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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Resolutions Passed by RTI Movement 14 years ago are still awaiting justice

Almost 14 years back I had organized the Right to information crusaders convention through my organization ‘Surajya Sangharsh Samiti. It was attended by about 137 activists from 27 states. I had to organize this event because the veteran activists of the country could not agree on where to hold the convention. In the end, no one objected to me organizing the convention.

The initiative was attended by veteran journalist Late Prakash Kardale. Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia, Aruna Roy, Medhatai Patkar, Nikhil Dey, Prashant Bhushan and many others. None of these came together after that meeting. This is how I came in contact with many social activists in the country. Some resolutions were passed in this convention regarding the strengthening of the RTI act. However, to date, RTI community is still struggling for proper implementation of the Act.

There is no doubt that all the congregation in this photo are veteran social workers. They are masters in their respective fields. But they never got along. For various reasons they often came either way but their opinions never matched. No one will doubt the motives of these social workers. Even if their achievements or goals are the same, they have differences over the tools and they are so extreme that it creates distance from them.

Before this convention in July 2006, the Union Cabinet amended the Right to Information Act 2005 to exclude the file noting by the government officials from its purview. Till this date, Anna and Arvind Kejriwal were in contact only on phone or through me. Arvind insisted that Anna should begin his fast at Jantar Mantar but anna didn’t agree and went on his fast unto death on 9 August 2006 in Alandi against the proposed amendment. He ended his fast on 19 August 2006, after the government agreed to change its earlier decision.

Meanwhile, Praksh kardaley had requested Arvind Kejriwal to meet anna personally. Kardaley sent this letter to anna on 15 August 2006. Arvind came to meet anna 0n 19 August 2006. However, before we ( I and Arvind Kejriwal) reach Alandi then  MoS in PMO and in charge of the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions had reached there and Anna had ended his fast. Hence, we had to return from midway. Then after some days, we went to meet Anna Hazare

Three resolutions were passed in that convention first was resolution with respect to demands from the government; another was regarding the functioning of CIC and SIC and the third was about the implementation of section 4 of RTI. Dignitaries like Veteran social worker Anna Hazare, Aruna Roy, Aravind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan had signed on these resolutions. Since then in many such conventions activists have made the same demands. However, the government didn’t give any heed to these demands.On the contrary, the government made every effort to kill the RTI act and movement. Hence On the background of change of guard in the country, there is a need to work on the strategy to revive RTI movement.

Resolution passed by the national convention of RTI activists in Pune held on 12th and 13th May 2007 with respect to the demands from the government

1.       There ought not to be any mandatory forms for requests for information and forms if any must only be a directory. The non-compliance with the forms must not and cannot result in the rejection or return of the requests.

2.       There ought to be no fee for appeal and such prescription is ultra virus and the act does not permit such imposition. Wherever such impositions are made by the Governments, they should be immediately withdrawn.

3.       Many public authorities are prescribing their own rules, which is totally illegal, and they are bound to follow the rules made by the competent authorities. Strict action must be taken against the public authorities that framed rules without jurisdiction for violating the provisions of the Act.

4.       A revolutionary sunshine act like the RTI can only be handled and effectively implemented by an independent department. The responsibility of implementing the act shall not be vested on the Department of Personnel and Training or Personnel Department of any State. As an interim measure the responsibility should be withdrawn from the DoPT or any other State Personnel Departments and vested with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and similar departments in States.

5.       Every month the Secretary in Charge of the implementation of the RTI Act should ensure that the Public Authorities file analyzed reports including information demanded under S. 25 and the same must be analyzed and action taken against any aberration or deviation from the An act which is so noted.

6.       It must be mandatory that the first appellate Authority records independent findings and reasons and gives speaking orders while disposing of the appeals.

7.       Central Government must correct the mistake in S. 19(6) by notification under S. 30 by replacing the words “or subsection (2)” as “or subsection (3)” and thus provide for a time limit to dispose of the second appeals. By prescribing a time limit in rules, the Complaints also must be ensured to be disposed of in a time-bound manner by the commissions.

8.       Every head of the public authorities must be made responsible for ensuring effective and complete Section 4 disclosures and strict disciplinary action must be taken against those defaulting this paramount duty.

9.       When compensation or costs are ordered by Information Commissions or when free information is to be given due to delay, the loss caused to the Public authority must be recovered from concerned officers if it is seen after a proper inquiry that he is responsible for the loss. In In all such cases an inquiry ought to be made.

10.     The first appellate authority that does not bonafide and properly dispose of appeals must be penalized.

11.     Call Centre’s as in Bihar for effective use of RTI must be made available by the Central Government and the State Governments. In the interim, there must be one APIO in every state who will be able to accept and forward requests for information with respect to all Public Authorities in the State.

12.     All Public Authorities must make rapid computerization making more and more available information in the public domain.

13.     The RTI Act must be included in the curriculum at the School level by all the State Governments, the CBSE, and the NCRTE and also at the college level.

14.     A special stamp for giving fee under RTI The act must be released by the State Governments and they shall be made available through the Post Offices.

15.     We urgently need the law to protect the requestors of information in the form of the Whistle Blowers Act.

16.     Government is bound by the orders of the Information Commission and they shall be respected and implemented. We note with concern to the flagrant violation of the orders of the Commissions by the Government and also the frequent and frivolous challenges of the pro disclosure orders of the Information Commissions by the Government before legal forums.

