Modi government proposes new RTI rules, complaints to be filed within 135 days of application now

Some RTI activists have objected to such suggestions by the government in the past saying information seekers may be coerced by people with vested interests

The government has proposed a new set of rules for processing Right to Information applications, complaints and appeals and has sought suggestions from the public by April 15. The proposed rules, aimed at replacing RTI rules of 2012, have been placed by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) on its website for comments from public.

“The time given is too less. There is no official press release in this regard as well. How will people know that something like is placed on website for them to give opinion,” RTI activist Commodore (Retd) Lokesh Batra.

A major proposal now allows the Central Information Commission (CIC) to convert a complaint into second appeal which would mean it can order the disclosure of information to an applicant who has come under complaint clause of the RTI Act which was not the case earlier.

“The Commission may in its discretion allow a prayer for any amendment of a complaint during the course of its hearing, including conversion of the complaint into second appeal, if available remedies have been exhausted, on a prayer made by the complainant,” the draft rules state.

The Supreme Court had held in one of its orders that Section 18 of the RTI Act provides for complaint while Section 19 of the RTI Act provides mechanism of second appeal.

It had said that the CIC while hearing a plea under complaint clause cannot order disclosure of the information which can only be provided if the person is approaching it under second appeal or section 19 of the Act.

Another provision says that the proceedings before the Commission will abate in case of death of the appellant.

The new draft rules also allow the Commission to use its discretion for allowing withdrawal of appeal or a complaint if appellant requests but such requests cannot be entertained once the matter has been decided by it.

Some RTI activists have objected to such suggestions by the government in the past saying information seekers may be coerced by people with vested interests and may even be killed as the information against them cannot be ordered to be disclosed in such cases.

The rules also introduce provisions like providing a copy of complaint and appeal to the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) before approaching the CIC.

A proof in this regard will also be submitted to the Commission along with the complaint or appeal.

The applicants will have to declare that the matter submitted by them before the Commission has not been decided or pending before the Commission or any court.

The applicants can now file complaints within 135 days of filing the RTI application only. Any delay in filing the complaint will have to be accompanied with the request for condonation of delay.

If the RTI applicant does not know the name and address of the CPIO or the First Appellate authority in a government department, he will have to provide a copy of his complaint to the department before approaching the Commission.

The new proposed process asks the Commission to get replies from the CPIO within a specified time before issuing notices to them.