, has no penalties in place for those who violate it although with amendments last year, it is now easier to recover fees expended in order to try to force governmental compliance. Freeman says that the "court of public opinion is much more powerful than the judicial court". Perhaps if New York began to criminalize the denial of access to public records, the prosecution of a public official here and there would be a grim reminder to others that giving access is public information isn't discretionary, its mandatory. It's Sunshine Week. Let the sun shine in on open government. 3-12-07 Editorial - Access To Public Records Mandatory, Not Discretionary
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