The Congress on Monday accused the NDA Government of trying to “formalise the process of subverting” the Right to Information Act, 2005. The Department of Personnel and Training has invited comments on a new set of Draft Rules to implement the RTI Act.
“Ever since this government has taken over, there has been an attitude of acted neglect towards the RTI; not only were RTI queries not answered but even the appeal processes have been very cavalierly treated. There has been a non-formal attempt over the past 34 months to scuttle the RTI Act,” said Congress Spokesperson Manish Tewari at a press conference. Now, through the draft rules, the BJP-led NDA Government seemed to be only formalising the subversion of the legislation, he added.
The new draft rules may look innocuous but the devil lies in the detail. The provisions would make it difficult for an applicant to get a reply and provides a lot of discretion to the authority to reject the applications on flimsy grounds. Worse, it could endanger RTI activists at risk, said Tiwari. He pointed out a few instances where the new rules subvert the noble intent of the Act:
- If an RTI Activist application is “ordinarily” above 500 words, that RTI application can be rejected. That is, it puts discretion in the hands of the public authority that if the word count is exceeded, that is enough reason to refuse an RTI reply.
- There has been a steep hike in charges to make the RTI paradigm difficult for ordinary people to be able to access it. For instance, earlier ₹1 was nominally charged per page for photo copy; that has been doubled. Also, actual price has to be paid with regard to larger photo copy and even the cost of postage for the reply as well. Earlier, under the 2012 Rules, it was the Government's responsibility would bear the cost of a reply; now that paradigm has been reversed.
- If a query is not neatly typed in double space, then it could be rejected. Wouldn’t this deter the poor from filing an RTI application? Or, rather, another flimsy ground to reject it.
- There would be an abatement of proceedings if the applicant dies. Now, this is a dangerous one. RTI activists are extremely apprehensive that this will increase the number of attacks which are taking place and which have resulted in the unfortunate death of many RTI activists.
- The public authority of the First Appellate can file counter appeals which essentially means that it becomes a judicial proceeding. That is, an applicant would file for an Appeal if not happy with the outcome of an RTI application. Now the authority, who rejected the application, will be allowed to file a counter to that which means that the whole process becomes more contested and the possibility of being able to get information in the requisite time frame may almost end up doubling.
“The entire RTI regimen is sought to be constricted, suffocated and finally subverted. These rules must be contested and opposed. No dilution should be allowed in the entire RTI structure,” said Tewari.
Tewari pointed out that during the UPA government’s tenure, there were raging debates on file noting not to be made public, only the end product should be made public. “We did not allow that dilution to take place irrespective of the fact that we were at the receiving end of some things which were taken out of context,”he said.
“The NDA Government is either apprehensive that if the RTI paradigm has not diluted, a lot of things may come out in the public space which may not be very well disposed towards them or it is just hubris, at times in the arrogance of power which is one of the translations of hubris, people try and are completely dictatorial in their behaviour,” the former minister said.
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