National Advisory Council (NAC) will examine threadbare the new draft rules framed for Right to Information Act , which make it mandatory for applicants to file questions in 250 words and pay for hiring photocopy machine used to provide information. NAC’s sub-group on transparency and accountability, headed by social activist Aruna Roy, would discuss the draft rules in its meeting on Monday. The draft rules for RTI Act have been framed by the department of personnel and training (DoPT) and have been put up on the website to seek public opinion. The rules lay down provisions for application process, fee for providing information, filing first appeals and appointments in Information Commission . One of the provisions is that an applicant will file an application in not more than 250 words, excluding the address of the public information officer and the applicant.
The Government also seeks to bring changes in fee for providing information. So far, the applicant could just pay Rs 10 in cash or through a postal order for receiving information. However, the draft rules lay down that applicants would have to pay the actual amount spent by a government department in hiring a machine or equipment to supply information. It also says that postal charges, in excess of Rs 10, spent in supplying information would also be recovered from the applicant.
RTI activists have pointed out several flaws in the draft rules. Magsaysay award winner and RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal said, “All the rules framed by the department of personnel and training seem to take the bureaucracy in account. There is nothing that addresses the concerns of the common citizens. When the rules lay down that an application should be filed in 250 words, does the Government intend to check the common man’s writing skills? What happens to illiterate and the poor? Can they frame such an application?”
Mr Kejriwal termed provision on recovering cost of hiring a machine from the applicant as “absurd”. He said, “These rules are meant to further restrict the boundaries of transparency. There are no provisions in the Act or the new rules on appointment of information commissioners or issue of arrest warrants by commissioners. Why are the rules shying away from addressing the real concerns and problems with our transparency law?”
RTI activist Commodore Lokesh Batra also said that the rules are trying to dilute the RTI Act. “The rules are not people-friendly. We need to analyse not only changes but also omissions in the rules. The new rules lay down that documents need to be included when an applicant goes for first appeal. Why is a format prescribed. It is a national waste.”
Angry with such inclusions in the rules, non-governmental organisations and RTI activists have decided to give representations to NAC’s sub-group headed by Ms Roy. Nikhil Dey of National Campaign for People’s Right to Information said the organisation would hold a meeting on Sunday and frame their objections to be presented to NAC sub-group on Monday and also for submission to Department of Personnel. The Government has sought public opinion till December 27 on the draft rules.