Resolution passed by the national convention of RTI activists in Pune held on 12th and 13th May 2007 with respect to the functioning of CIC and SICs

1.       If any PIO says that information cannot be provided because the files are missing, the following action should be taken in all such cases:
        a. Public authority should be asked to provide a list of officials who were supposed to be the custodians of that file before it went missing.
        b. An FIR should be registered against those officials by name
        c. Simultaneous the departmental inquiry should be ordered by the Commission to fix responsibility within a week.
       d.  Commission should direct the public authority to impose a penalty on guilty officials within the next 7 days of fixing responsibility.
        e. The The commission should direct reconstruction of file and the information should be provided to the citizen.
        f.  For every case of loss of file, the Commission should also enquire whether it was some deficiency in record maintaining systems of the department which led to loss of files. If so, they should direct appropriate changes in systems under section 19 (8)

2.       If files are reported lost at Information Commission itself, the Commission should take all the steps listed above for loss of files by PIO.
3.       Show cause notice must: If there has been any delay in responding to an RTI application, a show-cause notice should compulsorily be sent to the PIO to explain the reasons for delay or denial of information. If it relates to denial of information under section 8 or any other section and the citizen alleges malafide, then the Information Commission must compulsorily issue a show cause notice. There should be an open hearing thereafter the issue of show cause notice in which both the parties should be called. An order for either imposing penalty or dropping penalty should be passed in open court rather than behind the back of the parties.
4.       Case should not be closed till complete information is received and the citizen reports satisfaction.
5.       If any public authority does not receive RTI application does not accept fee or harasses citizen in any other manner in submitting an application or providing receipt or acknowledgment, such complaints should be directly accepted under section 18.
6.       For every second violation by any PIO, Information Commission should invoke section 20 (2) in addition to section 20 (1)
7.       Information Commissions should ensure that the penalties imposed by them are recovered and are entered in the ACRs of the officials.
8.       If a citizen invokes life and liberty clause, the Commission should directly entertain such complaint under sec 18 and should dispose of it within 48 hours.
9.       “Life and liberty” should be defined as provided under article 21 of the Constitution.
10.     It has been seen that some Information Commissioners are accepting the hospitality of public authorities whose cases, they are hearing. This is being done under the garb of holding RTI workshops in those public authorities. Information Commissioners should immediately stop doing this. The Commission should come out with a model code of conduct on the lines as it exists for judges.
11.     If any state has more than one Information Commissioner, they should be spread out in the state rather than holding hearings from only one city.
12.     No Information Commissioner should be allowed to deal with any Department where he/she served any time in the past, as there is a direct conflict of interest.
13.     Both parties should be treated equally. Often, the officers from public authority are seen to be having tea with the Commissioner before hearing. This severely affects the independence of the commissioner and his ability to act against the officials.
14.     Both parties should be heard in every case. Principles of natural justice should be respected.
15.     Many Commissioners do not pass orders in open court, which is a violation of rules. Every order should be passed in open court.
16.     All Information Commissions should themselves abide by section 4 disclosures.
17.     No format should be insisted upon for filing an appeal. Similarly, only one copy of appeal should be asked rather than three or five copies as is being done today.
18.     Many Information Commissions have not submitted their reports under section 25 of the RTI Act. It is requested that they submit it soon.
19.     Some information commissions are providing orders for a cost. This should be stopped forthwith. Orders should be provided free of cost.
20.     Every case in which a decision is passed in favor of the citizen should lead to appropriate compensation for costs incurred and for mental harassment. This should be recovered from the salary of the responsible officer as in the case of Chhattisgarh.
21.     PIO and AA should not be allowed to be represented by anyone including lawyers. They should appear in person.
22.     All orders should be in a format so that the basic information about that case is reflected in every case. We are developing such a format through consultations and will make our suggestions soon.
23.     Acknowledgement no should be given to the complainant/ appellant on the spot, if he is filing by hand or should be dispatched within 24 hours of receipt by post.
24.     The Commission should ensure that the first hearing in every matter should take place within 30 days of receipt of complaint/ appeal and there should not be a gap of more than 10 days between two hearings.
25.     “Human Rights” should be interpreted to mean a defined in various international treaties to which India is a signatory.
26.     The offices of Information Commissions should be made disabled-friendly and should be at such places where they are easily accessible to the public.
27.     All hearings at Information Commissions should be video recorded.
28.     The Information Commissions may like to create awareness, but they should do it themselves rather than sub-letting funds to NGOs or other agencies.

Resolution passed by the national convention of RTI activists in Pune held on 12th and 13th  May 2007 with respect to the implementation of Section 4

1.       For the implementation of Section 4 state/central Government should take audits of every public authority. Public Authorities that do not comply with Section 4 should be enquired upon by the Govt.

2.       CIC or SIC should dispose of complaints against non-compliance of Section 4 on a priority basis.

3.       CIC or SIC should recommend necessary action against the erring Public Authority to the concerned governments

4.       If applications are made for information under Section 4 then the information should be supplied at actual cost and not at the prescribed charges of Rs.2 per page.

5.       CIC, SIC, and government should treat non compliance of Section 4 as a refusal of information and accordingly take action on the erring Public Authority

6.       In every state NGOs should frequently take an audit of compliance of Section 4 in various Public Authorities’.