Dwarka Forum’s objections to proposed amendments to RTI Rules, and desired changes

We refer to your (Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions Department of Personnel Training) OM dated 10th December 2010, soliciting comments for the proposed rules. Our comments are as under:

Dear Sirs,
Dwarka, the largest Sub-city in Asia is meant to accommodate a population of more than 10 lacs and presently, over 6 lacs people are residing in Dwarka in addition to neighboring villages and areas nearby. Dwarka Forum (Regd) having more than 2500 members including office bearers of Cooperative Group Housing Societies(Apartments) around 200+ and 45 DDA Pocket Residential Welfare Association.
First and foremost, we are alarmed that the proposed amendments dilute the powers given to COMMON MAN (citizens) by RTI Act 2005, and arbitrarily impose dos-and-don’ts on citizens. Why has DOPT not made any rules to ensure compliance with RTI Act Section 4 (*suo moto *disclosure norms), despite five years of dismal compliance? Why has DOPT not proposed any rules to enforce public authorities’ compliance with Information Commission’s orders? Not even singe Public Authority found respecting the RTI Act 2005 in its letter and spirit.
Such a bias shows the Union government in a bad light. It appears to us that stung by disclosures of its misdoings due to the efforts of RTI users, the government is trying to curb their powers.The suo moto disclosure should have reduced the RTI Application by Half and most importantly this would have large implication on ARRESTING CORRUPTION as all matters would be available for public.
1.     The invitation of suggestion/objection by your notice dated 10th December 2010 is lack the following:
a.     The desired request for objection were not found published in the Leading News paper covering across India in all languages and all media.
b.     The Right to Information Act 2005 itself Premature and no need to amend at this stage as the govt departments still have not heard or well versed with its provision nor able to implements its provisions such as suo moto disclosures under section 4.
c.      The govt and public authorities have not digitlised/indexed and catalogued all the information.
d.     The govt staffs still not got training to consolidate, retrieve and share information. The existing provisions such as Manual of Office Procedure and CCS Conduct Rules are breached not respected other than where Govt Staffs perks and remuneration part implemented without any delay.
e.     The Govt have not given ample promotion and awareness campaign for RTI Act 2005.
f.       While Act like Registration of Societies Act 1860 still found UNTOUCHED by govt and not even made any proposal to change. This societies act particularly give ample opportunity to politicians, retired govt servants and businessmen to evade tax worth trillions. So the urgency and emergency shown by department should be in other Act such as CCS Conduct Rules and Whistle Blower Act, Lok Pal Bill etc in addition to Registration of Socities Act.
g.     The date of your public notice of 10th Dec and given a deadline of 27 is too short notice.
h.     Rest of the points which a large number of RTI ACT users have send you some of them are reproduced below and we support the same view and stand by it of people like Mr.Krishna Rao, Ms. Urivi , Mr. Lokesh Batra, Vikram Singh, Mr. R K Kararia,.
i.        The new rule in a way curtain the powers of Appellants
j.       The New rule should include more severe penalty for Public Authority be it CPIO, SPIO,APIO and FAA also should bring to accountable.
k.     The restriction of no of words in an RTI Application by 250 words is OBJECTIONABLE.
l.        We OBJECT one subject matter as the reference and matter may cover by word and meaning have wide subject.
m.  The Rule proposed to have charge for mailing charges also objectionable as the citizen already paying taxes and these information the RTI Application fee of Rs. 10 is sufficient to send normal email. A number of RTI Applicants requesting the info to be provided through email and scan copies which wont cost the Public Authority addional expenditure and will only help the environment and also less time in delivering the reply.
n.     Ref to Presense of PA: We strongly object to representing the matter before FAA or IC, CIC, SIC by Public authority through other than the replied person or FAA. The new rule allowing it through representative as Lawyer or others would be determental to common man who use RTI to derive information.
o.     We object to any prescribed format for Application seeking information, Appeal u/s 19(1), Appeal U/s 19(2) and Complaint u/s 18. The more cumbersome it will make common man difficult to seek the information, the very purpose of RTI Act 2005.
p.     First appeal documents as desired in the new Rule stated copy of documents and duly authenticated and verified. The sought list of documents are already available with PIO who is subordinate of FAA and with same office. There is no need to duplicate copies and files.
q.     The proposed rule found NOT a SINGLE amendment or improvement of Public Authority visa CPIO,APIO,SPIO and FAA actions for facilitating smooth delivery of information and accountability in cases of suppression and misleading inforamations.
r.      In many cases where CPIO,APIO,SPIO not mention the FAA detailes and the actual FAA may not received the Appeal and kept unattended. In such cases there must be provision to transfer the Appeal to concerned FAA within 5 days receiving either by the person received or the CPIO,APIO,SPIO as the case be.
s.      Service of Notice: The SMS intimation of the date and time of the hearing must be used to help appellant in cases where mobile No given.
t.       Penalty : The recovery of penalty amount or compensation must be recovered from the concerned defaulting authority in the same month
A detailed Rule by Rule(ref para) are as below:
Our objections to specific Rules are as below:
1. RULE 3:* Appointment of Secretary to the Commission.* “The Government shall appoint an officer not below the rank of Additional Secretary to the Government of India as Secretary to the Commission who shall be the Chief Executive Officer and Registrar General of the Commission .”
a) *Undefined powers. *The powers of “Secretary”, “Registrar-General” and “Chief Executive Officer” are defined neither in the RTI Act nor the proposed Rules, and are therefore open to interpretation. The term Chief Executive Officer suggests that he would have sweeping powers in the affairs of the Central Information Commission.
