Word Limit Imposed on Indian RTI Requesters

13 August 2012

The Indian government has placed a limit of 500 words on the length of applications under the Right to Information Act and has established a new form for making appeals to the Central Information Commission.

The new rule, issued July 31 by the Department of Personnel and Training, also requires that appellants or their representative to appear before the CIC in person or through video-conferencing.

Requests “shall be accompanied by a fee of Rs 10 and shall ordinarily not contain more than 500 words, excluding annexures, containing address of the Central Public Information Officer and that of the applicant,” the new rules state, while also indicating that applications can’t be rejected for crossing the 500-word limit. Until now there has been no word limit.

No fee will be charged for those below the poverty line, but such applicants now will be required to provide proof.

Also, applicants will have to pay additional postal charges “involved in supply of information that exceeds Rs 50.”

Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra told Hindustan Times that more discipline in the appeals process is necessary with growing number of appeals has gone up, commenting that “it has become extremely difficult for us to cope with incomplete, and sometimes illegible appeals.”

Negative Reaction

“It is a cruel joke on all the people,” said RTI activist Lokesh Batra, according to an article done by IBN, and was also quoted in The Deccan Herald. “Earlier, the appellate authority, usually a judge, would come to a decision after going through documents submitted by the appellant and then send a written reply,” said Batra. Having to appear or send a representative will make it harder for requesters, he said, voicing doubt about the feasibility of the audio conferencing option.

A blog post Aug. 11 by Chetan Chauhan in the Hindustan Times states, “Although the central government had been trying dilution of the transparency law for years, it succeeded to some extent this week through new Right to Information (RTI) Rules 2012.

“The new rule supersedes the Central Information Commission (Appeal Procedure) Rules, 2005 and the Right to Information (Regulation of Fees and Cost) Rules, 2005 and was issued without any prior consultation with civil society or citizens,” Chauhan wrote.

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