Do not amend or dilute Right to Information Act sign now

Govt pitches contentious protocols for RTI applications - Sunday, December 12, 2010

RTI applications may now be limited to 250 words and to only one topic if the rules for processing of such applications suggested by the Department of Personnel may find their way through.

According to proposed amendments in the RTI rules, the DOPT, nodal body for implementing the Act in the country, has said each application will be limited to 250 words excluding the address of the public authority and applicant. It will also be limited to only one subject matter.

Even more surprising is the fact that RTI applicants will have to pay the "actual amount" spent by public authority on hiring a machine or any other equipment, if any, to supply information.

The rules will be a modification of the present RTI (regulation of fee and cost) rules, 2005 and the central information commission (appeal procedure) rules, 2005.

The rules have resulted in furore among RTI activists who say that they will be of no good to semi-literate and illiterate people who are the main users of the law.

"Though Comments being sought from Civil Society though in accordance with Section 4(1)(c) of the RTI Act, however this notification gets limited to only those who are net friendly and that too only two weeks time given," Commodore (Retd) Lokesh Batra said.

He said people from rural areas who do not have Internet access will be devoid of sending their views on the subject.

"Putting a word limit of 250 words will obstruct the Right to Information. There was no need for such limits on word usage," said Subhash Agrawal, another RTI activist.

"The new rules widen the ambit of discretionary use by the concerned Public Information Officer who can reject the applications summarily," Venkatesh Nayak of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative said.

He asked how can the Government set a limit of words especially when same set of questions in different languages will require different word usage.

He also said legally the process of RTI starts when application is submitted to a PIO. "The State cannot dictate the user to set word limit before process starts" he said.

RTI queries not beyond 250 words - Times of India and Economic Times Sunday, December 12, 2010

In what is seen to be another attempt to tame the Right to Information Act, the government has in a recent notification recommended RTI applicants keep their application to just one subject and also limit the query to only 250 words.

Citizens asking for information under RTI may also have to pay charges that the public authority has incurred if it needs to hire equipment used in gathering and providing information.

The proposed rules have been drafted by the department of personnel and training (DoPT) and public comments are invited till December 27. The rules have been drafted after a Delhi High Court order rejected the Central Information Commission's powers to draft rules on RTI.

The DoPT move has worried activists who feel the rules limit the empowering RTI legislation.

"These are a major policy shift and not pro-RTI. They restrict citizens' fundamental right to freedom of information and can be misused by public information officers as they place enormous discretion in the hands of the PIO to decide what constitutes one subject matter and what doesn't," CHRI's Venkatesh Nayak said.

In its draft rules, DoPT has also allowed that a public authority can accept fees by cash, demand draft, bankers cheque and electronic transfers or any other means as well. Activists feel that this rule is loosely worded and can allow RTI recipients to pick means of payment and in effect block queries.

RTI activists fear the provision calling for an appellant to be represented through an "authorised representative" may be misused.

"The earlier provision said that the authorised representative other than a lawyer could be present. This has been removed to include only authorised representative, which may be interpreted by public authorities to depute lawyers to argue cases," Nayak said.

RTI activist S C Agrawal, who has been instrumental in making assets of Cabinet ministers public, said, "It is definitely an obstruction in implementation of the RTI Act."

This is not the first time that the government has tried to narrow the interpretation of the legislation. There was a move last year (in 2009) to introduce amendments to the RTI Act to reject an application on the basis of being "frivolous and "vexatious" and to exempt Cabinet papers from the purview of the act. However, the government move to restrict RTI met with little success as information commissioners and citizens rejected the amendments.

Govt proposes new RTI rule: Ask, but only in 250 words, on only one subject - Indian Express Sunday, December 12, 2010

The government has proposed new rules that require a Right to Information (RTI) application to be restricted to 250 words and only one subject. There's no word cap currently, and applicants can seek information on any number of subjects in a single application.

The 250 words do not include addresses of the Central Public Information Officer and the applicant. The proposed rules require the applicant to pay postal charges above Rs 10 incurred by authorities in replying to the application.

Applicants do not currently pay postal charges. They pay Rs 10 when filing the application.

RTI activists said the proposed rules will dilute the landmark legislation.

"By restricting the application to 250 words the government will make it difficult for the common man to seek information, said Noida-based RTI activist Lokesh Batra. This act is meant even for illiterates, how can you expect people to follow such a tight word limit? Everyone is not capable of summarising thoughts so well."

Delhi-based Anil Sood said the proposal was a "clear attempt to create grey areas in a transparent law and allow scope for harassment of applicants".

RTI amendment: Sonia, PM not on same page? April 10, 2010, 03.26am IST

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi had firmly resisted changes to the RTI Act despite the government being keen to tinker with the transparency legislation, it was revealed in an RTI reply.

Amendments to the RTI Act considered one of the most significant achievements of the UPA have been under controversy for some time now with activists protesting against government's move to exempt disclosure of Cabinet papers, internal discussions and judiciary.

Ms. Sonia, in a letter dated November 10, 2009, had voiced this concern adding that the government should "refrain from accepting or introducing changes in the legislation... in my opinion there is no need for changes or amendments".

The letter, accessed under RTI by activist S C Agrawal, said, "It will of course take time before the momentum generated by the Act makes for greater transparency and accountability in the structures of the government. But the process has begun and it must be strengthened... It is important, therefore, that we adhere strictly to its original aims and refrain from accepting or introducing changes in legislation on the way it is implemented that would dilute its purpose. In my opinion, there is no need for changes or amendments. The only exceptions permitted such as national security, are already well taken care of in the legislation." She, in fact, said that lack of training of government staff, inadequate record maintenance and harassment of applicants and lack of awareness needed to be addressed.

RTI amendments: A retrograde step

The UPA government's move to amend sections of the Right to Information Act (RTI) negates the very purpose for which the Act has been passed.

That the CJI is also a public authority and therefore comes under the jurisdiction of the Act has been found unpalatable by the supreme court, within five years of its passing.

The amendment would demean the interests of the information seeker.

PM for amendment of RTI Act April 9th, 2010

Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who played a key role in the enactment of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, thinks it is "changing people's lives" and that it does not require any changes.

"The RTI Act is now four years old. Much has been achieved in these initial years and while there are still problems of proper implementation, the RTI has begun to change the lives of our people and the ways of governance in our country," wrote Sonia Gandhi in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Nov 10, 2009.

CJI office comes under transparency law, rules three-judge bench

Delhi High Court Judgement on Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Judicial independence not the personal privilege or prerogative of an individual judge

Judiciary of undisputed integrity is the bedrock institution for democracy and rule of law

Democracy expects openness and openness is concomitant of a free society. Sunlight is the best disinfectant

Scandal in judiciary more deplorable than scandals in the executive or legislature

Judges of the higher judiciary are as accountable as judges of a trial court

Judge must keep himself absolutely above suspicion

Even I-T returns and medical records can be disclosed if there is a public interest

Public authorities should make info available suo motu

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    Non-abusive 1 1023 characters asking the public to bare the cost of RTI inquiry will discourage the citizens, also this will lead to subversion.
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Hon'ble Supreme Court, PM, President, Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT), Central Information Commission (CIC), Cabinet Ministers, Ministers of State & Members of the Parliament or MPs (Lok Sabha LS / Lower House & Rajya Sabha RS / Upper House)


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