Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative’s (CHRI’s) submission to the Department of Personnel and Training, Government of India calls for comprehensive overhaul of Draft RTI Rules. A note:
The Central Information Commission (CIC) must be empowered to direct the proactive disclosure of information in accordance with the RTI Act, if the requester dies during the pendency of a case.
In a submission sent to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), Government of India, last week, Commonwealth Human Rights Commission (CHRI) has rejected the proposal to allow for the automatic abatement of appeals on the death of the appellant. Citing the CIC’s 2011 resolution to direct suo motu disclosure of information in all cases of attacks on RTI users, CHRI has argued that the withdrawal and abatement clauses will only embolden vested interests to threaten and even seriously harm citizens from exposing corruption and maladministration, using RTI. At least 65 citizens have been killed and more than 330 individuals attacked for seeking information from public authorities around the country in the past decade.
CHRI has also recommended the following improvements in the Draft RTI Rules in order to strengthen the regime of transparency established by the RTI Act in 2005:
- Making all members of the CIC collectively responsible for deciding who should hear which cases, instead of leaving it to the discretion of the Chief Information Commissioner;
- Requiring the CIC to maintain daily order sheets in every case as directed by various High Courts and also pronounce its orders in open proceedings as was the practice until 2012;
- Requiring the CIC to transmit copies of appeals and complaints to the public authorities electronically instead of requiring the appellant or the complainant to serve hard copies;
- Requiring the Registry of the CIC to provide reasonable assistance to citizens for curing any deficiencies in their appeals or complaints instead of returning them back, as has become common practice;
- Clarifying the roles, responsibilities and functions of the Secretary and the Registrar of the CIC, while ensuring its administrative and supervisory control over such officers;
- Establishing a more citizen and public authority-friendly fee payment system that Central Public Information Officers can operate with ease;
- Requiring the public authorities to bear postal charges for supplying information up to Rs. 100;
- Requiring the CPIOs to provide reasonable assistance to requesters if the RTI application is longer than 500 words or if the request is for voluminous information, instead of rejecting them, as has become common practice;
- Requiring the CPIO to automatically refund the additional fees to the RTI applicant, if the information is supplied late;
- Restoration of the appellant’s right to receive notice of hearings from the CIC in a time-bound manner; and
- Making it mandatory for the CPIOs to attend penalty-related hearings even if they have been transferred out during the pendency of the case;
CHRI has also recommended the following to cover grey areas in the implementation of the RTI Act:
- Requiring the disposal of appeals relating to information concerning the life or liberty of a person within 48 hours by first appellate authorities and within seven working days by the CIC;
- Detailing the procedure that First Appellate Authorities must adopt, based on the principles of natural justice; and
- Prescribing a detailed format for the CIC to record its decision on an appeal or complaint so as to provide a comprehensive picture of the facts of every case and the adjudication process.
CHRI has urged the DoPT to extend the consultation process for a further period of 30 days so that more citizens may send their views on the Draft RTI Rules. CHRI has suggested that the Draft Rules be translated into all languages recognised in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution in order to expand the outreach of this process. CHRI urges the DoPT to not rush through the consultation process as the RTI Rules concern the citizens’ fundamental right to seek and obtain information from public authorities. Every citizen is a stakeholder of RTI and must have a reasonable opportunity of participating in the consultation process.
Click HERE to download full text of the submission to DoPT