Critics Score Proposed New Rules for Indian RTI Act

31 December 2010

Critics are weighing in against proposed amendments to the rules for the Information Right to Information Act that among other things would set a 250 word limit for each request and to raise fees.

These and other proposals have draw fire from many RTI activists and recently from the Working Group on Transparency, Accountability and Governance under the National Advisory Council (NAC), chaired NAC member Aruna Roy.

“The NAC felt that the current provision that there should be a limit of 250 words for any request for information and that it relate only to one subject only should be deleted. The argument that are cited in its favour are that people may try to harass PIOs by writing a 10-page request but in reality if anyone wishes to harass, he may well do by writing 150 applications in the 250 word limit too,” said Nikhil Dey of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI), according to a report in The Times of India.

The paper further reported;

He added that the limitation on words will go against rural applicants. “Till now, there has been no precedence of such harassment and survey shows that only 2% of the total applications received were of this nature,”  he said.

The NAC has also sought deletion of Rule 13 pertaining to the withdrawal of an appeal as the section was allegedly being used by some for blackmailing persons on whom information was being sought. Charging of unreasonable fees such as salary of staff, hiring equipment cost etc from the information seeker was also sought to be done away.

But primarily the sub-group decided that all amendments to RTI rules must be based on extensive public consultations and where public objections or suggestions are ignored, the reasons must be made public. It also decided that the information commissions should have complete freedom to select its staff and allocate work and responsibility.

Some of the other changes in the ruled sought by the NAC include for non-rejection of appeals because of lack of self-attestation and verification of attached documents, or missing documents; announcing of order of the commission in open court.

The working group also felt the need for some additional rules such as disposal of second appeal or complaints within 90 days, no time limit to file complaints with the information commission, formulation of rules to ensure compliance of orders of information commissions, provisions for penalties to be noted in the PIO’ service record in case he fails to give proper information etc.

When the government proposed the rule amendments in early December, it requested comments by Dec. 27.

Detailed reactions are coming in, such as these draft comments from the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.

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