Set up Information and Facilitation Centres with each public authority to help RTI applicants

rtiExcerpts from suggestions* of the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI) on the proposed Right to Information (RTI) Rules, 2017:

Several provisions of the RTI Act are not being properly implemented due to the absence of rules. Therefore, we suggest that the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) frame rules on the following issues through public consultation:

  1. Compliance with Section 4– In order to ensure compliance with section 4, DoPT must take appropriate steps, through framing of rules, to operationalise and implement the recommendation made by a committee set up under the chairmanship of Shri Devesh Chaturvedi, Joint Secretary – DOPT to examine the report of the committee of experts on suo motu disclosures (report available from https://goo.gl/wc0c0b), that compliance with Section 4 be included as one of the performance indicators in the annual performance appraisal report (APAR) of the HoDs of public authorities.
  1. Accessing information about private bodies- Formulate rules, pertaining to accessing information about private bodies under section 2(f), to specify the obligations of private bodies under the RTI Act and to clarify the procedure to be adopted by PAs in accessing and providing such information to the applicants.
  1. Information and Facilitation Centres- The role of the PIO, as envisaged under the RTI Act, is to provide assistance to persons seeking information and facilitate them in the process (Section 5(3)). Section 6(1) requires the PIO to render all reasonable assistance to a person making an information request orally and also reduce the same in writing. 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’ (IFCs) be set up in each public authority. These centres could keep copies of Section 4 disclosures of the public authority, copies of citizen charters, applications forms for various services, and also facilitate the process of filing applications under the RTI Act. The proposal to set up IFCs was also approved by the committee set up by the DOPT to examine proactive disclosures (report available from https://goo.gl/wc0c0b). Till such time that IFCs are set up, it must be ensured that in every public authority mechanisms are adopted whereby information seekers can directly contact the PIO and seek his/her assistance in filing an information application.
  1. Suggested time-frame for disposal of appeals and complaints- Second appeals and complaints before the information commission should be disposed of as speedily as possible and preferably the final order should be no later than 90 days from the filing of an appeal or a complaint.
  1. Appropriate level of officers designated as “Registrar” of the Commission– In order to ensure that officials of adequately senior level are designated as “Registrars” to the Commission, the rules must specify that no officer below the rank of Under Secretary to the Government of India can be designated as a “Registrar” as defined in Rule 2(h) of the proposed RTI Rules, 2017.
  1. MIS for uploading RTI applications and responses – In order to streamline the process of uploading RTI applications and responses, we suggest that rules for a publicly accessible MIS be framed which would, in addition to providing the RTI application and reply, also display relevant dates, status of the RTI application and details of PIO before whom the matter is pending.
  1. Rules related to appointment of information commissioners- The issue of lack of transparency in the appointment of information commissioners has been widely debated since the enactment of the RTI Act. Therefore, to establish a transparent process, appropriate rules are required to be framed.
  1. Procedure for dealing with appeals related to cases of life and liberty- The RTI Act lays down that in matters related to life and liberty, information is to be provided with 48 hours. However, 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. Therefore, to effectively operationalise this provision, appropriate rules should be framed with a clearly defined procedure and time frame.
  2. Procedure for Section 24– DoPT must take appropriate steps through framing rules to put in place a proper mechanism to ensure wide public consultation prior to any public authority being exempted from the RTI Act under Section 24. As per the recommendation of a committee set up by the DoPT (report available from https://goo.gl/wc0c0b), prior to the government issuing a notification under section 24(2), the name of the proposed body, details of its functioning and the reasons on how it responds to the grounds set out under Section 24 should be publicly disclosed and a specified time-frame should be allowed for members of public to raise objections to the proposal. This would also be in line with the proactive disclosures required under Sections 4(c) and (d) of the RTI Act and the government’s stated Pre-legislative Consultation Policy (PLCP).

*Download full text of NCPRI’s recommendations submitted to the Department of Personnel and Training, Government of India, HERE

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