WARY OF EFFECT Centre moves to notify new rules for Act; activists criticise move saying it would increase number of attacks on RTI users

The Centre has moved to notify new rules for the Right to Information (RTI) Act under which an RTI case would cease to exist after the death of an applicant. In its first attempt to change the working of the transparency legislation, the Modi government has come under fire over this controversial rule as RTI experts say this would increase the attacks on applicants.The department of personnel and training (DoPT), the nodal department for the implementation of RTI Act, has drafted new rules and sought comments till April 15. The exercise comes five years after RTI rules 2012 were notified. After the Congress-led UPA government withdrew a controversial draft rule, the Modi government has sought to introduce it again much to the alarm of RTI activists.Rule 12 on “Withdrawal and Abatement of appeal“ of the draft reads, “The Commission may in its discretion allow a prayer for withdrawal of appeal if such a prayer is made by the appellant on an application made in writing duly signed or during hearing. … The proceedings pending before the Commission shall abet on the death of the appellant.“

Activists have criticised this move saying this would increase the number of attacks on RTI users.Venkatesh Nayak of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) said, “This is a dangerous move because it could mean anybody powerful could threaten and make an applicant withdraw his application. Why should this be allowed? In fact, the Commission should ensure that if this information sought is in public interest, it should be proactively disclosed.“

Echoing similar views, Anjali Bhardwaj of NCPRI said, “This is a rule which would be misused. In any case if an RTI user is attacked and killed, the Commission should not stop its work. We have repeatedly said in such cases the sought information should be proactively disclosed.“ The rules have also introduced certain formats, which experts feel are very intricate and not required. Bhardwaj said, “RTI is being used by people who are on the margins. Any requirement by the Commission should keep these people ­ the poor ­ in mind. The formats prescribed are very intricate.They should be made citizen-friendly and not formal and demanding of people. Seeking of certificates could deter very deserving people from coming in appeal or complaint.“

The rules are patterned on Uttar Pradesh‘s RTI rules, which had received a lot of flak from experts.Nayak said, “The working of UP Commission cannot be a role model. The pendency is sky-rocketing.The number of attacks on users has also increased.“