P M Ravindran
2/18, 'Aathira', Sivapuri, Kalpathy-678003
Tele: 0491-2576042; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
File:RTI-rules2017-redraft-060417 06 Apr 2017
Note: The DoPT, vide their circular No 1/5/2016-IR dated 31 Mar 2017, has invited suggestions from the public on the proposed RTI Rules, 2017 attached to it. These rules have nothing in them to ensure compliance of the law by PIOs, FAAs and ICs and are obviously intended to make it more difficult for information seekers to access information and easy for public servants to avoid providing them. If anything these proposals only expose the public servants who have drafted them and approved them for circulation as idiots and traitors!
In this context it is pertinent to recollect the Natchiappan Commitee of Parliament which had invited suggestions from the public on the amendments required for the RTI Act. In fact even that move was seen by activists working in this area as a move by the then government to neutralise the good aspects of the transparency law. In the event many citizens wasted a lot of their time and energy to give suggestions which did not see the light of the day.
Subsequently, the tainted PriceWater Cooper House was engaged (at considerable cost, of course) to study the implemention of this law. And they did produce a glossy report which, in my opinion, can be easily trashed. A copy of the report is in my posession and can be provided, through email, to anyone seeking it.
Under the circumstances it has become necessary to draft an entirely independant set of rules for the effective implementation of the RTI Act in keeping with its objectives- for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority and also to contain corruption and to hold Governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed- as stated in its preamble.
THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION RULES, 2017
In exercise of the powers conferred by section 27 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 (22 of 2005) and in supersession of the Right to Information Rules 2012, except as respects things done or omitted to be done before such supersession, but the procedures being applicable to all applications and appeals which are at different stages of processing as on the date of these rules becoming effective, the Central Government hereby makes the following rules, namely:-
1.Short title and commencement:-
(1) These rules may be called the Right to Information Rules,2017.
(2) They shall come into force on the date of their publication in the Official Gazette.
2. Definitions:- In these rules, unless the context otherwise requires,—
(a)"Act" means the Right to Information Act, 2005 (22 of 2005);
(b) "public authority" means any authority or body or institution of self- government as defined in the Act and would include Members of Parliament also.
(c)” First Appellate Authority (FAA) ” means the public servant superior to the CPIO and designated as such as per Sec 19(1) of the Act.
(c) All other words and expressions used herein but not defined in these rules shall have the same meanings as assigned to them in the Act.
3. Designation of Public Information Officers (PIO), Nodal PIO, Assistant PIO and FAA(s) under Sec 5 and 19 of the Act.
(a) The head of a public authority having a strength of 5 or more public servants, including himself, will designate a central PIO and also designate himself as the appellate authority.
(b) Any public authority having a strength of 15 or more public servants shall designate an additional central public information officer for every 15 public servants or part thereof. Where there is more than one central public information officer one of them shall be designated as the nodal central public information officer who will co-ordinate activities with the others. The nodal central public information officer shall be assisted by a central assistant public information officer.
(c) There shall be an appellate authority for every 3 CPIOs in a public authority and in cases where there is more than one appellate authority in a public authority the head of the public authority shall be the nodal appellate authority coordinating the activities of all the appellate authorities in the public authority.
(d) In the case of public authorities having less than 5 public servants, the head of the public authority shall be the CPIO and his superior (in another public authority) shall be the appellate authority.
(e) In the case of single member public authorities like Members of Parliament, who are provided with staff/allowance to maintain an office in their constituencies, applications from citizens for information under the Act shall be accepted and transferred, under sec 6(3) of the Act, to the concerned public authorities dealing with the specific information sought.
(a) An application for information shall be in English or any other languages used by the Union or in the State in the area where the public authority is located*1.
(b) It shall preferably be listed, using paragraph numbers, for ease of providing the information and for facilitating processing of appeals.
(c) It shall be made on plain paper or digitally and shall contain the contact details of the applicant which may even be Post Box number in the name of the applicant. The applicant may disclose his telephone/mobile numbers and e mail id if he desires so. There shall be no fee required to be paid by the applicant.*2
(d) There is no need for the applicant to disclose the purpose of seeking the information.
(e) The applications shall be submitted in person or through a representative which may even be a courier, including the post offices, or through electronic means. Receipts/acknowledgements will have to be obtained in all cases.
5. Processing of applications.
(a) The application may be accepted directly or through the normal procedure followed for receipt of mail.
(b) The recipient shall allot a unique number to the application that will identify the public authority and the application and record its receipt in the register meant for the purpose.
(c) The copy of the application, after masking the contact details, will be uploaded on the website of the public authority or a common website created for the purpose, along with the application number assigned to it. (Search facility should provide for tracking the document and its docket using the applicant’s name, name of the public authority, date of the application as mentioned by the applicant, the subject and/or application number using any of them independently or in combination.)
