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Monday, June 09, 2014

 

Illegal and Anti-people provisions of Odisha RTI Rules, 2005

"The 2006 Amendment, though fair and useful in itself, didn’t however touch at all on the mainframe of Orissa RTI (Right To Information) Rules 2005, which remains to this day the single greatest fraud on the citizens’ right to information under the parent Act. Because of it the common people, especially the BPL section, are damn scared to use it. As a result, contrary to the larger picture at national level where country’s legendary scams are found to be getting exposed through the historic RTI tool, Odisha cuts a sorry figure for not a single major case of corruption, be it in mining, midday meal, paddy procurement or land deals, has come to public scanner through RTI route."

Pradip Pradhan

 

Like in India, the RTI Act 2005 has completed about six and half years in Odisha. But unlike in the country, the RTI scenario in Odisha is too miserable to describe. The story of RTI’s grand failure in Odisha began with notification of Orissa RTI Rules 2005 by the Government of Odisha on 1st October 2005 without consulting the civil society groups.

After undertaking an in-depth study of the said Rules, the Civil Society Groups and RTI Activists all across the State have been steadfastly protesting against it terming it as absurd, illegitimate and anti-people, solely meant to defraud the citizens of their statutory right to information. Echoing the civil society concerns of Odisha the eminent RTI protagonists at national level like Mrs. Aruna Ray, Mr. Sailesh Gandhi and Ms.Maja Daruwala (CHRI) did also voice their protest against the same, primarily on the ground of its incongruity with the parent law.

Specifically, Mrs. Ray had met the Chief Minister of Odisha in Dec 2005 and pressed him to withdraw the said Rules at the earliest. Under mounting pressure from Civil Society Groups both at state and national level, the State Government on the floor of Assembly settled for a bunch of new provisions that included reduction of fees on different heads and arrangement for suo motu disclosures under Section 4 at the level of each public authority, which was notified in official gazette on 29th May 2006 as Orissa RTI (Amendment) Rules, 2006.

The 2006 Amendment, though fair and useful in itself, didn’t however touch at all on the mainframe of Orissa RTI Rules 2005, which remains to this day the single greatest fraud on the citizens’ right to information under the parent Act. Because of it the common people, especially the BPL section are damn scared to use it. As a result, contrary to the larger picture at national level where country’s legendary scams are found to be getting exposed through the historic RTI tool, Odisha cuts a sorry figure for not a single major case of corruption, be it in mining, midday meal, paddy procurement or land deals, has come to public scanner through RTI route. The transparent and accountable system of governance promised by the RTI Act still remains a far-off dream for the millions of the people in Odisha. The only breakthrough to the stinking stalemate the Odisha RTI is perforce passing through is possible only by the immediate withdrawal of the patently illegitimate and anti-people Odisha RTI Rules 2005 lock, stock and barrel.

Absurd, Anti-people and illegal provisions of Orissa RTI Rules 2005

A. Provision for Proof  of Citizenship - illegal

Rule-2 (e) ‘Identity’- The given definition which requires an applicant to show the evidence of his/ her ‘citizenship like an electoral photo identity card, a passport or any other document which can satisfy the authority about the citizenship of the person’  at the time of submission of RTI Application needs to be altogether abolished, as it is ultra vires to the parent Act, which under Section  6(2) says inter alia that a citizen is not required to give ‘any other personal details except those that may be necessary for contacting him’.

B. Compulsory Application Form- illegal

The State Government has imposed a compulsory application Form (Form-A), which requires to be filled up by an RTI applicant while seeking for information. The said lengthy 11-column Form-A requires the copy of Voter’s Card or Passport to be attached as a proof of citizenship. This provision not only deprives the citizens below 18 years of their right to make an application for information, but also discloses personal details like name of father/spouse, permanent address, age and sex etc. (as mentioned in the voter card/passport) in contravention of the Section  6(2) of the Act.  Further, it is seen that it has become very difficult on the part of the common people to fill it up. So this Form needs to be withdrawn, and the people should be allowed to apply in their own manner as is the practice at Central level and in rest of the States.

C. Denial of Application and Information through Email- illegal

Though Section 6(1) of RTI Act 2005 and Rule 4(1) of Orissa RTI Rules 2005 provide for submission of RTI application and dispatch of information implied therein, not a single public authority under the control of Government of Odisha has been able to operationalise such a provision, leading to denial of right to information to a vast bulk of citizens in and outside the State. It needs to be remedied forthwith.

