The Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice
(Chairperson: Dr. E.M. Sudarsana Natchiappan)
The RTI Act 2005 should be amended to include a chapter on mandatory actions/obligations for Public Authorities that would expressly mention the following:
- Cabinet papers concerning decisions on public policies (not impinging on national security/public order) should be released to the public in a time bound manner (within a period of two months) by converting the same into PDF format/other electronic format and displaying the same on the website. For this purpose, the cabinet should have its own dedicated website.
- Routine reports (not impinging on national security/public order) of government-constituted committees/commissions/study groups should straightaway be put on the website.
- Relevant data on utilisation/grant of funds by Ministries/departments under various schemes should be routinely put on the website.
- Details of various schemes framed and implemented for the public should be put on the website, instead of requiring the applicants to deposit additional fees for obtaining photocopies of such schemes.
- Relevant data on caste/category-wise representation of people (which forms important part of public policy) in Central/State Government jobs should be regularly put on the website of the concerned ministries/departments to aid framing of "just and fair laws" and to dispel rumour mongering based on unsubstantiated data.
- All affidavits filed by the Government in the Supreme/High Courts (particularly on constitutional matters) should be uploaded on a central website.
- All Government bodies (including committees/commissions etc) should have their own websites.
- Details of RTI Officers/Appellate Authorities - their names, designations, email IDs, telephone numbers and addresses should be mandatorily stated on the websites of the Public Authorities.
- Details of RTI Fees - payee authority, mode of payment etc should be mandatorily stated on the website.
- Details of RTI Applications (mentioning names of applicants, serial no allotted, date of receipt, date of reply etc should be put on the website. The address of the applicant, however should not be stated.
- Any officer/employee of a public authority who threatens, terrorises or intimidates an information seeker must be dismissed from service after due enquiry.
- No applicant should be required to provide proof of address, as is unauthorisedly happening in contravention of Section 6(2) in certain states.
- There should be no limit on the number of queries raised through each RTI application as is unauthorisedly happening in certain states.
- The term "Public Authority" contained in Clause 6(3) should be replaced with the term "Public Authorities"
(19) No fee, other than document fee should be levied on applicants. The discretion to Public Authorities (including in States) to levy different kinds of fees (by way of postage, salary of personnel etc) should be done away with. The Regulation of Fee rules should be abolished and the non-discretionary clause should form part of the RTI Act.
(20) Documents totalling up to six pages should be sent free of cost without requiring the applicant to pay extra fee, since to secure, for example, one additional page of information, the applicant is required to spend additional Rs.15/- (cost of document + additional postage). The Public Authority is also required to spend once again on postage for sending a few additional pages of documents. In all, eliciting Rs.2/- from an applicant actually entails additional spending of Rs.30-50/-!
(21) The Information Commissions should be headed by Retired High Court judges, who would be required to mandatorily make public details of their academic performance, service record and details of their assets which should be verified by an "appropriate authority" in a time bound manner.
(22) Political parties should be included in the definition of "Public Authority". The RTI Act should be made applicable on all political parties since they contest elections, receive funds and income tax exemptions, enjoy various facilities and whose elected members enjoy vast powers granted by the constitution.
(23) The beginning para of the Act talks of "practical regime of right to information for citizens", and Section 3 also talks of "citizens", however, however Section 6(1) talks of "a person". The clause on "citizens" should be changed to incorporate "any person".
(24) The clause on maximum penalty of Rs.25000/- should be scrapped and replaced with "Rs.250 per day till the date of satisfactory provision of information". This penalty should be considered at the factor cost of year 2005. Any devaluation in value of rupee should raise this value on annual basis.
(25) In Clause 20(1) relating to imposition of financial penalties, the clause should be amended to include the Appellate Authority liable for penalties also. After all, the PIO and AA may collude to deny information.
RTI Act 2005 is a path-breaking piece of legislation meant to empower the citizens. However, based on the usage of RTI Act several shortcomings have been discovered which need to be urgently removed. The following is an elaboration of the suggestions to the Hon'ble Standing Committee of the Rajya Sabha:
- A chapter on compulsory disclosure:
A chapter on mandatory disclosures has to be introduced which shall specifically provide for the items (a) - (m).
- Cabinet papers should be compulsorily disclosed in a time bound manner: On matters concerning public policies (not impinging on national security/public order) all papers on cabinet decisions should be compulsorily disclosed in a time bound manner (within two months of decision) by converting the same into electronic/PDF format and placing the same on a dedicated website of the Union/State Cabinets. For this purpose, professional parties should be contracted who shall do the required work.
- Routine Reports of Committees/Commissions should be straightaway put on the website: Routine reports of various committees/commissions (not impinging on national security/public order) should straightaway be put on the ministry/department's website and on a dedicated national website which shall have only have report of commissions/ committees. All reports/ correspondences etc these days are prepared on computer, which can be easily uploaded on to the website. There is no need for people to go through the time and money-consuming process of filing RTI Application etc, depositing huge fees for the photocopy of a report that can be downloaded without cost and that too at one's convenience. (For example, the report on the "creamy layer" submitted by the NCBC in 2004 & 2008 to the Government of India, has not yet been put on the website and anyone who needs it, is required to file an application under RTI and pay a huge sum of money for a photocopy of the report).
- Relevant Data should also be put on the website: All relevant data on allocation/utilisation of funds under various schemes, receipt and processing of grievances etc should be placed on the website. This proactive approach will again reduce the need for people to file applications under RTI Act and related activities, expenses etc.
