New Delhi, April 3 (IANS) The Congress on Monday accused the Narendra Modi government of seeking to subvert the RTI Act, saying that the new draft rules give power to an authority to reject an application if it is beyond 500 words and also force a steep hike in charges on the applicant to get a reply.
Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari told reporters that the Narendra Modi government has been displaying an attitude of “active neglect towards RTI” and it finally seems to have decided “to formalise the process of subverting the RTI”.
“The entire RTI regimen is sought to be constricted, suffocated and finally subverted,” he said.
Noting that the United Progressive Alliance government, which brought the Right to Information law, did not allow any dilution in its paradigm despite some protests from within and outside the government, Tewari said the new draft rules look extremely innocuous but the “devil lies in the detail” and “it is the fine print which gives away the intent of the government”.
He said the draft rules state that if an RTI Activist application is of more than 500 words, it can be rejected.
“It is very cleverly worded. It says that if the application is ordinarily above 500 words, then it can be rejected. So, therefore, there is no clear bar but it puts discretion in the hands of the public authority that if you happen to exceed the word count, that is enough reason to refuse to reply to the RTI query,” Tewari said.
He also said there has been a steep enhancement in RTI charges, noting that under the 2012 rules, it was the government’s responsibility to send the reply and it would largely bear the cost, including of postage.
“Now that paradigm has been reversed. The RTI applicant would have to bear the cost of the reply. The exact rule says that the cost of photocopying a page goes up from Re 1 to Rs. 2, the cost of photocopying the exact model would be the actual cost which you have to bear etc,” he said.
He also noted that the rules said if a query is not neatly typed in double space, it can be rejected.
“So you are imposing a cost on the poor that you must go to a typing shop or to a stenographer get your appeal typed and then put it in the system,” he said.
Citing a provision which says that there will be an abatement of proceedings if the applicant dies, he said: “RTI activists are extremely apprehensive that this will increase the number of attacks which are taking place and which have resulted in the unfortunate death of many RTI activists.”
He said there is also a provision which allows the public authority of the first appellate to file counter appeals which essentially means that it becomes a judicial proceeding.
“So if you file an RTI application and you are not happy with the outcome, you file an appeal. Now the authority who has rejected your application will be allowed to file a counter to that. It means that the whole process becomes more contested and your possibility of being able to get information in the requisite time frame may end up doubling,” Tewari said, terming it the responsibility of all progressive forces to see that the new draft rules are contested and no dilution allowed.
This is published unedited from the IANS feed.