NRIs Can’t Use RTI Anymore, Says Indian Govt
The Indian government has, early this month, suddenly decided to stop non-resident Indians (NRIs) from filing online applications under Right to Information (RTI) through the e-IPO way, which they fought for so hard for in 2013. With a whopping 176 Indian Missions abroad showing favourable responses to RTI applications from Indians abroad, the latter is upset at this knee-jerk decision.
 
This decision was revealed not through an announcement but in the Lok Sabha on 8 August 2018, when Jugal Kishore, member of Parliament (MP) asked, “Whether non-resident-Indians (NRIs) are also eligible to file online RTI applications and if so the procedure aid down in this regard.” (http://164.100.47.190/loksabhaquestions/annex/15/AU3535.pdf)
 
Dr Jitendra Singh, minister of state in the ministry of personnel, public grievances and pensions and who is also the minister of state in the prime minister’s office (PMO), stated, “Only citizens have the right to seek information under the provisions of RTI Act, 2005. Non-residents are not eligible to file RTI applications.”
 
 
The minister blundered in saying only citizens have the right to file applications under RTI and NRIs cannot. This is because NRIs are Indian citizens. What the minister probably meant was all Indians abroad.
 
This is in total contrast of the office memorandum issued on 22 March 2013 by the department of personnel & training (DoPT) under the ministry of personnel, public grievances & pensions. 
 
This circular states that a special service called ‘e-IPO’ (electronic Indian Postal Order) has been launched for Indians living abroad to facilitate them to seek information from the central public information officers (CPIOs) under the RTI Act. Debit and credit cards were allowed to be used to purchase e-IPO.
 
Also, the government then in its circular had stated under Right of NRIs: “…under the current provisions of the RTI Act, NRIs can file RTI applications seeking information from either from a particular Mission or Post abroad or from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) itself. Accordingly, a fee of Rs10 per application equivalent in local currency is accepted by Missions and Posts abroad.” 
 
Thereafter, the campaign focused on e-IPO where you could buy the Indian postal online and the citizens triumphed.
 
Electronic postal order was a big achievement for Indian citizens abroad, who had been pressing the government for the five years to facilitate them in nation building by exercising their right to know. Their victory finally came in 2012 after several Indians living in different countries sent a petition to the then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh.
 
Expressing shock over the development to bar NRIs from using RTI, Commodore Lokesh Batra, a noted Delhi-based RTI activist, who had been at the helm of this campaign to facilitate e-IPO so that Indians abroad can use RTI, states, “the Centre’s response in the Lok Sabha is misleading. NRIs are shocked and are raising questions over the government statement denying their right to file RTI when they have been doing so since the last five years. What has changed they ask. They also find this ridiculous that they are allowed to vote from their countries of karma but have been thrown out from the arena of transparency.”
 
Commodore Batra had filed more than 150 RTI applications in various relevant departments since 2008 and consistently pressured the government to provide online payment facilities for RTI fees.
 
He questions the sluggish attitude of the central information commission (CIC) in fighting this out with the government. He also slams the government for lack of public knowledge and consultations regarding this vital issue.
 
The efforts That went into empower NRIs in filing RTI applications:
 
4 February 2011: Department of Posts wrote to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) stating, “The Department of Posts has developed a portal called ‘e-portal’ office. We have received a reference from the Secretary, DoPT requesting to include a provision for the purchase of Indian postal orders by Indian citizens living abroad to enable them to seek information under the RTI Act, 2005. The challenge faced by the Indian citizens is in remitting the prescribed fee for seeking information as per the specified mode of the Act. The post office can provide a solution to this challenge, since the Indian postal order is one of the most prescribed modes of payment under the RTI Act. To put a system in place to facilitate this, we would require clearance to accept credit card/debit card for online payment from abroad through e-portal.”
 
15 June 2011: RBI’s reply to Commodore Batra’s RTI query on the status of letters from the Department of Posts stated: “The RBI has not taken a final decision on the request of the Department of Posts. As such this information cannot be given as per Section 8 of the RTI Act.” 
 
3 February 2012: RBI (which had earlier denied Commodore Batra information under Section 8 of the RTI Act) it had sent its “no-objection” to the government. Anita Kumari, manager of the RBI, in a letter to the Ministry of Communications & IT, Department of Posts, on 3 February 2012 had stated, “…the payment gateway provider will be Axis Bank” and “online payments from abroad should be made only through debit and credit cards issued by the bank having affiliations with one of the card payment networks authorised under the PSS Act 2007”.
 
