Friday, May 15, 2009

RTI: Rules for NRI applicants

The RTI Act has had a major effect on the availability of information, it turned around the concept that information was something that would not be easily available and could be used by the bureaucracy as a way of wielding power. Under the RTI Act, any citizen could ask for information, and they would need to be provided this information (except for a exclusions dealing with security, commercial secrets, and some privacy issues - of course, there is an ongoing dispute where both the President and the courts believe that RTI is not something that applies to their actions and are still pushing back). The process was as simple as filling a form, depositing a fee of Rs. 10, and filing this with the required department.
However, as with any Act, there are ways to make the process more complicated, and this is especially true in the case of Indian citizens living abroad. The actual process of payment of the Rs. 10 fee was always a big problem, with no clear definition of whom to make the actual payment to. So, even though the process was such that one could file the fee in the local currency, there were different rules for different states - as an example, in Uttar Pradesh, the process was to apply and paste treasury stamp for getting copy of State Information Commission's order. Now the nodal agency for RTI, the Central Information Commission has proposed modifying the rules to make it easier for NRI's to use the RTI Act (link to article):

In order to ease RTI application process from abroad, the Central Information Commission has framed new rules enabling NRIs to pay application fees and information costs at the Indian embassies and missions abroad. NRIs will also be able to avail audio-video conference facilities in case of first and second appeals. There will be an easy-to-follow procedure for paying fee against the information in Indian Embassies and audio-video conferencing facility in case of first and second appeals," Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah said.
As per the new procedure envisaged, Habibullah said "Embassies may accept only the fee and information cost and provide e-receipts to applicants who can then directly file their RTIs to public authorities in India by email along with proof of payment."
The CIC said, "I will soon meet concerned officials at the Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Personnel and Training other stake holders for this."

If these rules are properly implemented, it will make it much easier for NRI's to be able to use the RTI Act without too much effort; currently the effort involved, especially when dealing with local state governments and courts in non-metros makes it much more difficult to properly utilize the power provided by the RTI Act.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 9:16 PM