The government may have refrained from amending the Right to Information Act after Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s intervened, but it has found a subtler way to refuse information.
Public authorities can refuse information in a particular format on the ground that “it would disproportionately divert the resources of a public authority” or that it “can be detrimental to the safety or preservation of the records”.
The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), the nodal office for RTI law, has said the section 7 (9) of the RTI law gives right to a public authority to deny information if it leads to diversion of resources disproportionately.
In a circular issued this week, the department also rules out the possibility of the public authority asking the RTI applicant to pay for diversion of public resources to get the information in the sought format.
Seeking a charge for diversion of resources was often used by Central Public Information Officers (CPIOs) to deter RTI applicants. In one case, the Delhi Police had asked for Rs 20,000 for providing some information.
While that has been termed illegal, the DoPT has provided a more lethal tool to CPIOs —that is to deny information. The department said information sought in a particular format can be refused.
The circular was issued in response to transparency watchdog Central Information Commission asking the government to frame rules for charging fees for providing information that is priced and towards mailing charges.
“The government has not considered it desirable to charge fees towards expenditure involved in mailing information or overhead expenditure,” the circular said.