Sunday, April 29, 2012

Will the Government Kill the RTI Act?

RTI applications now expensive and difficult; will the move kill the act? Reported by Sidharth Pandey Updated: April 29, 2012 16:00 IST
New Delhi: It was hailed as the UPA's big achievement when the Right to Information Act was passed in 2005. Now it seems like state governments and public authorities across the country are making it increasingly expensive and at times a virtually impossible task for people to seek information.
In states like Chhattisgarh, the Vidhan Sabha or state assembly has recently hiked the fees for information to Rs500 for each query. This means, that anyone asking questions like details of how many days their elected representatives have attended the assembly, or the expenditure on their foreign trips, will have to shell out 500 rupees each time. That's 50 times the price as envisaged under the original 2005 RTI Act. The Uttar Pradesh assembly has been asking 500 rupees for years now.
It doesn't stop there; in fact citizens should avoid asking for any photocopied documents from the Chattisgarh assembly unless they are ready to pay 15 rupees per page as charges to the assembly. That's 15 times the market rate for photocopying.
Will the move to make RTI applications expensive kill the act?
RTI applications now expensive and difficult
So while in some states the cost of applying for information has become expensive, other states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh have set a word limit to just 150 words.
It now seems that Madhya Pradesh too is about to set a word limit and also double the fees for seeking information from Rs. 10 to Rs. 20.
The justification to hiking fees and limiting queries given by various authorities is that the move is aimed at curbing frivolous applications that end up over burdening government officers with answering frivolous applications. But these changes in the rules have not gone too well with activists who have been fighting to strengthen it.
Shekhar Singh, the coordinator for the non profit organisation, National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI), says the present and proposed changes may be ok in the letter but not in the spirit of the law. Singh, who was a key player in drafting the 2005 landmark information act, says that citizens should challenge the change in rules.
"Even if we agree to the Rs. 28 income a day, as the line that divides the poor according to the planning commission that means a person will have to save his entire months income just to file one RTI. It in effect takes away a person's fundamental right indirectly" explained Singh.
But changing rules is one thing, changing the act is another.
"More and more exemption provisions are being made than what are there are in the original law and this is not acceptable," said Satyanand Mishra, India's Central Information Commissioner (CIC).
As the CIC, it's Mishra's job to ensure that the RTI is implemented across the country. He also plays the role of chief referee between information seekers and public authorities, often ruling on appeals filed by citizens who have been denied information by officers.
But increasingly he's had to pass orders asking public authorities to not only give information to citizens but also re-look at the changes made by them which have altered the nature of the law.
The RTI is heralded as one of the most important laws since independence, by civil rights campaigners. It's allowed ordinary citizens get a host of basic services from water connections to passports. But now with many states and authorities making this process difficult and expensive, the RTI could soon be a mere act in government books.
Government intent to kill the RTI Act

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