CHENNAI: Even as the Centre is considering amendments to the Right To Information rules, seeking to restrict RTI applications to one subject at a time and to 250 words, the Central Information Commission (CIC) in New Delhi seems to have gone a step ahead by implementing the draft proposals.
To an RTI application filed by this reporter on December 6, 2010, which raised 20 queries seeking details pertaining to follow-up of fines imposed against public authorities, court stay obtained by public information officers against commission's order, disposal of cases and pending final appeals, the CIC chose to reply to only to ten questions.
The remaining ten questions, the commission said, were related to a different subject matter' and hence the applicant has to file another RTI application to get the information. "Your queries number 1 to 10 would qualify as one request' for which you have paid the application fee of Rs 10. You may therefore, send separate request and pay fee for your queries number one 11 to 20,'' the reply from the CIC, dated December 30, 2010, said.
This reporter had sought to know the average number of appeals received daily and, number of cases in which fines were imposed, number of errant public information officers paid the fine and those who have not paid it, number of cases in which errant public authorities obtained court stay against commission's orders and whether the CIC is included as respondent in such cases.
During early last month, department of personnel and training (DoPT), functioning under the Union ministry of personnel and public grievances, released the draft amendments and announced that public can send their views on or before December 27, 2010. While the DoPT has not yet announced the decision on the draft amendments, the CIC's reply, arbitrarily enforcing the draft rules, has agitated RTI activists and groups.
"When rules are not yet amended and the amendment is only in the draft stage, the CIC should clarify that under which provisions of law and under what authority it has imposed the one-subject' restriction. In fact, this reply is a standing testimony as to why we oppose the draft amendments tooth and nail," said Venkatesh Nayak, a coordinator of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, a New Delhi-based NGO.
A Sukumar, an RTI activist in Chennai, said, "We cannot accept this sort of reply from the CIC, which is supposed to safeguard the Act from being diluted by the bureaucracy. It would only mislead public authorities to discourage RTI applicants instead of encouraging them. This reply only shows that the DoPT should not give effect to the draft amendments.''
Stick to one subject in one RTI application, CIC reiterates
CHENNAI: The Central Information Commission (CIC) has reiterated that applicants under the Right To Information (RTI) Act cannot seek details for more than one subject in one application.
The CIC's first appellate authority gave the order on an appeal by this reporter though the Act didn't have such a provision but justified its decision quoting its two rulings delivered in June 2009 and February 2010.
"As per Section 6(1) read with 7(1) of the RTI Act, a request means that the questions and the answers must share an embryonic relationship, the genus of the application must be one and sub-questions can constitute different species of the same genus,'' the commission said in its order on March 15, 2011.
On December 6, 2010, this reporter filed an RTI application with 20 queries about the routine functioning of the CIC. Among them were: how many public information officers (PIOs) fined for not furnishing information had obtained stay orders? Was the CIC included as respondent in such cases? What was the average number of appeals received by the commission daily? How many appeals were pending?
But the PIO at the CIC chose to reply to only to ten questions. The official refused to reply to the remaining ten saying they related to a different subject matter' and that the applicant had to file another application for it.
"Your queries number 1 to 10 would qualify as one request' for which you have paid the application fee of Rs 10. You may therefore, send separate request and pay fee for your queries number one 11 to 20," the PIO said in his reply on December 30, 2010.
Challenging the PIO's decision as illegal, this reporter filed an appeal with the CIC's first appellate authority which conducted a hearing last week only to reject this reporter's contentions and say the PIO was right in refusing to reply to ten queries.
The order gains significance as several RTI groups have already been protesting the central government's draft amendments to RTI Rules, released in December 2010, to restrict the applications under the Act to one subject matter and not beyond 250 words.
"Right to information is also a fundamental right of the citizens as per a Supreme Court ruling. The appellate authority's decision can very well be challenged since this sort of interpretations would defeat the very purpose of the RTI Act," said V S Suresh, a practising advocate in the Madras high court.
The two rulings quoted by the commission are Rajendar Singh Vs CBI (CIC/WB/C/2007/00967, dated June 19, 2009) and Wasi-ul-Haque Vs UPSC (CIC/WB/A/A/2008/01256, dated February 9, 2010). However, the present order is subject to the outcome of second appeal of this reporter.