Friday, June 01, 2018

Government shelves new RTI rules after flak

Economic Times: New Delhi: Friday, June 01, 2018.
The Centre has shelved new rules framed for streamlining the filing of right to information applications, appeals and functioning of Information Commissions. The rules had drawn sharp criticism from activists and the Central Information Commission.
The department of personnel and training has in a recent communication asked CIC if there was the need for fresh rules. According to an insider, DoPT sought CIC’s opinion whether the rules would help in improved functioning. DoPT’s letter comes after draft rules were criticised by CIC during internal discussions. CIC had sent objections to DoPT last December. CIC discussed the issue at its full Commission meeting last week and would hold extensive discussions in June.
“The view in the first meeting on this has generally been that the Act is functioning fine without a fresh set of rules. The rules have been mired in controversies and there are certain intrinsic flaws. So we should put them away,” the insider said.
Information Commissioners had criticised introduction of Rule 15 that gave more powers to CICs to assign any RTI appeal to a commissioner in larger public interest. “An appeal/complaint shall be posted before a single bench for hearing/ disposal, unless the Chief Information Commissioner by a special or general order issued in this behalf from time to time directs that the appeal/complaint or a category of the same may be posted for hearing/ disposal by another bench or a bench of two or more Information Commissioners either at the request of an Information Commissioner, or suo motu if the same involves an intricate question of law or larger public interest,” reads the rule. In its response to DoPT, CIC pointed out that this could mean unnecessary government interventions.
The move to shelve fresh rules comes after criticism of government for “attempting to scuttle RTI”. “In the final year of its term, the government does not want to get any adverse publicity, especially on issues like transparency. The rules have been at the centre of several controversies,” said another official. The draft RTI rules have been under consideration for over a year. DoPT had put the draft in the public domain in April 2017 seeking comments.
The exercise came five years after RTI rules 2012 were notified. The most controversial clause in the RTI rules has been that an appeal would abate after the death of an applicant. RTI activists pointed out that this would mean an increase in attacks on applicants. Earlier, a similar clause had been introduced by Congressled UPA government in 2012, but it was withdrawn after protests from activists. The draft rules have also introduced intricate formats for filing of appeals, which activists and CIC had pointed could be avoided.