Today, my colleagues and I emailed our letter to Mr R K Girdhar, Under Secretary, DOPT at USRTI-DOPT @NIC.IN
Only 24 hours remain for filing your objections, so please do so urgently. To present your thoughts, you may suitably alter our draft, which you can download here: http://tinyurl.com/DOPTletter2
The content of this letter is also copy-pasted below for your convenience.
Knowing the views of other activists will be useful. You will find a few in this folder http://tinyurl.com/RTIopinions1
DRAFT OF OUR LETTER
Shri R K Girdhar
Department of Personnel & Training (DOPT)
Sub: Our objections to proposed amendments to RTI Rules, and desired changes
We refer to your OM dated 10th December 2010, soliciting comments for the proposed rules. Our comments are as under:
First and foremost, we are alarmed that the proposed amendments dilute the powers given to citizens by RTI Act 2005, and arbitrarily impose dos-and-don’ts on citizens. Why has DOPT not made any rules to ensure compliance with RTI Act Section 4 (suo moto disclosure norms), despite five years of dismal compliance? Why has DOPT not proposed any rules to enforce public authorities’ compliance with Information Commission’s orders? Such a bias shows the Union government in a bad light. It appears to us that stung by disclosures of its misdoings due to the efforts of RTI activists, the government is trying to curb their powers.
Our objections to specific Rules are as below:
1. RULE 3: Appointment of Secretary to the Commission. “The Government shall appoint an officer not below the rank of Additional Secretary to the Government of India as Secretary to the Commission who shall be the Chief Executive Officer and Registrar General of the Commission.”
a) Undefined powers. The powers of “Secretary”, “Registrar-General” and “Chief Executive Officer” are defined neither in the RTI Act nor the proposed Rules, and are therefore open to interpretation. The term Chief Executive Officer suggests that he would have sweeping powers in the affairs of the Central Information Commission.
b) Conflict of interest. The person being placed in this position with sweeping powers would belong to the IAS cadre, and he would continue to be part of the cadre. This signals a conflict of interest, as the Commission is intended to act as a watchdog over the Union Govt. and administration in respect of RTI Act.
c) A parallel authority to Chief Information Commissioner. Nowhere is it said that he will work under the directions of the Chief Information Commissioner. The Secretary / Registrar General / Chief Executive Officer appointed by the government would (for reasons detailed above) potentially have undue control over the documents and affairs of the Commission, and constitute a parallel authority – a challenge to the authority of the Chief Information Commissioner. This has all the makings of an unwholesome situation.
OUR DEMAND: Frame rules specifying that…
(i) Chief Information Commissioner will appoint Secretary or Registrar-General, who will work under his directions and supervision.
(ii) The Secretary or Registrar General should have worked for some years as registrar or sub-registrar in the judiciary.
2. RULE 4: Request for Information. … “Provided that the request for information shall relate only to one subject matter and shall be limited to two hundred and fifty words, excluding the address of the Central Public Information Officer and the address of the applicant.”
a) ‘Subject matter’ is undefined and vague. “Subject matter” is not defined in the Act or in the Rules, and is therefore open to interpretation and endless debate. Disputes regarding whether an RTI application concerns one subject matter or two would not only lead to delay and denial of information, it would also cause increase in the number of appeals and complaints. E.g., If RTI applicant asks for statistics of births and deaths from a municipal hospital, PIO can argue that ‘birth’ and ‘death’ are two different subject matters.
b) “Two hundred and fifty words” is vague. “Words” is an undefined term that can raise several debates, such as: Is “edible-oils-depot” to be counted as one, two or three words for the purpose of this calculation? Is “Rs 1,500” one word or two words? Is “Managing Director” to be counted as two words? Will used short forms such as “i.e.”, “e.g.”, “viz.”, “etc.” be counted or not counted as one word? Will serial numbers of questions be counted as words?
c) The limit of 250 words is apparently arbitrary. On what basis was 250 words taken as a cut-off point? Did DOPT conduct a survey for the purpose of determining a word-limit? Did it receive complaints, suggestions or recommendations concerning the word-count? If so, it should take the community of RTI users into confidence.
OUR DEMAND: Delete this rule.
3. RULE 5 (g): Fees for providing information. “Fee for providing information … shall be charged at the following rates: the actual amount spent by public authority on hiring a machine or any other equipment, if any, to supply information.”
a) Several terms are vague and undefined. If the PIO of a district panchayat has to engage an auto-rickshaw to go to the nearest Xerox centre, will the rickshaw be counted as “machine” or “equipment”, and the charge be imposed on the RTI appellant? If, in a far-away village with only one Xerox shop, the copying charges are Rs 5 per page, will that be the amount charged to an RTI applicant? If that is so, then why must an RTI applicant in Mumbai pay Rs 2 per page, although the market rate varies between 75 paise and Re 1? Such rules can only lead to debates and endless appeals.
OUR DEMAND: Delete this rule.
4. SEC 14: Personal presence of the appellant before the Commission as against “Personal presence of the appellant or complainant” in Rule 7 of existing RTI rules.
Repeatedly omitting the term “or complainant” from proposed Rule 14 (Rule 7 of existing rules) effectively changes the interpretation of the Act. When read with Rule 11 (detailed below in point no. 5), omission of this term from all sub-Rules of Rule 14, which corresponds to Rule 7 in the existing Rules, seems like a deliberate and mala fide attempt to cut off the RTI applicants’ recourse to the unique remedies offered under Rule 18 of the RTI Act.
OUR DEMAND: Insert the term “or complainant” after the term “appellant”, wherever the latter term is used.
5. Rule 11(2) and (3): Admission of appeals. (2) The Commission SHALL NOT ADMIT AN APPEAL UNLESS IT IS SATISFIED THAT THE APPELLANT HAD AVAILED OF ALL THE REMEDIES AVAILABLE TO HIM UNDER THE ACT. (3) For the purposes of sub-rule (2), A PERSON SHALL BE DEEMED TO HAVE AVAILED OF ALL THE REMEDIES AVAILABLE TO HIM UNDER THE ACT:
(a) IF HE HAD FILED AN APPEAL BEFORE THE FIRST APPELLATE AUTHORITY and the First Appellate Authority or any other person competent to pass order on such appeal had made a final order on the appeal; or
(b) where no final order has been made by the First Appellate Authority with regard to the appeal preferred, and a period of 45 days from the date on which such appeal was preferred has expired.
The proposed amendment amounts to cancelling the citizen’s discretionary power (conferred by the RTI Act) to bypass the first appellate authority and file a complaint directly before the commission under RTI Act Sec 18. Furthermore, the amendment would nullify RTI Act Sec 18 by compelling frustrated RTI appellants to file a first appeal, and then requiring them to label even complaints as “Second Appeal u/s 19(3)”.
OUR DEMAND: Delete this rule.
IN ADDITION TO THE ABOVE-MENTIONED, PLEASE MAKE THE BELOW RULES:
1) For the purpose of compliance with RTI Act Section 4 — suo moto disclosure norms – the head of the concerned public authority will be considered as the PIO, and action u/s 20 will be recommended by the Information Commission as they think fit.
2) For the purpose of compliance with Information Commission’s orders, make a rule that public authority must send compliance report to the Commission within a month after deducting penalty, initiating disciplinary action, giving information etc.
Sir, your proposed rules have some good features (on which we have not commented here), but these are outweighed by the above objectionable features. The overall effect of the proposed rules is to weaken the implementation of the RTI Act, and reduce the power of civil society to combat unaccountability and corruption. We urge Govt. of India to desist from notifying this draft of RTI rules, until the above-mentioned changes have been carried out.
With Best Wishes,
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