b) *Conflict of interest. *The person being placed in this position with sweeping powers would belong to the IAS cadre, and he would continue to be part of the cadre. This signals a conflict of interest, as the Commission is intended to act as a watchdog over the Union Govt. and administration in respect of RTI Act.
c) *A parallel authority to Chief Information Commissioner. *Nowhere is it said that he will work under the directions of the Chief Information Commissioner. The Secretary / Registrar General / Chief Executive Officer appointed by the government would (for reasons detailed above) potentially have undue control over the documents and affairs of the Commission, and constitute a parallel authority – a challenge to the authority of the Chief Information Commissioner. This has all the makings of an unwholesome situation.
*OUR DEMAND: **Frame rules specifying that…*
(i) *Chief Information Commissioner will appoint Secretary or Registrar-General, who will work under his directions and supervision.*
(ii) *The Secretary or Registrar General should have worked for some years as registrar or sub-registrar in the judiciary. *
2. RULE 4:* Request for Information. *… “Provided that the request for information shall relate only to one subject matter and shall be limited to two hundred and fifty words, excluding the address of the Central Public Information Officer and the address of the applicant.”
a) *‘Subject matter’ is undefined and vague. *“Subject matter” is not defined in the Act or in the Rules, and is therefore open to interpretation and endless debate. Disputes regarding whether an RTI application concerns one subject matter or two would not only lead to delay and denial of information, it would also cause increase in the number of appeals and complaints. E.g., If RTI applicant asks for statistics of  births and deaths from a municipal hospital, PIO can argue that ‘birth’ and ‘death’ are two different subject matters.
b) *“Two hundred and fifty words” is vague. *“Words” is an undefined term that can raise several debates, such as: Is “edible-oils-depot” to be counted as one, two or three words for the purpose of this calculation? Is “Rs 1,500” one word or two words? Is “Managing Director” to be counted as two words? Will used short forms such as “i.e.”, “e.g.”, “viz.”, “etc.” be counted or not counted as one word? Will serial numbers of questions be counted as words?
c) *The limit of 250 words is apparently arbitrary. *On what basis was
250 words taken as a cut-off point? Did DOPT conduct a survey for the
purpose of determining a word-limit? Did it receive complaints, suggestions
or recommendations concerning the word-count? If so, it should take the
community of RTI users into confidence.
*OUR DEMAND: **Delete this rule.*
3. RULE 5 (g):* Fees for providing information.* “Fee for providing information … shall be charged at the following rates: the actual amount spent by public authority on hiring a machine or any other equipment, if any, to supply information.”
*a) **Several terms are vague and undefined. *If the PIO of a district panchayat has to engage an auto-rickshaw to go to the nearest Xerox centre, will the rickshaw be counted as “machine” or “equipment”, and the charge be imposed on the RTI appellant? If, in a far-away village with only one Xerox shop, the copying charges are Rs 5 per page, will that be the amount charged to an RTI applicant? If that is so, then why must an RTI applicant in Mumbai pay Rs 2 per page, although the market rate varies between 75 paise and Re 1? Such rules can only lead to debates and endless appeals.
*OUR DEMAND: **Delete this rule.*
* *
4. SEC 14: *Personal presence of the appellant before the Commission *as against “*Personal presence of the appellant or complainant” *in Rule 7 of existing RTI rules.
*Repeatedly omitting the term “or complainant” from proposed Rule 14 (Rule 7 of existing rules) effectively changes the interpretation of the Act. *When read with Rule 11 (detailed below in point no. 5), omission of this term from all sub-Rules of Rule 14, which corresponds to Rule 7 in the existing Rules, seems like a deliberate and *mala fide *attempt to cut off the RTI applicants’ recourse to the unique remedies offered under Rule 18 of the RTI Act.
*OUR DEMAND: **Insert the term “or complainant” after the term “appellant”,
wherever the latter term is used.*
5. Rule 11(2) and (3):* Admission of appeals.* (2) The Commission
First Appellate Authority or any other person competent to pass order on such appeal had made a final order on the appeal; or
(b) where no final order has been made by the First Appellate Authority with regard to the appeal preferred, and a period of 45 days from the date on which such appeal was preferred has expired.
The proposed amendment amounts to cancelling the citizen’s discretionary power (conferred by the RTI Act) to bypass the first appellate authority and file a complaint directly before the commission under RTI Act Sec 18. Furthermore, the amendment would nullify RTI Act Sec 18 by compelling frustrated RTI appellants to file a first appeal, and then requiring them to label even complaints as “Second Appeal u/s 19(3)”.
*OUR DEMAND: **Delete this rule.*
*1) **For the purpose of compliance with RTI Act Section 4 — suo moto disclosure
norms – the head of the concerned public authority will be considered as the PIO, and action u/s 20 will be recommended by the Information Commission as they think fit. *
*2) **For the purpose of compliance with Information Commission’s orders, make a rule that public authority must send compliance report to the Commission within a month after deducting penalty, initiating disciplinary action, giving information etc.*
Sir, your proposed rules have a few  good features (on which we have not  commented here), but these are outweighed by the above objectionable features. The overall effect of the proposed rules is to weaken the implementation of the RTI Act, and reduce the power of common man to combat unaccountability and corruption. We urge Govt. of India to desist from notifying this draft of RTI rules, until the above-mentioned changes have been carried out.
With Best Wishes,
Please acknowdledge our Objections /Submission as above by return email or letters.
Thanking you,
Dwarka Forum (Regd.)

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