Saturday, April 08, 2017

As Government Invites Comments on Draft RTI Rules, Activists Demand Proper Management

The Wire‎‎: New Delhi: Saturday, April 08, 2017.
In 2010, the government lost the folder containing public comments on the draft proposed RTI rules.
The new draft RTI rules have been placed in the public domain by the central government to elicit the views of RTI activists and the general public on the proposed amendments to the rules. However, an RTI activist has highlighted how during the same process in 2010, the Centre did not maintain records and later even lost the folder containing public comments. In light of this, he has demanded that the Centre make better preparations for ensuring the security and proper upkeep of public comments.
The issue has been raised by RTI activist Commodore (Retired) Lokesh Batra who had unearthed that the folder dealing with the public comments had gone missing. In the wake of past mistakes, he has demanded that the Centre must assure the public that the records of public comments will be maintained in compliance with Section 4(1)(a) of the Right to Information Act 2005.
He has also asked that the government place in the public domain the criteria for processing the public comments.
The Centre had recently stated that “the proposed amendments to the rules are in public domain for comments by April 15, 2017, and will be finalised keeping in view the public feedback received in the matter.” In view of this, Batra has also demanded that the government reveal the final draft rules before notifying them.
It was in December 2010 that Batra had filed an application under the RTI Act with the Department of Personnel and Training to learn about the response to the ‘amendment to RTI rules’. In response to his detailed questionnaire, the chief public information officer and under secretary had noted in February 2011 that “due to administrative reasons the communication under reference was not diarised and it was placed in a folder”. Further, he had stated that “no specific procedure/policy has been laid down for processing comments to the said OM (office memorandum)”.
Subsequently, Batra had filed another RTI before the same officer, R.K. Girdhar, in June 2012 asking about the details of the ‘proposed amendments to RTI rules’ as put out by the office memorandum of December 10, 2010. As the RTI activist also sought details of the responses received on the amendments, the official in his response sent on June 29, 2012 admitted that “the folder on the subject ‘proposed amendments to RTI rules’ is missing and could not be traced”.
The under secretary of DoPT had stated that all desks of the department have been urged to return it, if found. He had issued a communication to all sections and desks of DoPT in North Block as also a request to the National Informatics Centre to upload the circular on the internal system.
The issue of ensuring proper upkeep of the draft RTI rules 2017 assumes significance as it has already evoked a lot of controversy and flak due to the manner in which it has sought to undermine the issue of safety and security of the applicants, especially by once again bringing forth the clause on abatement of applications on the death of the applicant. This, RTI activists are claiming, would imperil the lives of the applicants as vested interests may look to eliminate them to bring the cases to an end.
The Centre has responded saying that the draft RTI rules 2017 have only been put out to seek comments on the key provisions of the Central Information Commission (Management) Regulations and the Rules of 2012, and have not proposed any substantive changes to them.