Saturday, February 18, 2012

[HumJanenge] Central Information Commission warns the public authorities against demanding proof of citizenship from RTI applicants .

Central Information Commission warns the public authorities against
demanding proof of citizenship from RTI applicants .

Dear friends,
While deciding a Complaint Case ( File No; CIC/AD/C/2011/001736 on
11.1.2012,, Ms. Annapurna Dixit, Central Information Commissioner
observed, "there is no provision in the RTI Act to seek
identification of a citizen who seeks information from any Public
Authority. The PIO of the Company is warned not to seek such
identification in future u/s 3 of the RTI Act, which stipulates that
all citizens shall have the Right to Information, as it would be
construed by the Commission as deemed denial". The fact of the case is
that an RTI Applicant Mr. M Rangarajan of Bangalore had sought
information about the provision of retirement benefits of the
employees from the PIO, M/s. Braithwaite and Company Ltd under
Ministry of Railways, 5, Hide Road, Kolkata - 700 043. But the said
PIO quoting Section 3 of the Act demanded the proof of citizenship
identity of the applicant before he would be able to disclose the
information sought. Then the aggrieved applicant approached the
Central Information Commission with a complaint against the said
illegal order of the PIO. Having heard the parties to the case, the
CIC Mrs.Dixit passed the above order quoted above.
Now, let us have a look at the procedure of submitting RTI Application
in Odisha. The State Govt. has made a provision under Odisha Right
to Information Rules 2005 for submission of proof of identity of
citizenship along with RTI application being made to any Public
Authority. Besides a Compulsory and a lengthy 11-column "Form-A" has
been prescribed by the State Govt. wherein the Column No.4 requires
submission of Proof of Citizenship in the shape of a copy of Voter's
Card or Passport. If an RTI Applicant fails to attach the said
proof of Citizenship, the PIO has been given absolute power in
Form-C ( Intimation of Rejection) to reject the application on the
ground that "your identity is not satisfactory'. . This queer
provision contradicts the letter and spirit of Section 6 (2) of the
RTI Act, which says, "An applicant making request for information
shall not be required to give any reason for requesting the
information or any other personal details except those that may be
necessary for contacting him". This provision also deprives
millions of young people in Odisha and outside of their right to apply
for information to any public authority located in Odisha, for the
obvious reasons that they being underaged can't have a voter's card
and they, in absence of any compelling need, may not have any passport
either. Besides quite many adult persons may not have a voter's card
at all, since it is not a compulsory provision at all to have a voter
card.. Thus millions of people in and outside Odisha who are bonafide
citizens because of their domicile within territory of India and thus
entitled to apply for information under Section 3 of the Act are
defrauded of this statutory right due to the ultra vires RTI Rules of

Besides, the mode of payment of application fees is either through
Treasury Challan or through cash. It means that every person, wherever
he or she may be located, has to physically visit the concerned office
to remit the application fee to the PIO, no matter the amount to be
paid is a trifle. Alternatively, he or she may post the application
fee through Treasury Challan. But as everybody knows, for collecting a
Treasury Challan of Rs.10/-, one has to visit the nearest town where
the Treasury Office may be located, stand in the queue for as many
hours as is required and also remember the excessively long Treasury
Code of the RTI application fee which is humanly impossible. Every RTI
applicant in Odisha has thus to pass through a hell of hassles in
availing the Treasury Challan of Rs.10/- to be attached to his or her
RTI application. But still funniest is the predicament of a citizen
living outside Odisha, who can neither afford to visit Odisha simply
to pay in cash the application fee of Rs.10/- to the concerned PIO nor
can arrange a Treasury Challan of Rs.10/- for remittance by post for
the said purpose, for the simple reason that there is no Office of
Odisha Treasury located outside Odisha. For such prohibitive modes of
payment, no person from outside Odisha has yet applied for information
under RTI Act to any public authority located in Odisha, and most
common people living inside Odisha have stayed away from using RTI Act
during last 6 and half years. In a nutshell, the Orissa RTI Rules can
be called Odisha RTI Disentitlement Rules.

However, the tragedy is that in Odisha such anti-RTI and anti-citizens
provisions are upheld and justified by Odisha information
commissioners during hearing of the cases and as well in course of
their address in public meetings. The only lame excuse they
unabashedly proffer in defense of the above anti-citizen Rules is that
the State Govt. has framed it. While saying so, the Commissioners
blissfully ignore Section 25(5) of the Act, which authorizes the
Commission to recommend to any public authority including the State
Govt. to take steps for removing any deviation and effecting
conformity to the letter and spirit of Act. Though nearly six and
half years has passed since Odisha Information Commission started
functioning , it has not made a single recommendation to remove the
anti-citizen and ultra vires Odisha RTI Rules 2005. Of all, the
Compulsory Application Form, proof of citizenship and prohibitive mode
of payment for application is the greatest nuisance wrought against
every citizen's right to information, and woefully enough, Odisha
Information Commission has been sleeping over it at tandem with the
State Government.

Will the Central Information Commission's latest, eye-opening warning
against the proof of citizenship of an RTI applicant serve as a
wake-up call to Odisha Information Commission for taking a similar

Pradip Pradhan

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