Civil society pressure may have forced the government to keep proposed changes in the Right To Information (RTI) Act in abeyance but the information officers are quietly implementing them.
The government has proposed restrictions on RTI applications that only one issue can be raised in one application and it should not be more than 250 words. But, it had to withdraw amendments following objection by RTI proponents such as National Advisory Council member Aruna Roy.
The Maharashtra government became the first state to introduce the proposed amendments silently through changes in the rules and some officers including the one in Prime Minister’s Office has refused to provide information on similar grounds.
The PMO officials asked a RTI applicant Raj Mangal Prasad of NGO Pratidhi to deposit RTI fees separately for each question he had asked. Prasad filed an appeal with transparency watchdog Central Information Commission (CIC), which said: “No request for information can be rejected only on the ground that application fee has not been paid separately”.
There have also been instances in the Central government where the public information officer had refused to provide information on an application seeking a large number of questions. Recently, a public information officer of the Planning Commission refused to accept an application running into about 100 pages and had close to 1,000 questions. “Nobody on earth can provide information on such a lengthy RTI application within the mandated one month,” an official said.
But, the Maharashtra government had gone a step ahead and notified rules that allows a RTI application to be maximum of 150 words, just 10 words less than the limit for a twitter.
The rules also say that the government departments will not entertain applications seeking replied on more than one issue. The RTI in Maharashtra has helped to expose several land scams including Adarsh Housing Society scam now being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
The RTI activists are irked at such moves and want the government to kill the RTI law through indirect ways. “The government should try to build consensus rather than harassing RTI applicants,” said Subhash Chandra Aggarwal, a Delhi based RTI activist.