(d) The recipient of the application will then transfer it to the CPIO or ACPIO, as the case may be. This transfer need not be through any hierarchical channels as may exist in the public authority.
(e) In the case of applications, addressed to different public authorities, handed over to the ACPIO, the ACPIO (or in his absence the Nodal PIO or PIO) shall transfer the application to the addressee expeditiously but within 5 days of its receipt in the public authority and endorse a copy of the letter transferring it to the applicant also.
(f) The date of receipt of the application in the public authority, which is required to provide the information, will be considered for the purpose of calculating the period of 30 days specified in sec 7(1) of the Act.
(g) At every stage of transfer, the recipient of the application will send an acknowledgement to the applicant through SMS/ email, if available, indicating the application number. The information shall be updated in the relevant docket at the web site too.
(h) The date and time of all transfers will be recorded in the docket, a copy of which will be provided to the applicant even if such information has not been sought by him.
(i) The CPIO will first re draft the application, if necessary, by reproducing the request for information in English and in the form of a list and mark specific requirements for the actual custodians of the information in the public authority and transfer it to them within 24 hours of receipt of the application with instructions to produce the information and copies of documents along with a list of such documents as early as possible but not later than 15 days from the date of transfer. If any custodian of information/documents, fail to comply with the requirement he may be given an additional 2 days with the approval of the appellate authority.
(j) In case of transfer of the application, in part or full, to another public authority, sec 6(3) will be complied with by endorsing a copy of the letter under which the transfer is effected, to the applicant also. Sec 6(3) will be complied with for as many public authorities as are required to provide the complete information sought.
(k) On receipt of information/copies of documents the CPIO will compile it, using the format of the redrafted application indicating which all information are being provided and action taken on those that are not being provided. It will then be send to the applicant, along with a copy of the docket, with information to the appellate authority.
(Note: No cost is demanded and the complete information and copies of documents along with its complete list, is provided free of cost, for reasons given at ser 2 of Comments)
(l) The reply by the CPIO will include the following information, even if not sought specifically by the applicant: the name and his designation as the CPIO as well as his regular designation in the public authority, full address of the public authority including the Postal Index Number, telephone and mobile numbers and e mail id. If he has not been provided with official telephone/mobile numbers and e mail id, such details of his superior who has been provided those, and similar details of the FAA will be provided.
(m)The reply by the CPIO will be in the language of the application and English (repeat and English), if the language used by the applicant is not English. If required by the applicant, copies of documents which are not in the language used in the application, will be provided after being translated into English and duly authenticated by the CPIO.
(n) For the purpose of calculating 30 days the date of handing over to postal authorities/courier agencies will only be considered.
(o) If the CPIO fails, for whatever reasons, to communicate the contents of the docket and the date of posting the reply cannot also be confirmed, it shall be presumed that the application had been delivered to the CPIO 3 days after it was posted/couriered and the reply had been posted/couriered 3 days before the receipt by the applicant
(p) The onus of proving that the information/copies of documents sought have been delivered to the applicant will be that of the CPIO.
6. Processing of 1st appeal (by the designated FAA).
(a) T he applicant, on receipt of the information and copies of the documents, if not satisfied with the response, may file a first appeal with the FAA within 30 days of receipt.
(b) The appeal may be submitted in person or through a representative which may even be a courier, including the post offices, or through electronic means. Receipts/acknowledgements will have to be obtained in all cases.
(c) The appeal may be processed like the application is processed as detailed in para 5(a) to (c) with the following changes:
The appeal number shall be created by adding a suffix to the application number already provided.
(d) The appeal shall then be transferred to the FAA.
(e) The FAA shall call for the relevant records and verify the contents of the response of the CPIO as well as the contentions of the appellant. If any deficiency has been noted in the response of the CPIO, even when such deficiencies have not been explicitly mentioned in the appeal, he will take necessary action to rectify them which may include the following:
(i) Direction to the CPIO to provide the missing information
(ii) Direction to the CPIO to comply with Sec 6(3) of the Act
(iii) Confirm compliance with the above direction
(iv) Disseminate the lessons learnt amoung all the public servants in the public authority
(f) Communicate the action taken, findings and decision to the appellant.
(g) The details at para 5(l) to (p), as modified appropriately, applies for the FAA also.
7. Duties of the Chief Information Commissioner.
(a) Apart from the duties listed at Sec 12(4) of the Act , it is necessary for the Chief Information Commissioner to do the following in order to fulfill the obligations of information commissioners to enforce the law in letter and spirit.
(b) By exercising his powers under Sec 19(8) he should cause to be published by the commission on its website all the subjects dealt with by various public authorities and records held with each public servant of every public authority. This should be done by providing links at this site to the information published by the public authorities in pursuance of the requirement at sec 4(1)(b)(i) and 4(1)(b)(v) of the Act.
