As reported by Vijay Mohan of Tribune News Service in The Tribune, 21 January 2008:
The Tribune, Chandigarh, India - Punjab

Punjab rules contradict RTI Act, claim activists

Chandigarh, January 20
The Right to Information Rules, 2007, notified by the Punjab government last year has a section of rights activists and legal experts up in arms on the contention that the rules contravene the very provisions of the Right to Information (RTI) Act which they are supposed to implement.

The rules, circulated to all departments recently, make seeking information a tough task and provide grounds for rejection of RTI requests which go beyond the provisions of the Act and complicate the process for obtaining information, they claim.

Under Sections 8 and 9 of the Act, information may not be provided on grounds such as security, breach of court orders or breach of commercial confidence.

Form-E introduced under the Punjab Rules, however, provides that in addition to the aforesaid sections of the Act requests fro information can also be rejected on grounds such as “unsatisfactory identity” of the information seeker, information already available in published material, information available on website and a vague premise called “any
other reason”.

“The Act does not provide for rejection of information requests on any of these grounds,” a local lawyer claimed. “Introducing such provisions is detrimental to the interest of the public,” he further added.

Further, Rule 3 (4) of the Punjab Rules state that information not accompanied by the requisite fee would be rejected straightaway without any notice to the applicant.

This rule, lawyers contend, is also contradictory to Section 7 (3) of the Act which ordains that the public information officer concerned shall inform the applicant to deposit more fee in case of insufficient fee.

The Punjab government has also introduced a form for seeking information, whereas the Section 6 of the RTI Act does not provide for any such form and simply states that information can be sought on a simple paper or electronic application with just the contact address of the applicant.

Punjab government’s prescribed Form-A, on the other hand, seeks information on nine queries from the RTI Applicant before the application can be processed. “The form also expects an applicant to first browse the website of the concerned department or research through published material before seeking information otherwise the application can be rejected,” a lawyer said. “The Act nowhere confers power on a state government to frame rules prescribing reasons for rejection of a form since these subjects are covered by the Act itself,” he contended.

Punjab government officials, on the other hand maintain that the Rules were framed under provisions of Section 27 (1) of the Act and the state can frame rules it deems appropriate to streamline the functioning of its departments.

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