Is RTI being weakened by Rules?
The government has issued a circular on 31 March 2017 giving draft rules, which it is proposing for the Right to Information (RTI) Act.  Most citizens and media have shown considerable concern at these and there has been a feeling that the government is trying to emasculate the RTI Act. From my experience in the RTI journey, I have realised that most people and institutions champion and hail transparency for others, but are very reluctant to give information about themselves.  For this reason, I am extremely suspicious when any changes are sought to be made in RTI.
 
In the draft rules, the most controversial is rule 12, which proposes that a second appeal can be withdrawn by the appellant and it would abate on the death of an appellant.  This appears to be in the belief that when the seeker of information does not want the information it need not be given.  By the same logic when she dies, it cannot be given to the applicant. Many decisions of information commissions have also wrongly taken such a stand. It has not been appreciated that the information sought in RTI belongs to all citizens since they own the government and every piece of information held by it. Thus everyone has the right to get the information, which is sought by an applicant. Allowing withdrawal of RTI appeals would be a direct encouragement to undesirable pressure on applicants, and deal making. The law expects all information to be available suo moto. This proposed rule should be modified to state that when an appeal is sought to be withdrawn or an appellant dies, the information sought shall be placed on the website. 
 
Some people have made the charge that the rules increase the fees. The rules have retained the application fee at Rs10 and the additional fees at Rs2 per page up to A3 size paper. They are now proposing that postal charge above Rs50 shall be charged. When a large amount of information is sought, it is reasonable if the applicant pays for the postage. 
 
Similarly, there has been some concern at the information seeking being restricted to 500 words. From my experience as a user and Central Information Commissioner, I can state that this is adequate for most cases. Often applicants verbosity - in the absence of any limit - results in the user not getting the actual information required. In some rare case, where there is a real need for a longer RTI application, two applications could be filed, which would lead to an additional fee of Rs10 only. The rules mention that payment of fees can be done electronically where it is available. The rule should be modified so that in all cases public authorities must accept fees by electronic mode. That would be in line with the push for reducing cash in transactions and encourage digital payments.
 
Many Commissions are presently refusing to order information to be given when a complaint is filed. This is based on a flawed ‘literal’ interpretation of the RTI Act, instead of a ‘purposive’ interpretation.  The draft rules have a provision for the Commission to convert a complaint into a second appeal and thereby order information to be provided. This is a positive provision. However Section 13 (1) (i) requires that a RTI application must accompany every complaint. Without this, the complaint would be rejected. This requirement should be removed.  Section 18 (1) (f) of the RTI Act requires a Commission to entertain a complaint “in respect of any other matter relating to requesting or obtaining access to records under this Act”. 
 
In such matters there is no RTI application. In one such example:  The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has put on its website a non-disclosure policy by mis-labelling it as a ‘Disclosure Policy’. In such cases, the citizen has to draw attention of the Commission that she has to file a complaint with the information commission and no RTI application can be made in these circumstances. Similarly, there are many complaints against public authorities for non-compliance with Section 4 of the Act in which no RTI application can be filed. Providing a RTI application in such a case is not possible, hence this requirement should be dropped.
 
The rules have also created formats for appeals and for non-compliance of commission orders. Many commissions have not taken formal action in such cases. It is welcome that the rules specify and formally recognise non-compliance of commission orders requiring action. They also recognise the fact that at times the Public Information Officer (PIO) or the public authority may be responsible for non-compliance.   
 
The rules require an appeal or complaint to be made to the commission in double spacing. This should be changed since it would lead to wastage of paper, and it would be very difficult for those submitting a hand written appeal.  Another positive rule mandates that when a commission issues a lazy order not specifying the time period for supply of information, it has to be supplied within 30 days. 
 
On the balance, this does not appear to be a move to consciously to dilute the law and its efficacy. My considered opinion is that does not appear to be the objective. If rule 12 is changed to mandate placing on the website information sought be any appellant who has died, it would be a balanced set of rules for RTI.
 
