Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Decade-old Right to Information regime "fails to allow" simple, uniform rules for RTI payments across India

By Our Representative
A senior Right to Information (RTI) activist has taken strong exception to the way RTI rules of state governments failing to clearly indicate in whose favour non-cash payment instruments for filing RTI applications must be drawn. “It varies from public authority to public authority”, says Venkatesh Nayak in a letter he has dashed to Sanjay Kothari, secretary, Department of Personnel and Training, Government of India.
“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”, says Nayak, who is Programme Coordinator, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi.
The problem, says Nayak, is not just faced by RTI applicants, but also Public Information Officers (PIOs), who are receive RTI pleas. “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”, he points out.
This is because the “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”, the senior activist says.
Pointing out that while the RTI Rules notified by the Department of Personnel and Training, Government of India, requires all payments to be made in favour of the Accounts Officer, rules differ elsewhere.
“Several public authorities require these instruments to be drawn in favour of the DDO or the P&AO or some other authority”, says Nayak, adding, “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.”
Giving the example of Uttarakhand of how it has simplified the by allowing payments of all kinds of fees “in favour of the PIO or the APIO”, Nayak says, “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.”
Nayak recommends, “The practice adopted in Uttarakhand can be uniformly adopted across the country using an existing financial procedural mechanism”, adding, “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.”
The GFR Rule 88, read with Rule 89, Nayak says, “permits the creation of a ‘Personal Deposit Account’ which can be operated by a designated officer for the purposes specified in that Rule.” The Rule 88 says, “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.”
As for the Rule 89, it says, “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.”

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