Times of India: New Delhi: Tuesday, April 04, 2017.
A new provision that allows for an RTI case to be closed in the event of death of the applicant has come under criticism from activists who fear that this will encourage attacks on whistleblowers. The provision is part of the draft RTI rules made public by the Modi government recently, which replace the 2012 provisions, do not have any new clauses either for increasing the fees or prescribing a word-limit to the application.
The proposed rules have been placed by the department of personnel and training on its website for comments from public. The controversial clause says, "The proceedings pending before the Commission shall abate on the death of the appellant.'' In 2017, there have been more than 375 recorded cases of attacks on citizens who sought information to expose corruption and wrongdoing in various public authorities. Of these, 56 are murders, at least 157 cases of physical assault and more than 160 cases of harassment and threats - some of which have resulted in death by suicide, activists said.
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative's (CHRI) Venkatesh Nayak said, "By legally permitting withdrawal of appeals vested interests will feel emboldened to pressurise RTI users to withdraw their appeals before the CIC. If this proposed rule becomes law at the Centre, most other states will make similar amendments, thereby unwittingly jeopardising the life and safety of RTI users. These amendments must not be allowed to go through when the Whistleblower Protection Act, 2011 has been put in cold storage."
A new proposal now allows the CIC to convert a complaint into second appeal which would mean it can order the disclosure of information to an applicant who has come under complaint clause of the RTI Act which was not the case earlier. This follows a Supreme Court order that had said that the CIC while hearing a plea under complaint clause cannot order disclosure of the information which can only be provided if the person is approaching it under second appeal or Section 19 of the Act.
Some activists criticised the short time period of a fortnight offered for comments. "The time given is too less. How will people know that something like this is placed on website for them to give opinion," RTI activist Comm (retd) Lokesh Batra said.