The Chhattisgarh legislative assembly has decided to charge Rs 500 as application fee to acquire information on the secretariat of the Vidhan Sabha under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. This is 50 times more than the application fee of Rs10 that is prescribed or charged in various government departments across the country.
Details on the attendance of the MLAs, expenses incurred on each MLA per day during the session of the House, the number of foreign tours organised for MLAs, gifts given to legislators and their staff, issues taken up by various committees, their findings and the follow-up action are some of the things that can be acquired through RTI applications.
If the applicant wants to procure documents, an additional fee of Rs15 per page will be charged. The fee for all other government departments is just Rs 2. If applicants want to only go through the documents, they will be charged Rs50 for the first hour and Rs10 for every 15 minutes after that.
The “negative” move has drawn severe criticism from activists who feel that a high fee will discourage genuine applicants.
“The state assembly should lead by example showing more transparency but this is extremely sad. The state information commission should take suo-motu cognizance in the interest of people,” said Prateek Pandey, RTI activist and convener of Chhattisgarh Citizen Initiative.
The state information commission refuses to arbitrate. “We have no authority to comment or intervene on such decisions,” Serjius Minj, chief information commissioner, told HT.
Another activist Sanjay Thakur criticised the state assembly for bringing out the notification after nearly five years. “Instead of pro-actively facilitating the disclosure of as many information as possible the attitude is frustrating,” said Thakur.
The Vidhan Sabha secretary Devendra Verma however justified the decision.
“The assembly already functions as information dissemination institution whenever it remains in sessions. So why encourage those who just file applications with ulterior motive?” Verma said.