(Shailesh Gandhi served as Central Information Commissioner under the RTI Act, 2005, during 18 September 2008 to 6 July 2012. He is a graduate in Civil Engineering from IIT-Bombay. Before becoming a full time RTI activist in 2003, he sold his packaging business. In 2008, he was conferred the Nani Palkhivala Memorial Award for civil liberties.) 
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    COMMENTS

    Sanjeet Kumar

    3 years ago

    Nice explanation. However, I don't agree with the statement “Many Commissions are presently refusing to order information to be given when a complaint is filed. This is based on a flawed ‘literal’ interpretation of the RTI Act, instead of a ‘purposive’ interpretation.”
    Complaint and Second Appeal have different purposes, and both must be dealt in different manner. If Complainant will be allowed to get information under Section 18, then there is no meaning of including Section 19. Section 19 does not allow Second Appeal without submitting First Appeal. Thus, everyone may go for Section 18 by escaping First Appeal, which takes additional 30-45 days. This will be overburden on CIC. First Appeal allows applicant to get information in many cases. Thus, the commission, which refuses to order information to be given when a complaint is filed, is right as per the law. Learn more about RTI at http://rtiact2005.com/

    No change in fee, word limit for RTI queries, says Centre
    The Centre on Wednesday dubbed as "misleading" media reports on the Right to Information (RTI) Act rules, saying no change has been effected in either the fee structure or the word limit for the RTI queries.
     
    The government said it is committed to ensure full and easy implementation of the Right to Information law.
     
    "A factually incorrect and misleading news report appeared in a section of the media that a new set of RTI rules has been formulated, which creates difficulties and hurdles in the rights of the citizens to get information from the government," the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions said in a statement here.
     
    "It has been alleged that the size of the RTI queries has been restricted to 500 words and a provision of fee increase has been unfairly introduced in the rules." 
     
    The Congress on Monday accused the Narendra Modi government of seeking to subvert the RTI Act, saying new draft rules give power to authorities to reject an application if it is of more than 500 words and also force a steep hike in charges on the applicant.
     
    "The facts are totally to the contrary. On July 31, 2012, the central government notified the RTI rules under Section 27 of the Right to Information Act, 2005. 
     
    "A copy of existing rules is available on the official website of Department of Personnel and Training. The rules provided that an RTI application will ordinarily be not more than 500 words (subject to exception) with a nominal fee being charged from each applicant. These rules were framed and notified in 2012," the ministry statement said.
     
    "However, the legality of the Central Information Commission (Management) Regulations, 2007, was challenged before the Delhi High Court and these were quashed," the statement added.
     
    The ministry said the matter has been pending before the Supreme Court. 
     
    "The government, therefore, decided, in consultation with the CIC, that a comprehensive set of rules be notified by consolidating the key provisions of CIC (Management) Regulations and also the Rules of 2012," it said. 
     
    "The key provisions of the RTI Rules, 2012, have been identically incorporated verbatim. No change has been made in the RTI fee structure. The government is committed to ensuring full and easy implementation of the Right to Information Act," it added.
     
    Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.
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    COMMENTS

    GLN Prasad

    3 years ago

    Those who are aware of fundamentals know this fact. Who initiated this misleading report is known to all, and he expressed his knowledge on such primary issues of RTI. Much ado about nothing. I don't know when people stop suspecting every Govt. move to bring improvements and make vain attempts to sensationalize a simple issue. Constructive suggestions are different from malice comments.

    B Pugazhendhi

    3 years ago

    Willy-nilly the Govt has accepted the allegation. The explanation offered by the Govt says that the impugned CIC regulations of 2012, which are under the scrutiny of the Supreme court, have again been published in the name of consolidating various instructions. This is an usual trick.

    SRINIVAS SHENOY

    3 years ago

    The applicants under the RTI Act only need certain information, which is not made available to them, mainly due to corrupt practices.

    Maharashtra CIC orders details of welfare schemes to be put on website
    The Maharashtra State Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC) has directed all public authorities in Maharashtra to upload complete information of all welfare schemes on their respective websites before 30 April 2017. Those public authorities which do not have any public welfare schemes should categorically mention so on their websites, the SCIC has stated.
     
