Right to Information – Master key to good governance

Orissa RTI Rules: Amendments fail to make them citizen-friendly

Posted by rtiact2005 on July 6, 2006

Orissa RTI Rules: Amendments fail to make them citizen-friendly
Pradeep Baisakh | Bhubaneswar

A cursory glance at the Right to Information (RTI) rules formulated by the Orissa Government to put it into effect would suggest how blatantly they violate the letter and spirit of the Act. Concerned citizens are reminded of the colonial era when laws and rules were framed arbitrarily shedding all pretences to democracy.

Regrettably, even today in a State like Orissa rules are framed by a handful of bureaucrats who either lack the understanding of the basics of democracy and rule of law, or knowingly ignore them with all impunity. More importantly, the rules, before being finalised, should have been circulated for public opinion; but in the case of Orissa they were framed clandestinely.
Various civil society organisations, activists, intellectuals and concerned citizens of the State have been holding seminars, workshops in different corners of the State discussing the character of the Orissa RTI (ORTI) rules and demanding that the Government remove discrepancies between the Central act and the State rules by suitably amending the latter.
On December 23, 2005 Aruna Roy, the chief architect of the central RTI Act, along with some enlightened citizens of the State submitted a memorandum to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik demanding the amendment of the ORTI rules.
The Chief Minister promised that the Orissa RTI rules would be revised by making them citizen-friendly and consistent with the Act, However, the CM failed if the recent amendment to the rules by the Assembly on April 2, 2006 is taken into account. In the amendment, only the fee structure has been reduced broadly by 50 per cent. The application fee has been reduced from Rs 20 to Rs10; the first hour inspection of the public records by the public is now free which was earlier Rs 15.
The per-page information in A4 and A5 sized pages has been reduced to Rs two from Rs five earlier. The cost of floppy and CD carrying information is now Rs 50 each in place of Rs 100. Fees for first appeal and second appeal were changed to Rs 20 and Rs 25 respectively instead of Rs 40 and Rs 50 earlier.
But Form A of the ORTI Rules, which is designed to be filled up by the applicant to ask for information is unnecessarily complex and lengthy and has all the potential to discourage the applicant from seeking information. It asks for information such as permanent address and proof of identity which are not necessary under the Act.
Rule 4(2) says the applicant has to satisfy the Public Information Officer (PIO) about his identity, and only then would his application be entertained. This is wrong as Section 6(2) of the Central Act says an applicant shall not mention any personal detail except the contact address.
Similarly in Form C, there are some ill-conceived, extraneous and abstract grounds for rejecting an application, such as ‘Your application is not complete in all respects,’ ‘Your identity is not clear,’ ‘The information is available in the published material’ and ‘For any other reason…’ etc. These give enough scope to the PIO to deny information.
Under Rule 4(1) BPL persons are exempted only from paying the application fee; they are required to pay for the fee of the information sought, and fee for appeals etc. But Sec-7 (5) of the Act exempts the BPL persons from any fee.
Under Rule-10, the cost of damage caused to public property during sample collection is to be collected from the applicant. But there is no such provision in the parent Act. Moreover collecting the sample of material is the responsibility of the PIO, but here the rule says the applicant is liable to pay for this.
Under Rule 12, the applicant is supposed to deposit the projected expenditure to be incurred on production of witness/evidence in case of appeal made to the IC. But sections 19(5) and 20(1) of the Act clearly say that the burden of proving that denial of a request of an applicant was justified shall be on the public authority who denied the request.
Rule 13 says any penalty or damage caused to public property in course of collecting the information will be realised from the applicant as arrears of land revenue if he fails to pay the same. In fact there is no parallel to this section in the whole country.
Both Rule 12 and Rule 13 are thoroughly archaic. They not only grossly violate the letter and spirit of the Act but also disregard all the norms of democracy.
The fees for the first and second appeal have been fixed at Rs 20 and Rs 25 respectively (they were rupees 40 and 50 before the recent amendment). But Sections 27 and 28 of RTI Act have categorically specified the four kinds of fees only, beyond which no appropriate Government or competent authority can impose any other.
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