12 December 2012: Department of Posts sets a deadline of 15 January 2013.
 
Some of the milestones in this citizen campaign include:
 
2008: Commodore Batra steered the campaign for Indians abroad, when he had a personal experience in 2008 when he was in the US. The date for his appeal before the Information Commission in Delhi was fixed while he was abroad, and then chief information commissioner, Dr Wajahat Habibullah, allowed the hearing through audio-conferencing. However, when he began to ask about regular RTI applications filed from the US, he found that Indians there faced many hurdles.
 
The Indian embassy in Washington threw its hands up, saying that it could only accept RTI applications pertaining to queries related to its office, or at the most those related to the ministry of external affairs. Indians tried to impress upon the embassy that under Section 6(3) it is the duty of the PIO to forward applications not relevant to him, to the concerned departments. But the embassy refused to take responsibility.  This triggered off his campaign.
 
2009: Commodore Batra filed a complaint with the CIC in April 2009 against the ministries for not providing him the required information. Information Commissioner Annapurna Dixit gave an order on 16 April 2010 asking the DoPT to ‘formulate’ a system to “facilitate accessibility of the Act by Indians abroad.” 
 
2010: Commodore Batra was joined by activists abroad. The campaign abroad was steered by RTI activist Vishal Kudchadkar, member of Association for India’s Development (AID), living in California. In 2010, a delegation of US-based Indian activists submitted their petition to the then prime minister Singh, carrying signatures from 316 Indians residing in Australia, Burundi, Canada, Dubai, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Holland, Japan, Kuwait, Maldives, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, South Africa, UAE, the UK and the US. However, the PMO was silent on this issue (not surprising). 
 
What the petition to the PM stated:
 
The petition said: “Our suggestion is that just as the government has facilitated APIOs by the postal department in India for all public authorities, along similar lines, the government should facilitate an APIO in each Indian Mission/Post in local embassies and charge fees equivalent to rupees.”
 
“Alternatively, we suggest that arrangements may be made by the MEA, the administrative ministry for Indians abroad, for missions to accept RTI fees in foreign currency from applicants filing RTI to central public authorities, using the same procedure as they are hitherto doing for RTI applications concerning their own ministry. The mission’s role would be to accept the fee along with a copy of the passport to verify the citizenship and issue a receipt/E-receipt to the applicant for the fee. Thereafter, either the mission or the RTI applicant can forward the application to the concerned central public authority (PA) online… Any additional costs for providing the information can be remitted to the mission in the same way and the receipt/E-receipt given by the mission can serve as proof of payment.” 
 
Our earlier stories:
 
 
 
 
(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

    dhatul

    2 years ago

    "The minister blundered in saying only citizens have the right to file applications under RTI and NRIs cannot. This is because NRIs are Indian citizens. What the minister probably meant was all Indians abroad."
    While the minister has obviously blundered, it is not clear why you assumed that he meant that all Indians abroad are not eligible to file RTI applications. No change has been brought in the act. Further, it is not clear what is the basis for reporting that e-IPOs are being discontinued.

    How Journalists Can Use RTI for Authentic Stories
    The Right to Information (RTI) Act has helped Indian journalists unearth sensitive, important and hidden information to break major stories. RTI is a very important tool for journalists, especially in a country like India. Journalism and how it is practised has changed a lot over the decades.
     
    From a state where getting even public information was hard to get, we now have an information overload, with huge volumes of information available a click away. 
     
     
    But information deemed sensitive by rulers is still hard to get. There are also security restrictions and physical barriers to access. However, one thing has remained constant – the big newsbreak goes to the journalist who has access to the right sources, who can get accurate information. RTI is one way to break this barrier. It allows journalists to break news stories without having to suck up to the power-that-be and to get information as a matter of right.
     
     
    Keeping this in mind, Moneylife Foundation, in partnership with Mumbai Press Club, conducted a special workshop on RTI for journalists. Senior journalist and Founder-Trustee of Moneylife Foundation, Sucheta Dalal started the session about how Moneylife has successfully written investigative stories using RTI applications as an effective tool. One such story was the NSE (National Stock Exchange) defamation suit against Moneylife, where former central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi filed several RTI applications to help gather evidence in increasing the pressure and ensuring further investigation. 
     
