Thursday, January 14, 2016

Uttar Pradesh's new RTI rules "require" below poverty individuals to pay fees to make Right to Information plea

By Our Representative
The newly published Right to Information (RTI) Rules by the Government of Uttar Pradesh (UP), where one of the highest percentage of poor of the country live, do not allow Below Poverty Line (BPL) individuals to file RTI without any fees. A recent analysis has found that the UP RTI Rules 4(4) & 5(1) “do not differentiate between APL and BPL RTI applicants.”
Suggesting that this runs against the RTI Act, senior RTI activist of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative says in an e-mail alert that under the Act the BPL “applicants need not pay any fee” if they “show proof of BPL identity to claim fee waiver.”
“The UP RTI Rules do not clarify this issue”, says Nayak, warning, “Unscrupulous Public Information Officers (PIOs) are likely to start quoting this Rule to tell BPL applicants that the law has been changed requiring them to pay both application fee and additional fee to obtain information.”
Pointing out that “this has happened in other places earlier”, Nayak says, Central Information Commissioner (CIC) “in an order a few years ago said that public authorities should not reject an RTI application for non-payment of application fee. It can always be collected along with the additional fee at a later date.”
In fact, Nayak says, the Uttarakhand government goes so far as to permit “the PIO to receive an RTI application unaccompanied by the application fee whom he will notify requesting fee payment. This is a citizen-friendly approach.” As against this, “the UP RTI Rules only create new grounds for PIOs to reject RTI applications in an unreasonable manner.”
Commenting on the UP RTI Rule 5(4), which permits a PIO to charge an RTI applicant for labour and material involved for supplying copies of maps and plans, Nayak insists, “This Rule has been made in complete ignorance of the standards set by the CIC.”
Nayak notes, “In the case of Subodh Jain vs DCP, West District, Delhi Police a full Bench of the CIC ruled in 2009 against charging labour, wages, search and collation fees under the RTI Act. Where maps and plans are involved only reproduction costs may be charged.”
Comments Nayak, “The UP RTI Rules appear to misinterpret the additional fee provisions laid down in Section 7 of the RTI Act. Leaving so much discretion in the hands of the PIO is likely to result in abandonment of the principle of reasonableness of fee required under the proviso of Section 7(5) of the RTI Act.”
Pointing towards another lacuna, the analysis says, the UP RTI Rule 13(1) “permits an appellant/complainant to withdraw an appeal or complaint”, while “under Rule 13(3) an appeal or complaint will abate upon the demise of the appellant/complainant.”
Comments Nayak, “Given the current scenario where 50 RTI users/activists or their kin have been murdered and hundreds more have been beaten up severely or subjected to ostracizing in a bid to make them withdraw their complaints these provisions will be used by vested interests to force an end to appeals and complaints cases”.
Recalling that when the Government of India “contemplated similar provisions, it backed off after trenchant criticism from civil society”, Nayak says, “UP has already witnessed the murder of at least 6 RTI users/activists during the last 10 years even in the absence of withdrawal and abatement provisions.”
He adds, “There is no need to strengthen the hands of vested interests in a legal manner. RTI is not in the nature of people's right to property, which will get extinguished with their withdrawal or demise. Information of interest to one person may be of interest to others.”

1 comment:

Veteran Major P M Ravindran said...

Its the courts that led this way! Almost all high courts have kept the application fee and cost much, much higher than what has been prescribed by the central govt. In fact some of them have introduced fee for 1st appeal also when actually it is only an additional opportunity given to the public authority to correct the mistake of its PIO!