RTI Reveals Government Doesn’t Know Who Is an NRI
Not too long ago, that is, on 8 August 2018, in response to an unstarred question in the Lok Sabha on the subject of ‘Online RTI Applications,’ Dr Jitendra Singh, minister of state in the prime minister’s office (PMO), had  stated that only citizens of India have the right to seek information under the provisions of the Rght to Information (RTI) Act, 2005. “Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) are not eligible to file an RTI application,” he is reported to have stated. Would that mean the NRIs are not citizens of India? In that case, what is the government’s definition of an NRI?
 
Delhi-based RTI activist, commodore (Cmde) Lokesh Batra (retd) filed an RTI application with the department of personnel and training (DoPT) after the minister’s statement to get some clarity on the definition of an NRI. He states, “As I understand it, NRIs are very much citizens of India, holding an Indian passport, but whose stay abroad exceeds 182 days in any financial year. Thus, NRIs also have the right to seek information under the provision of the RTI Act, 2005.”
 
In fact, the government, in its circular in 2013 had stated under ‘Right of NRIs’ that “…under the current provisions of the RTI Act, NRIs can file RTI applications seeking information 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.” Despite this, the minister made a statement, in August 2018, that NRIs cannot file an RTI application, although they have been given the facility in over 176 countries through missions and posts.
  
In the RTI requisition to the DoPT, the information that Cmde Batra sought through email, soon after the minister’s statement, was:
 
  • Definition of an NRI;
  • Certified scanned copies of a complete set of documents and notings relevant to Lok Sabha unstarred question No. 3535, starting from the time the question was first received in DoPT up to the time a response was finalised and forwarded to the Parliament (Lok Sabha). 
 
As DoPT failed to provide the information, Cmde Batra filed a complaint to the chief information commissioner (CIC) saying that, since the DoPT did not respond to his RTI application, it should be treated as deemed refusal to provide information as per Section 7(2) of the RTI Act. Hence, he appealed to the CIC to inquire into the matter and take appropriate action and also impose penalties under Section 20(1) & 20(2) of the RTI Act.
 
Cmde Batra also filed a complaint with Deepa Jain, under secretary, MEA protesting against the non-reply to his RTI requisition. She replied to Cmde Batra thus: “Reference your trailing mail dated 25 September 2018 in the matter of your RTI application. It may be noted that your application was received in this ministry for point (a) i.e. "Definition of an NRI" through DoP&T which was initially transferred to Under Secretary (US) (Coordination) in MEA and now has been forwarded to the concerned CPIO, i.e., Lakshmikant Kumbhar, US (OIA-II), Room No. 1023, Akbar Bhawan, New Delhi, Tel: 24197930, Email: [email protected] Reply would be sent by the above-mentioned CPIO to you directly. Deposition of additional fee (if required) would also be intimated to you by them.”
 
To that, Mr Kumbhar wrote back to Ms Jain stating, “Information requested by Commodore Lokesh Batra about the definition of NRI does not pertain to OIA-II Division. This division deals with the welfare of NRIs. Hence, I have transferred (online) the RTI request to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), which deals with the citizenship issue. You may advise the DoPT accordingly.”
 
Cmde Batra pointed out to Ms Jain:  “With reference to your trailing post, the division that deals with the welfare of NRIs, ought to know, if their target persons (availing welfare measures) are Indian citizens, holding Indian passports OR are they persons of Indian origin but have changed the citizenship and are holding foreign passports (after surrendering their Indian passports)? The entire issue is related to the eligibility of NRIs for filing RTI applications under the RTI Act.”
 
Cmde Batra also pointed out that, in 2013, when eIPO facilities for filing RTI in most Indian missions abroad were made available for Indians residing abroad, the term NRIs was used by the MEA. To prove his point, he provided a 23-page document which the MEA and the PMO had sent him, when he had earlier asked for these documents in 2013. He pointed out that the deliberations with MHA concluded that NRIs are Indian citizens. 
 
Says an exasperated Cmde Batra, “On the 39th day of my RTI application dated 27 August 2018, the MEA again forwarded my application to Lakshmikant Kumbhar, US(OIA-II) & CPIO, MEA and to Pramod Kumar, Director (Foreigners) & CPIO, MHA. I need this information as, despite the record in 2013 wherein NRIs have been given the right to file RTI applications in Indian missions abroad, why is the minister contradicting it in the Lok Sabha?” 
 
Commodore Batra is patiently waiting for the CIC hearing.
 
 
(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.)
Comments
Dipakkumar J Shah
3 years ago
When we talked about this for Law, even Registrar of Companies Gujarat , Ministry of Corporate Affairs and all offices can not understand what is Fraud? Mere Book entry of Profit and much more frauds? See Gujarat High Court case Company Petition No 17/1996 Merger case Judgment of Ratnamani Engineering Limited where full fraud proved on records by documents and done a way with disposed off. Registrar of Companies Gave consent to Fraud? Advocates like Chartered Accountant Converted As Advocate Mr Saurabh N Soparkar , Mrs Soparkar, Mr Jayant N Patel Central Government Counsel ( then Turned to Justice in Gujarat High Court all joined hands with Justice Mr Mohit Shah order worth noting How cases are handled by Hon. Justices in Court . Very open fact. I was also one of the objector on record, no notice was given to me? Also moreover in Judgment written that 4 objectors had filed Pursis of withdrawal of their objection? Pusis are not on record on file. Many material documents are not in file .Just like pigeons feathers are there.?!!
Ashok ashok
3 years ago
People are losing faith in all govt schemes since nothing is reaching the needy and actually the way govt is functioning looks like it will be hard to repeat .Very sad to say that Modi should have taken more interest in giving a more transparent govt and not a similar one
Satish Mathew
3 years ago
Very sad reading this news
Losing faith in police and judiciary.
Hemant Chitale
3 years ago
RBI has one definition under the FEMA.
The Income Tax Dept has one definition under the Income Tax Act.
The Aadhar Act has a definition of "Resident" (but not of "Non Resident").
bharati
3 years ago
Also suggest ALL govt employees learn to write as simply as possible. Deepa Jain's reply shows this necessity. All writing should be clear and edited to remove ALL unnecessary words.
bharati
3 years ago
Only Indians citizens can be NRIs when they stay abroad for so many days.

How can foreign citizens of whatever origin be NRIs?
OCI is a life long visa to India forIndian origin people, with the same rights and duties like Indian nationals who are residents. Only they cannot join the forces ro stand for elections.
V Ramesh
3 years ago
The definition of an NRI has been very elusive. I can think of three categories of NRIs.
1) People holding Indian passports, but living abroad.
2) People of Indian origin, with foreign passports, living abroad. Some of these people may have OCI cards.
3) People of Indian origin, with foreign passports, living in India. These people may or may not have OCI cards.
Government of India, and the RBI, never had a unified definition of an NRI.
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