As per DoPT guidelines, it is now binding on PIOs to provide certified copies of documents, if requested by the applicant and also to provide detailed reasons for denial of information
The Department of Personnel & Training- DoPT has issued detailed guidelines for Public Information Officers for answering or sending replies to applicants under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Remember, 16 April 2015 was the last deadline for citizens to submit their suggestions to the Committee comprising representatives of Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT), the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Central Information Commission (CIC), to formulate specific guidelines for Public Information Officers (PIO)s while providing replies? (our story: http://www.moneylife.in/article/world-happiness-index-2015-ndash-where-does-india-stand/43578.html
) Now, the format of giving information has been formulated by the DoPT, which puts the onus on the PIOs to be meticulous about their replies.For example, it is binding on the PIO to provide certified copies of documents, if requested by the applicant; to provide detailed reasons for denial of information by quoting the relevant sections of the RTI Act.
The DoPT, in a letter dated 6 October 2015, sent to Chief Secretaries of all States and Union Territories (UTs) as also Ministries and Departments, Secretariats of Parliament, President's Secretariat, Prime Minister's Office (PMO), NITI Aayog, Election Commission, Comptroller and Auditor General states “It has been observed that different public authorities provide information to RTI applicants in different formats. Though there cannot be a standard format for providing information, guidelines have been provided.”
As per the directions, the reply by the PIO should comprise the following points:
(i) RTI application number, date and date of its receipt in the public authority.
(ii) The name, designation, official telephone number and email ID of the CPIO.
(iii) In case the information requested for is denied, detailed reasons for denial quoting the relevant sections of the RTI Act should be clearly mentioned.
(iv) In case the information pertains to other public authority and the application is transferred under section 6(3) of the RTI Act, details of the public authority to whom the application is transferred should be given.
(v) In the concluding para of the reply, it should be clearly mentioned 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.
(vi) The name, designation, address, official telephone number and e-mail ID of the First Appellate Authority should also be clearly mentioned.
“In addition, 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 supplied under RTI Act", sign the document with date, above a seal containing name of the officer, CPIO and name of public authority; as enumerated below. Further in case the documents to be certified and supplied is large in number, information on RTI application should be supplied by a designated PIO but the certification of the documents, if need be, could be done by another junior gazetted officer,” the order says.
Leading RTI activists who have made recommendations and have been closely following this issue are elated. Venkatesh Nayak, programme coordinator of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), says, “What is important is that the guidelines also include instructions as to how certified copies may be issued under the RTI Act by the PIO on request. In January 2014, Kerala High Court discussed the issue of certified copies being sought by applicants under the RTI Act in the John Numpeli (Junior) case. In this case, the Court ruled that Section 2(j) of the RTI Act does not take away the right of an individual to get certified copies under other laws such as the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 or the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. Conversely, if an RTI applicant seeks certified copies under the RTI Act then the PIO must attest to the fact that the copies have been issued under the RTI Act.”
Citing an example, Nayak said, “A PIO in one of the northern Indian States had used the Kerala HC judgement, recently, to deny certified copies to an RTI applicant. When a prominent RTI activist brought this case to my attention, I sent him a copy of the judgement to help the RTI applicant. This episode reminded me of the saying in Kannada loosely translated as - "what God proposes the priest disposes as he deems fit" (in Kannada - "devaru vara kottaru, pujari koda")’’
Another leading RTI activist Subhash Agrawal suggests that, since domestic photo-copiers are usually equipped to copy only A4 size documents, DoPT should also direct public-authorities to use only A4 size paper for all correspondence made under RTI Act. “Information-seekers have to spend money outside in case they have to file appeals or use information if provided in legal-size paper, which is lengthier than most commonly used A4 size paper. Rather, DoPT should issue advisory for not using legal-size paper in government-functioning. Even Supreme Court should be approached for using A4 size paper in judicial or legal functioning thereby altogether abolishing concept of legal-size paper,’’ he added.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, and also convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)