Sunday, September 28, 2008

RTI Act: committee mulls scrapping of fee

RTI Act: committee mulls scrapping of fee

All departments to host details on websites

— Photo: K. Ganesan

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS: Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice E. M. Sudarsana Natchiappan, left, releasing a handbook on Right to Information Act. Joint Registrar Pankaj K.P. Shreyaskar receives the first copy, in the city on Saturday

MADURAI: Government departments have been asked to host on the websites all the information relating to schemes and procedures for the people to get benefits under them and to ensure transparent governance, E.M. Sudarsana Natchiappan, Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice, said on Saturday.

Addressing a one-day seminar on the Right to Information Act and its implementation, he said the committee was visualising a situation in which no application under the Act was received for want of information.

All government departments and public sector undertakings, including the judiciary and legislature, were accountable for using the taxpayers’ money. “Except for the reasoning behind the judgments, all aspects of the judiciary administration should be made transparent,” he said.

Petitions for information from various departments had been flooding in the past two years, and the Central Information Commission had disposed of 16,000 applications and another 8,000 were to be cleared, Dr. Natchiappan said. “It is a teething problem that so much of information is being sought by the public. The officials should complain of short of manpower in giving replies to the people,” he said. As the system became more transparent, the number of applications would come down. “The Act is complimentary to our administration,” he said. United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi had described the Act as a tool to empower the poor.

On fee and rejection

Pointing to the complaints that many applications had been rejected just because the initial fee had not been paid, Dr. Natchiappan said it was unfortunate that in some cases “government departments had spent up to Rs. 10,000 on lawyer fees to contest cases relating to the petitioners’ failure to pay Rs. 10 in fee. We have advised the heads of Union Government departments and the public sector undertakings not to insist on the fee while receiving the applications, but only while giving the replies, depending on the number of photocopies to be taken.” The committee was considering scrapping of the initial fee, he said.

Joint Registrar Pankaj K.P. Shreyaskar recalled how the Act had helped the people have access to food, health and other facilities in rural Karnataka.

The government should allocate more funds to popularise the Act, said P. Duraisingam, chairman of the Federation of Consumer Organisations–Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. Consumer Research, Education, Action, Training and Empowerment and Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi, along with FEDCOT organised the seminar.

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The RTI Act was passed by the Lok Sabha (Lower House) on 11 May 2005, by the Raj Sabha (Upper House) on 12 May 2005 and received Presidential assent on 15 June 2005. Parts of the Act came into force upon Presidential assent, but the Act came fully into force on 12 October 2005, 120 days after Presidential assent.

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