Monday, August 29, 2005

Cutting the roots of right to information

Cutting the roots of right to information
New Indian Express

BANGALORE: It appears that the Government of Karnataka is not enthusiastic about giving the citizens’ right to access information. Despite the fact that Karnataka is the first state to appoint the Information Commissioner, the state government has tried to curtail the right to information through its ill-conceived rules.

The contents of the rules, its timing and the way in which it is made public all goes to prove that the Government wants to suppress the citizens’ right to know.

The Draft Rules under the RTI has been issued on 11th August 2005 and published in the gazette on 12th August 2005. Fifteen days time has been give for the public to give comments.

But the Gazette was available with great difficulty only from 20th August 2005. As a result the public are unable to give their suggestions and comments within the time limit prescribed in the draft rules.

Normally the draft rules are given wide publicity and comments are invited from the public giving 30 days time. Rules are made available in the website. In this case nothing of that sort has been done.

One fails to understand why the bureaucrats did not think on these lines. If the Government is really interested in getting feedback from the public, another 15 days’ extension is to be given.

This was one of the recommendations of the workshop. Now about the contents. The draft rules say that each applicant has to pay a fee of Rs 100 along with the application for seeking any information or document under the Right to Information Act.

Nowhere in the country has this provision been made. In fact the fee of Rs. 5 per folio as prescribed in the rules is itself more than what the Government incurs to take a photocopy. In such a case the requirement to pay application fee needs to be deleted.

Secondly, it says that the rules will come into force from the day it is notified in the Gazette. This is contrary to the RTI Act.

Because some of the provisions of the Act has already come into force. For example the provision relating to pro-active disclosure. How can the rule specify a separate date for a provision which is supposed to be already in force?

The draft is too sketchy and appears to have been drafted in a hurry without professional inputs. For instance the rules do not prescribe a format for the application. There is a provision in the Act for drawing samples for verification.

But the rules conveniently ignore this important aspect. How can this provision be put into practice? What is the cut off date for asking for samples? In the last four years the general public and civil society organizations working on Karnataka Right to Information Act have gained sufficient experience in using the Act and in the way how the government machinery works in matters relating to sharing of information.

This vast experience needs to be tapped before the rules are finalised.


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