- Data on category-wise, post-wise representation should be compulsorily stated
Reservation based on caste is a public policy. Caste/category-wise representation of people in public authorities should be compulsorily stated to dispel and prevent circulation of misleading and instigatory information. Periodical publication of this crucial data will enable framing of "just and fair" laws based on empirical evidence. This will reduce litigation, spread of disaffection etc.
- All affidavits filed by the Government should be uploaded on the websites: All affidavits filed by the Governments in the Supreme Court/High Court, at least on constitutional matters, should be uploaded on a dedicated website, so that the public can access them, study them, become aware of the issues involved and point out any inaccuracies/ inconsistencies, if any. In any case such affidavits once filed in the court and submitted to the contesting parties become public documents. Again, there is no need for people to file RTI applications to obtain copies of the affidavits for study and research.
- Every Govt body that is formed should have its own website: Every Government body that is constituted (by act of parliament, ordinance, G.O. etc) should have its own website, displaying relevant data, including its address, phone numbers, fax numbers and email ID on which complaints/suggestions can be lodged. The Government had constituted the National Commission for Economically Backward Classes in July 2006, which as yet does not have its website till date, and no one knows the address from where it is working. Even the Ministry of Social Justice under which it is supposedly functioning, has no information on the Commission on its website. One is therefore forced to apply to the Government of India to find out its address and other relevant information. Is it not surprising that a Commission has been constituted for the public, but the public does not have access to information on the Commission? This situation needs to be completely avoided.
- Information on PIO/Appellate Authorities: Clause 4(1)(xvi) mandates every Public Authority to state details of Public Information Officers. This should be amended to include details of the Appellate Authorities as well. Moreover, it is necessary to put this clause in the mandatory chapter, since many Govt bodies such as the DSSSB, etc are not mentioning the names of the PIO/AA, their designations, addresses, telephone numbers, email IDs etc, which is an apparent violation of the clause 4(1)(xvi) of the existing RTI Act 2005.
- Details of payee, amount of fee etc should be mandatorily stated: Most departments/ organisations do not reveal the name of the authority in whose name the RTI fee is payable, as a result much time, money and effort is spent in trying to find out this information. Many a times, the IPO/DD etc is returned on the plea that the name of the authority is not correctly mentioned on the instrument, despite the fact that such information has not been revealed on the website. When Government organisations already know that the RTI Act is in force, this elementary information should be put on the website of the organisation. For example, the DSSSB website does not contain such information.
- Mention of Information Commission must: Where the reply is provided by the Appellate Authority, the fact that another appeal can be filed with the Information Commission must be necessarily mentioned along with details of the particular Information Commission, and other contact details.
- Information on RTI Applications received: Presently, there is no mechanism by which an RTI applicant would know whether or not his application has been properly delivered to the concerned department/office. Every Government body must therefore place details of the RTI application received on its website promptly, so that the applicant is assured of the fact that his application has been received in the concerned department/ division/ office. However, the address of the applicant must not be stated.
- Dismissal from service for threatening/intimidating applicants: Several cases have come to light on information-seekers being threatened/intimidated/terrorised by the staff of the Public Authorities. Based on proper inquiry, the penalty for such an illegal and unconstitutional action should be dismissal from service.
- Demanding additional fees should be declared illegal: Certain offices/organisations either to discourage the information-seeker or to hide their unwillingness/ inability/ laziness to provide information have got into the habit of requiring the applicant to pay fees which amount to paying salary to the personnel to be deployed for supposedly collecting information and other miscellaneous expenses such as postage, telegram etc. A specific clause needs to be inserted into the RTI Act to prohibit demanding of such charges.
- Abolish Fees on First Appeal and Second Appeal: In states like Madhya Pradesh, Haryana etc the state governments have made rules requiring the appellant to pay Rs.50/- as fees for first appeal and Rs.100/- as second appeal. The levying of such fees must be construed as an attempt to first deny information and then discourage the appellants by making the process expensive. Besides, it is stated on the website that the fee is to be paid by way of "non-judicial stamp" which is not understood by most people. Levying of such additional fees should be prohibited by a specific provision in the Act.
- Maximum penalty clause should be removed: Currently, as per clause 20(1) the maximum penalty that can be imposed on a PIO for wilful denial of information is Rs.25000/-. This clause should be done away with and replaced with "Rs.250 per day till the date of satisfactory provision of information". This penalty should be considered at the factor cost of year 2005. Any devaluation in value of rupee should raise this value on annual basis. This change is particularly important because in many states, several officials have been found to amass crores worth of money through questionable means. In such a case, the officer would have no problem in paying the penalty.
- Mandatory punishment for denial of information: Where information is deliberately and wilfully denied or false information is deliberately provided, the financial penalty/ departmental action should be mandatory after due enquiry. There should be no discretion.
- The Information Commissions should be headed by Retired High Court judges: Only retired High Court Judges should be the Chief Information Commissioners, while other eminent persons can be Information Commissioners. Advertisements for the post should be called in advance, and their personal details such as assets held, educational qualification, academic performance, judicial career, performance report while in service should be released to the public. The assets should be scrutinised before hand by an "appropriate authority".
- Every intended legislation should be publicised: Whenever a legislation on public policy is contemplated, the fact should be made known to the public at least six months in advance through Govt Notification so that based on their inputs, the best possible legislation, free from ambiguities, can be drafted to avoid future litigation. This will also be a fine democratic gesture befitting one of the democracies in the world. However, the foregoing clause would not be applicable where any legislation is to be enacted for the security/defence of India.
- The expression "Public Authority" should include political parties: The definition of the term "Public Authority" should be amended to include Recognised Political Parties since; these parties enjoy huge perks and privileges at public expense, wield constitutional powers, run the government and are able to contest elections with certain privileges.
We will be glad to participate and elaborate further on our views and suggestions.
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