(c) The Chief Information Commissioner shall divide the complaints/appeals amoung the information commissioners in such a manner that the load on each commissioner is comparable with that of others.
(d) The Chief information Commissioner should ensure that all complaints/appeals received by the commission are decided on a first come first served basis, except in the case of complaints/appeals involving life and liberty of citizens.
(e) In no case should a complaint/appeal filed one month earlier than the latest complaint/appeal decided by any information commissioner be kept pending.
(f) In no case should any complaint/appeal be pending for decision beyond 90 days.
(g) The Chief information Commissioner should ensure that each information commissioners decides atleast 30 appeals per day and for calculating the work load one appeal shall be considered to be equal to 3 complaints.
(h) The Chief Information Commissioner should ensure that the proceedings are conducted in English or the language used by the applicant if it is any of the languages used by the Union or States. To facilitate this the public servants employed in the Commission should be from all parts of the country who can double as translators when the need the arises.
8. Processing of Complaint/2nd appeal at the Central Information Commission.
(a) An applicant may file a complaint, for any of the reasons given in sec 18 (1) of the Act or an appeal under Sec 19(3), if he is not satisfied with the decision of the FAA, for whatever reasons, including delay in deciding the appeal, to the Chief Information Commissioner, Central Information Commission.
(b) The complaint may be filed within 90 days of the events, listed at sec 18(1) of the Act, happening.
(c) The 2nd appeal may be filed within 90 days of receipt of the decision of the FAA or on non receipt of the decision even after the expiry of 30 days of submission of the 1st appeal.
(d) The complaint/2nd appeal will be accompanied by copies of the application, reply/replies from the CPIO(s), 1st appeal(s) and the reply/replies from the FAA(s), as applicable.
(e) On receipt of the complaint/cappeal along with the documents mentioned in para 8(d) the recipient will process it as mentioned in para 5 till it is transferred to the concerned IC who is required to decide on it.
(f) The IC will after going through the complaint/ 2nd appeal and the documents submitted with it, will decide on the answers for the following questions, as applicable, for each public authority involved:
(i) Had all disclosable information sought and held with the respective public authorities been disclosed within the specified period?
(ii) In case of information sought but not held with the public authority had Sec 6(3) of the Act been complied with, including communication of the matter of transfer to the applicant?
(iii) Who are the CPIOs who have defaulted and what are the their defaults?
(iv) Who are the FAAs who have decided the 1st appeal and was there any deficiency on their part?
(g) After having decided that specific CPIOs have defaulted and penalty needs to be imposed on them, the IC will give them an opportunity to being heard by seeking an affidavit from the defaulting CPIO(s) , duly countersigned by the FAA, clarifying the deficiencies listed and reasons why the penalty should not be imposed. The copy of this notice providing the opportunity to being heard to the CPIO should also be provided to the appellant for his information and records.
(h) On receipt of these affidavits, if the IC finds any merit in any of the reasons given for not penalising, he shall provide a copy of the affidavit to the appellant for his arguments to be submitted within 30 days of receipt of the copy of the affidavit(s). Only after receipt of these arguments should he take a final decision in the appeal. The decision should clearly bring out the reasons, especially if no penalty is imposed. Direction to the superior authorities to take administrative action against defaulting FAAs should also be part of the decision.
(i) The decision should necessarily include a direction to the CPIO to provideto the commission the information/copies of documents, duly attested, denied to the applicant till then. This information/copies of documents shall be provided to the appellant/complainant.
(j) Apart from the penalty imposed under sec 20 of the Act, the IC should also recover the cost of documents provided free of cost to the appellant and the compensation to be paid to the appellant, as per sec 19(8)(b), for the time, effort and cost in pursuing the appeals.
(k) If the complete information had been provided before submission of the 2nd appeal the CPIO should compensate the appellant to the tune of Rs 5000/- and if it is provided only after the 2nd appeal the FAA should also pay a compensation of Rs 5000/- to the appellant.
(l) No complaint or appeal should be returned unless the material documents that are required for deciding them have not been provided by the complainant/appellant.
(m) The final decision in all complaints and 2nd appeals should published on the web site of the commission within 24 hours. This information along with the URL of the decision should be communicated to the complainant/appellant through SMS/ email in cases where the complainant/appellant has provided hismobile number and or e mail id. If such information has not been provided by the complainant/appellant copy of the decision will be despatched to him within 24 hours.
(n) Onus of proving that it has been communicated to the complainant/appellant will be that of the information commissioner.
*1. Refer Art 350 of the Constitution of India
*2. In view of the provisions of sec 4(1)(b) and 4(2) and DoPT circulars directing public authorities to upload applications, appeals and resposes to them on the website of the public authority and nearly 12 years have passed since the Act has come into force it is necessary to do away with the application fee.