D. Compulsory Forms for 1st & 2nd Appeals and Appeal fees- illegal

The imposition of compulsory Forms, Form-D and Form-E along with Appeal fees of Rs.20/- and Rs.25/- respectively to be paid through Court Fee Stamps is simply ultra vires to Section 27(2) of the parent Act, and therefore needs to be withdrawn and replaced by a provision declaring no form or fees for any appeal to be made under the Act.

E. Fees collected from BPL families against information- illegal

In Odisha, the PIO including those of Odisha Information Commission are collecting  fees towards cost of information from the BPL people, in naked contravention of Section 7(5) of RTI Act. As per a study undertaken by PRIA in 2008, a good number of BPL people who initially submitted the RTI applications to various offices in Odisha didn’t collect the information as they were asked to pay the fees which they couldn’t afford. So the illegal practice of collecting information fees from the BPL people in Odisha must be stopped forthwith.

F. Form-B (letter of intimation)- illegal

The Form-B (PIO’s letter of intimation to the applicant) is illegal since it doesn’t contain, as it should under Section 7(3) of the Act, any space for break-up of the total fees demanded and the particulars of first appellate authority before whom the applicant, if aggrieved by the decision of PIO, may lodge an appeal within the time-limit to be specified therein. Thus Form-B needs to be redesigned as per the mandate of the Act.

G. Form-C (letter of rejection)- illegal

The Form-C prescribed under Orissa RTI Rules 2005 is out and out illegal for it cites some arbitrary grounds for rejection of an Application falling outside the purview of the Act, such as, ‘Your Application is not complete in all respect’, ‘Your identity is not satisfactory’, ‘The information is available in published material available to Public’, ‘The information as sought for by you is available in our Website’ and ‘For any other reason’. The Act has stipulated clearly the possible grounds for rejecting an application fully or partially, such as, those covered under Sections 8, 9, 10, 11 and 24 only. The Form-C therefore needs be withdrawn to honour the letter and spirit of Act.

H. Absurd language in Orissa RTI Rules 2005- illegal

Rule 2(1-c) of Orissa RTI Rules 2005, reads, “’fee’ means amount payable by the applicant for obtaining any information under the provisions of sub-section (1) of Section 6 and sub-sections (1) and (5) of Section 5 excluding the cost of information”. It conveys no meaning and makes a mockery of the entire set of the above Rules par excellence.

I. Rule- 4: Prohibitive Modes of fees payment- illegal

The Schedule to Orissa RTI Amendment Rules 2006 stipulates the Fees/Amount to be charged in respect of application fees, cost of information fees and appeal fees. Apart from the fact that the provision of Appeal Fees is altogether illegal as already mentioned above, the modes of payment of application fees are only cash or treasury-challan and only cash as fees towards information have been unfriendly to people. From the experience of nearly six and half years of RTI in the State, it has been clear that people find it extremely hard to make use of such restrictive modes of payment. The question arises here, while IPO is the standard mode of payment for all purposes at Central level and in rest of the States, why shouldn’t it be prescribed under Orissa RTI Rules besides other possible modes of payment like Money Order, Demand Draft, Banker’s Cheque, Electronic Payment?

J. Miscellaneous violations of law

The Speaker of Odisha Legislative Assembly has not complied with the mandate of notifying its separate RTI Rules under Section 28 or for making suo motu disclosures under Section 4(1b) of the Act. The Governor of Odisha, though a Competent Authority in respect of Constitutional bodies like Odisha Election Commission, Odisha Finance Commission and Odisha Tribal Advisory Body under Section 2(e-iv) has not as yet complied with his duty to notify the separate RTI Rules for such bodies, nor has made any suo motu disclosures as required under Section 4(1b) of the Act. The Governor has also failed to fulfil his mandatory obligation under Section 17 to take punitive action against the Information Commissioners, against whom several citizens have lodged complaints of inefficiency, corruption and moral turpitude. The Annual Reports on the state of RTI, as prepared by the Odisha Information Commission, even though filled with false, fictitious, irrelevant and self-congratulatory stuff, have been straightaway lain on the floor of the Assembly without any corrective exercise by the nodal department of I&PR, in contravention of Section 25 of the Act. The above mentioned Constitutional authorities need to make up their performance deficit forthwith to honour the letter and spirit of RTI Act 2005.

[Author leads the Odisha Soochana Adhikar Abhiyan. He can be contacted at odishasoochanaadhikar@gmail.com]

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