RTI payments: Practice adopted in Uttarakhand can be uniformly adopted across the country

rtiIn a letter to Sanjay Kothari, Secretary to Government of India, Department of Personnel and Training, Venkatesh Nayak, Programme Coordinator, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi, has insisted on the need to resolve the problems relating to the payment of various kinds of fees by citizens and their realisation by PIOs under The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act). Text of the letter:

I am writing to draw your attention to a persistent problem relating to the payment and utilisation of fees under the RTI Act.

The common complaint is that PIOs are required by the applicable financial rules to deposit all fees received from citizens in the bank accounts of their offices and make withdrawals from the funds allotted to meet contingency expenditure for paying the information reproduction charges. Several PIOs, across different states, have reported that they often end up paying the photocopying charges from their pockets as withdrawal from the contingency funds gets delayed and puts them in danger of being penalised for delayed supply of information.

Another dimension of this problem affects the demand side of access to information. While the RTI Rules notified by your department require all payments to be made in favour of the Accounts Officer, several public authorities require these instruments to be drawn in favour of the DDO or the P&AO or some other authority. For example, the web page of the Indian Army instructs RTI applicants to drawn up fee payment instruments in favour of “GSO-1 RTI Fund” (click HERE).

The RTI Rules published by several State Governments do not clearly indicate in whose favour non-cash payment instruments must be drawn. It varies from public authority to public authority. It is unfortunate that this problem has persisted in the second decade of the implementation of the RTI Act making it very inconvenient for citizens, particularly those living in rural areas, to make fee payments under the RTI Act.

I would like to bring to your notice the RTI Rules notified by the State Government of Uttarakhand in 2013, which simplify this procedure. Rule 6 of the said Rules require payment of all kinds of fees in favour of the PIO or the APIO. This is a very convenient procedure for all RTI applicants as the requests for information are also addressed to these designated officers. This practice deserves to be emulated across all jurisdictions including the Central Government.

The practice adopted in Uttarakhand can be uniformly adopted across the country using an existing financial procedural mechanism. Upon a perusal of the General Financial Rules 2005 (GFR), I have found that it is possible to create a simple mechanism for making fee payments and spending the monies under the RTI Act. GFR Rule 88 read with Rule 89 permits the creation of a ‘Personal Deposit Account’ which can be operated by a designated officer for the purposes specified in that Rule. The relevant portions of Rules 88-89 are reproduced below:

“Rule 88. Personal Deposit Account: Personal Deposit Account is a device intended to facilitate the Designated Officer thereof to credit receipts into and effect withdrawals directly from the account, subject to an overall check being exercised by the bank in which the account is authorised to be opened. The Designated Officer shall ensure (with the help of a personal ledger account to be maintained by the bank for the purpose) that no withdrawal will result in a minus balance therein. Only Government officers acting in their official or any other capacity shall be the Designated Officer thereof.”

Rule 89. Authority to open Personal Deposit Account:

“(1) The Personal Deposit Account shall be authorised to be opened by a special order by the concerned Ministry or Department in consultation with the Controller General of Accounts. Such special order or permission shall be issued or granted by the Ministry or Department concerned after it is satisfied that the initial accounts of the moneys to be held in a personal deposit account and disbursed, shall be arranged to be maintained properly and shall be subject to audit. Every personal deposit account so authorised to be opened, shall form part of the Government Account and be located in the Public Account thereof. The provisions relating to “Personal Deposit Account” are contained in para 16.7 of Civil Accounts Manual and Rule 191 to 194 of Central Government Account (Receipts and Payments) Rules…

“(2) Personal Deposit accounts shall generally be authorised to be opened in the following types of cases…

“(c) where, under certain regulatory activities of the Government, receipts are realised and credited to a Fund or Account under the provisions of an Act to be utilised towards expenditure thereunder and no outgo from the Consolidated Fund is involved.”

I would like to recommend that every public authority be required to create a personal deposit accounts operated by the designated PIOs into which he/she may deposit all fees received and make withdrawals directly under the general supervision of the first appellate authority or any other competent senior officer designated by the public authority for that purpose. This would create enormous convenience for PIOs on the one hand and lend sufficient clarity to the RTI applicants for drawing up the fee payment instruments.

Should sub-Rule 89(2)(c) be found inadequate for the purpose of giving effect to the fee receipt and expenditure procedures required under the RTI Act, your Department may make a recommendation to the Controller General of Accounts or any other appropriate authority in the Ministry of Finance to insert new provisions in that Rule for creating such a facility of convenience for the receipt and expenditure of fees under the RTI Act. As the RTI Act is here to stay, a permanent solution needs to be devised urgently to deal with the problem of fee payments.

I would be grateful if you would initiate a discussion in your Department on the suggestion given above and work with the relevant authorities in the Ministry of Finance to iron out the problems created by the inadequacy of procedures for fee payment and utilisation under the RTI Act.

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