Saturday, April 08, 2017

Proposed RTI draft rules draw flak from activists

Times of India: Pune: Saturday, April 08, 2017.
The Centre's new draft rules pertaining to the Right to Information (RTI) act, superseding the 2012 rules, have ruffled the feathers of activists.
A proposal for forming RTI Rules, 2017, is under consideration at the Department of Personnel and Training. The government has invited views and suggestions of the stakeholders concerned before April 15.
In the new draft, the government has proposed a provision wherein RTI applications can be withdrawn, and proceedings come to an end after the death of the appellant.
Activists find this draft provision disturbing as RTI activists are already under tremendous pressure to withdraw appeals from various quarters, and many activists have already lost their lives in the pursuit of information under the law.
Another major provision proposed will give the Central Information Commission (CIC) discretionary authority to allow the withdrawal of an appeal, if asked for by the appellant in writing, or during a hearing. "However, no such prayer may be entertained by the commission after the matter has been finally heard, or a decision or order has been pronounced by the commission," state the draft rules.
"The clause to withdraw the RTI appeal is dangerous as it will have a two-way impact," says RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar. "Firstly, activists will be bullied and forced to withdraw their applications, and secondly, there will be an increase in the number of fake activists who will use this provision to blackmail people they will submit an RTI application and only withdraw it when their demands are met," he said, further adding that the provision to stop proceedings after the death of an applicant is redundant.
RTI activist Vivek Velankar said, "Even after the death of an RTI activist, the commission must continue the proceedings, and publish the information on its website. Many activists have been killed in Maharashtra and other parts of the state because they sought information to expose corruption. In this backdrop, the CIC must not go ahead with such provisions." He insisted that withdrawing of applications will encourage corruption and arm-twisting.
Activists have also objected to the 15-day time frame to file suggestions, and demanded that the deadline be extended by 15 days. Activists however, have welcomed a provision wherein, non-compliance of CIC's order may be communicated with the CIC within three months from the date of non-compliance.
Meanwhile the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions has issued a statement that the provision for withdrawal of appeal and abatement of appeals/complaints on the death of the applicant/complainant, which was earlier included in the Central Information Commission (Management) Regulations 2007, has been included in the new rules.