    In a hard-hitting directive to the chief secretary to ensure compliance with this order, SCIC Ratnakar Gaikwad has provided a detailed format in which information should be made public on the websites by every government department. Details to be included are: name of the scheme, its salient features, especially budget provisions, number of beneficiaries likely to be covered, eligibility criteria, format of application for the scheme, date of receipt of application, date of approval, and date of rejection with brief reasons for rejection. 
     
    Public welfare schemes otherwise largely remain a secret and there have been alleged cases of large-scale irregularities and financial misappropriation. Besides, there are many welfare schemes of various government and municipal bodies but, often, intended beneficiaries are not aware of these schemes, their eligibility criteria or how to avail of them.
     
    It is thanks to former Central Information Commissioner and leading Right to Information (RTI) activist Shailesh Gandhi that people will now have access to this vital information, at the click of the mouse. Mr Gandhi was impressed with Haqdarshak Empowerment Services, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), which has been accessing such information under RTI and presenting it in an easy-to-understand format for the benefit of beneficiaries of such schemes.
     
    On 25 March 217, Mr Gandhi made a complaint to the SCIC, under Section 18 (1) (f) of the RTI Act, pointing out that there are many welfare schemes of various government and municipal bodies of which there is not enough public awareness. He appealed that “the (SCIC) Commission may consider issuing a directive to all government and institutions of local self-governance to give details of their welfare schemes in detailed format. It would also be very useful if the status of application is made available in the format indicated.”
     
    SCIC Gaikwad immediately took cognisance of Mr Gandhi’s complaint. In his order, Mr Gaikwad states “…the Commission views this lapse on the part of the public authorities with serious concern. It is sad that after a lapse of more than 11 years since RTI Act has come to force, public authorities by and large have shown a lackadaisical attitude towards proactive disclosures as laid down under Section 4 of the Act.”
     
    Mr Gaikwad invoked the following sub-sections of Section 4 of the RTI Act in support of his directive:
    • “Section 4 (1) (b) of Right to Information Act, 2005 is the heart and soul of the RTI Act, which makes it mandatory to all public authorities to disclose information about 17 aspects of public authorities which, inter alia, covers schemes implemented by public authorities, and list of beneficiaries to be displayed on the websites of respective public authority.
    • “So also Section 4(1)(c)(d) mandates that all decisions, Administrative/Quasi-Judicial, taken by public authorities, and material/facts based on which such decisions are taken, must be suo motu be communicated to the affected persons forthwith by public authorities. All welfare schemes implemented by the government are obviously covered under the above provisions of the RTI Act. But, unfortunately, no department yet has implemented in letter and spirit above provisions, with the result there is hardly any transparency and accountability in the implementation of various welfare schemes implemented by the government.” 
     
    Commenting on the SCIC’s directions, Mr Gandhi says, “The Maharashtra Chief Information Commissioner, Mr Gaikwad, has issued a landmark order, which should benefit intended beneficiaries of government welfare schemes. Showing great promptness and sensitivity to the public cause, empathy to the disadvantaged and understanding of the law, Mr Gaikwad issued an appropriate order immediately directing all departments to display the information in the suggested format. This could help to reduce corruption in these schemes.”
     
    Mr Gandhi has appealed to NGOs and others working on these matters to monitor if this order is complied with and, in case of non-compliance, file a complaint under Section 18 with the State Information Commission. 
     
    Here is the copy of the order issued and format suggested for public authorities to disclose information on welfare schemes by the Maharashtra SCIC:
     
     
     
    (Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and 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”.)
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    COMMENTS

    Meenal Mamdani

    3 years ago

    Wow, this is truly excellent. With this move, the applicants get the information they need to apply for this scheme with a public display of the decision.
    I hope that each scheme is also compelled to publicize the total that availed of this scheme by year end.
    RTI is an extraordinary powerful tool. I think as people get more accustomed to using it, the fraud and pilferage would decrease dramatically.

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