RTI applicants cough up more, cut word count

RTI applicants cough up more, cut word count

Bhopal, Mar 12, 2012(TNN): Faced with the ‘problem’ of managing flood of RTI applications, BJP government inMadhya Pradesh has mooted a proposal to double fees on application and appeal, raise fee for document copy and to impose other restrictions such as “word count” for each request-a move that could trigger protests from the supporters of the transparency law.

We here are, unfortunately, trying to restrict the people's right on one pretext or the other. Civil society has to wake up to protest against any such moves.
By proposing to amend the relevant RTI rules, the government plans to increase the existing fee of Rs 10 per application to Rs 20, double the fee for first appeal from Rs 50 to Rs 100 and to make a five- fold increase in fee for second appeal. If the amendment comes through, anyone moving the second appeal before the state information commission would have to shell out Rs 500 as against the existing fee of Rs 100.
Insiders say that the government is also planning to restrict to 150 the “word limit” per application and also to restrict the number of subjects to be mentioned in one application to ensure that only one subject is entertained by the Public Information Officers (PIO) at a time. Besides, sources claim that the new rules could also have a provision that anyone, filing an RTI application, should also furnish a copy of the photo identity card to check the possibility of applications being filed in pseudonymous names.
Sources claimed that the state government is empowered to make rules under section 27 (1) and (2) of RTI Act 2005 which stipulate that the government may make rules to carry out the provisions of the Act to decide the cost the cost of the medium or print cost price of the materials to be disseminated and the fee payable and so on.
Legislative Assembly secretariat in Chhattisgarh, another BJP ruled state, recently increased the RTI application fees by 900% from Rs 50 to Rs 500 and the increase in fees per document copy to Rs 15 per page had invited criticism from the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI) and others. Earlier, Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi had also written to Chhattisgarh chief minister, Speaker, and leader of the opposition to re-consider the decision to hike RTI fees.
“A proposal has come up at the government level. It’s being examined. It’s too premature to divulge any details”, official sources confirmed.
RTI activist Ajay Dubey said “the state government is planning to make amendments in the RTI rules through a notification. The amendments being considered are against the very sprit of the transparency Act, aimed at introducing cumbersome procedures to discourage people from using the RTI tool to elicit information”.
Dubey said he had already written a letter to the state Governor Ram Naresh Yadav, seeking his intervention to stall the proposed amendments as it would amount to defeating the very purpose the historic transparency Act.
Few months ago, he said, state government had also misused section 24 (4) of the RTI Act to keep the special police establishment of the Lokayukta and the State Bureau of Investigation of Economic Offences (EOW) out of the purview of the RTI Act 2005 as both these anti-corruption agencies were dealing with sensitive cases involving politicians and bureaucrats. “Till today, the state government has failed to put this notification before the state legislature, which is a mandatory requirement under section 24 (5) of the RTI Act, 2005″, he pointed out.
“Bad habits are easy to copy”, quipped Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, who had protested against the Chhattisgarh legislative assembly secretariat, when his comments was sought on Madhya Pradesh move to increase RTI fees and introduce restrictions on word counts.
He said “RTI itself is getting lesser attention in the country with the civil society being engaged in many other issues. World over rights of people, even the fundamental rights in many countries, are being expanded further”. “We here are, unfortunately, trying to restrict the people’s right on one pretext or the other. Civil society has to wake up to protest against any such moves”, he added.

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