     
    At the session, Mr Gandhi talked briefly about the RTI Act and how it can be used effectively by journalists in researching and writing stories. Explaining the origin of RTI in democracy, Mr Gandhi stressed upon the importance of swaraj or self-rule in India. He said, “Since we live in a democratic country and which is in fact the world’s largest democracy, it we, who have elected the government and therefore are the badshah and begum. Also as badshah and begum, we not only have rights but we also have some duties.”
     
     
    Mr Gandhi then explained the detailed procedure for filing an RTI application, the difference between mode of fee acceptable at Central government and state government and word count acceptable in Maharashtra. He also cited real-life examples, where filing of RTI application has actually helped in delivery of better governance. Instead of cribbing on civic issues, one needs to file at least one RTI application every month, he added.
     
     
    The event at Mumbai Press Club ended with a panel discussion involving Mr Gandhi, Ms Dalal and Samir Zaveri, who is well-known for his work as a Railways activist, using RTI very effectively.  
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    Election Commission disposes 2,500 online RTI Applications in Offline Mode!
    The Election Commission of India (ECI) which was found not responding to about 2,000 applications filed online on RTIOnline portal (https://rtionline.gov.in/index.php), says that all these have now been disposed in offline mode.
     
    Responding to a Moneylife article (Read: 2,000 applications remain pending, as ECI did not bother to check RTIonline portal!), Shefali Sharan, spokesperson for the Election Commission, says, "...it is stated that all RTI applications received on the RTI portal of department of personnel & training (DoPT) for ECI were disposed off, offline. There were about 2500 applications on the DoPT portal and the same have been disposed of offline. Thus these offline disposals did not get reflected on the DoPT portal." 
     
    In an order issued on 4 January 2018, Radha Krishna Mathur, the (then) chief information commissioner, stated that that despite training from DoPT and various other correspondence made with DoPT, the ECI has not opened and accessed the RTI applications or first appeals of the applicants. “The Commission further observed that it appears that the ECI did not take effective steps to ensure that the RTI applications or first appeals are not filed on the web portal of the DoPT. Further, they took no steps to access the RTI applications and first appeals, which had already got filed on DoPT RTI portal, which has resulted in piling up of the unattended RTI applications and first appeals,” the CIC had said in its order. 
     
    The story published by Moneylife was based on decision given by CIC, which observed that ECI failed to ensure effective steps for linking and listing them as public authority on RTIonline portal. Also the ECI did not consider accessing RTI applications and appeals from DoPT, which resulted in such huge pendency of applications and appeals. Though ECI stated that they are developing their own portal for RTI, they did not mention any deadline to it, the CIC observed. 
     
    The ECI, however, states, "...ECI has launched its own RTI online portal on the ECI's website on 6 June 2018. ECI has been receiving online applications on that portal and these are disposed off online. Till now about 405 applications have been made on the ECI RTI portal...kindly inform your correspondent of the facts detailed and advise him to check his facts before publishing such a story..."
     
    Commenting on this matter, Shailesh Gandhi, former central information commissioner, says, "(the) ECI seems worse than I imagined. It does not even know what it has stated and has been recorded at para 10 of the CIC order. The original sin of not accepting the online applications was bad enough. Now they compound it. What is the reliability of the organisation?"
     
    Para 10 of the CIC order issued on 4 January 2018, states "The Commission observed that the respondent, in support of their plea stated that they are developing their own portal to deal with the online RTI applications/ first appeals of the applicants. However, a deadline to launch this portal is not yet to be fixed. During the hearing, the Commission noted that till date, approx. 2000 RTI applications were pending for disposal by the ECI which are yet to be accessed from DoPT portal. It was further noted that the respondent has not taken up any special drive for the disposal of such a large number of RTI applications/ first appeals. The Commission is of the view that the respondent should launch a special drive and ensure disposal of the online RTI applications/ first appeals within deadlines as prescribed under the RTI Act."
     
    The order copy is here:-
     

     

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    COMMENTS

    dhatul

    2 years ago

    But the fact is that offline disposal was undertaken only after the above mentioned judgement of CIC. For years EC had not dealt with the RTI applications lodged online on the portal rtionline.gov.in

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