COUNTERVIEW: National: Thursday, April 20, 2017.
The National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI), whose campaign pushed India towards the Right to Information (RTI) Act in 2005, has suggested that the recently-proposed RTI draft rules virtually proposes to allow the Government of India (GoI) to coopt the Central Information Commission (CIC), the RTI watchdog of GoI.
Taking strong exception, in this context, to the proposed appointment of secretary to the CIC by the GoI in the new draft rules, NCPRI says, they “undermine the authority of the CIC by giving the Central Government the power of appointing the secretary to the CIC.”
NCPRI insists, “The CIC should have the freedom to appoint officers of its choice through a transparent process”, adding, “secretary” to CIC should mean “an officer so appointed by the CIC”, adding, the following words should inserted into the new rules: “The CIC shall appoint an officer not below the rank of Additional Secretary to the Government of India as Secretary to the Commission.”
NCPRI is led, among others, by well-known social activists Aruna Roy, who was a member of the National Advisory Council (NAC) chaired by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, till May 2013, when she resigned over non-implementation of NAC recommendation to implement minimum wages for work offered under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA).
Taking exception to yet another change, NCPRI believes that the requirement for an aggrieved person to file an appeal to the CIC – online or offline – accompanied “duly authenticated and verified” documents, is strange, particularly when “anywhere between 40 and 60 lakh RTI applications “are filed every year in India” and majority of them are by “the poor and marginalized”.
Criticizing the authentication requirement for not being “people-friendly” and “burdened with legalistic procedures”, NCPRI says, the “duly authenticated and verified” requirement should be “limited to self-attestation by the appellant.”
Objecting to the rule allowing RTI appeals to be returned to the applicants because of certain deficiencies, NCPRI says, “People, especially the marginalised, reach CIC after a lot of hardship and a long wait”, and therefore, the CIC should “facilitate and assist people in the process of registering their appeals, rather than summarily returning them due to a deficiency.”
Regarding the proposed rule allowing appellants to withdraw their appeals, NCPRI says, this appears “beyond the law”, as “given the Indian reality where RTI applicants are at times harassed, threatened, physically attacked or even killed, such provisions will provide a perverse incentive to vested interests to silence the information seeker through coercion or physical harm.”
Also rejecting the proposal to allow CIC to drop the pleas if the applicant dies, NCPRI quotes CIC resolution dated September 13, 2011, which says, “If it receives a complaint regarding assault or murder of an information seeker, it will examine the pending RTI applications of the victim and order the concerned department(s) to publish the requested information suo motu on their website as per the provisions of law.”
Critical of such hurdles for seeking information, NCPRI says, “Despite more than 11 years of the implementation of the RTI Act in India, in most public authorities no mechanism to assist information seekers has been put in place. Therefore, it is suggested that Information and Facilitation Centres be set up in each public authority.”
Referring to the pleas related to cases of life and liberty, which are heard within 48 hours, NCPRI insists, “There is no concomitant time-frame for disposal of first appeal, second appeal or complaints in cases where information is not provided within 48 hours”, insisting, “Appropriate rules should be framed with a clearly defined procedure and time frame.”