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NAC suggestions on RTI rejected

In yet another setback to Sonia Gandhi headed NAC, the government has rejected most of its recommendations on the proposed RTI rules saying they could not be implemented and will compound problems for babus in implementing the law. Chetan Chauhan reports.

delhi Updated: Jan 26, 2011 23:45 IST
Chetan Chauhan

In yet another setback to Sonia Gandhi headed National Advisory Council (NAC), the government has rejected most of its recommendations on the proposed Right To Information (RTI) rules saying they could not be implemented and will compound problems for babus in implementing the law.

The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), which implements the transparency RTI law, sounds defiant by saying that most of the NAC suggestions are not feasible under law and will compound problems of the Public Information Officers.

The government has already rejected NAC recommendation on National Food Security law and linking wages under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Guarantee Scheme to mining wages Act.

The DoPT's reply to be discussed at NAC's next meeting on February 26 is third blow to NAC within the past few weeks.

The NAC wanted the DoPT to delete a provision that an RTI application should not be more than 250 words and should deal with one subject as it will harm the interest of the poor and less educated people. Most RTI activists said the provision limit citizens right to seek information.

But, the department took a different view and said such a provision was must to ensure that the Central Public Information Officers can implement the law effectively.

"For poor and less educated the PIOs can always help in filing the application," the DoPT has told the NAC.

Another reason given was that not prescribing the word limit was leading to unnecessary information being sought such as interpretations or solutions to the problem.

"There is a need to strike a balance and retain focus on specific issues," the department said in almost two page response to the provision.

The DoPT was also adamant that the PIOs should be allowed to charge up to Rs 50 per application for postage charges as providing bulky information results in due financial burden on the government.

"It will act as a disincentive as a cost of seeking information will be around Rs 100 as even photocopy costs are being doubled," said RTI activist Lokesh Batra.

But, the DoPT has accepted the council's recommendation that public authorities should not be allowed to charge money for obtaining the information such diverting services of employees to get the information. There will be a specific provision to prohibit such a practice.

On the sensitive issue of death of RTI activists, the DoPT has refused to delete a provision in the proposed rules which allows abatement of an application or an appeal in case of death of an application. The NAC had said that this provision should be deleted, as it will encourage killing of those seeking sensitive information using RTI.

Continuing its definitive no to NAC's proactive suggestions such as to make the information commissions more affective by prescribing time limit for them to decide cases, the DoPT said it will require an amendment in the RTI Act itself.

The Department has, however, accepted the NAC suggestion that instead of authenticated documents the appellate authorities should accept self-attested documents.

NAC versus the DoPT

Proposed RTI Rules
Information to be sought on subject and maximum 250 words
NAC: Delete the provision, as it will harm interest of poor and less educated people
DoPT: As applicant does not require togive explanation, 250 word limit is justified. Only educated people file lengthy applications. Short applications will help babus in providing information.

Proposed RTI Rules
Actual amount spent by public authority to supply information should be charged from the applicant.
NAC: Delete the section.
DoPT: Accepted NAC suggestion but wanted that up to Rs 50 for postal expenses should be charged.

Proposed RTI Rules
The Information Commission should not admit an appeal unless it is satisfied that the appellant had availed of all the remedies available.
NAC: The Commission can misuse the provision and should be removed
DoPT: The provision is sort of reminder to applicants that they should not directly make an appeal with the commission.

Proposed RTI Rules
Public authority can authorize any officer to represent it before CIC
NAC: The PIO should be personally liable for the cost of legal representation
DoPT: Not practical, as public authority has to be decide who will represent in light of the facts