Activist finds holes in RTI rules

Proposed amendment criticised for being harsh on applicants

A proposed amendment in the Right to Information Act may end up diluting the Act, according to an RTI activist.

The amendment will make it mandatory for an appellant to be present in person or send a representative during case hearing by the Centre of Information Centre (CIC).

“The appellant may be present in person, through an authorised representative or through video conferencing at the time of hearing of the appeal by the CIC,” states a notification on this amendment by the department of personnel and training (DOPT) on July 31.

“Where the CIC is satisfied with the existing circumstances due to which the appellant is unable to attend the hearing, then it may afford another opportunity of hearing before a final decision is taken,” the notification stated.

However, RTI activist Lokesh Batra, who has been following discussions on RTI amendments since 2010, said this notification has not been posted officially on DoPT’s website. Batra said not giving an appellant the option to attend one’s hearing — which was allowed earlier — will lead to people filing less number of RTI applications.

“Earlier, the appellate authority, usually a judge, would come to a decision after going through documents submitted by the appellant and then send a written reply,” said Batra. Now, the amendment states that if the appellant cannot make it to the hearing of the case, then the person should send at least a representative.

“There is also no mention about audio conferencing (telephone call), which used to be allowed. How will it be possible for people living across the country or even abroad to appear for hearing?” said Batra.

“The commissions are located in New Delhi and people from different parts of the country will have to come to the Capital to attend hearings, and that too at personal cost,” he said.

Another amendment which Batra feels does not make sense is that a public authority may allow any representative or any related officer to present their side of the case.

Batra said this clause will violate the provisions of the RTI Act, Section 19(5), which states: “In any appeal proceedings, the onus to prove that a denial of a request was justified shall be on the central public information officer (CPIO) or the state public information officer, as the case may be, who denied the request.”

Batra said in the proposed rule, the CPIO need not be present during hearing and instead, the public authority can depute a representative or another official. “The result will be that lawyers who can represent the CPIOs at taxpayers’ cost or a junior official will be deputed by the public authority, contravening the Act,” he added.

He said the Rs 50 postal fee and 500-word limit in RTI applications are not good.
“But it is clearly mentioned in the notification that one can’t reject an RTI application for crossing the 500-word limit,” he said.

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