The homepage of the website of the Uttar Pradesh State Information Commission (UPSIC) displays a set of draft Rules intended to replace those which were notified in 2006 to implement The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act). It is not clear whether this is an initiative of the UPSIC or the Government of UP which alone has the power to amend RTI Rules under Section 27 of the RTI Act. The deadline for submission is today (20th March). Unfortunately, we found out about these Draft Rules about less than a day ago and have since been working on an analysis and recommendations for change for the use of the RTI fraternity in UP. The Draft Rules are in the first attachment and our analysis and recommendations for change in the second attachment to this email. We have demanded that the time limit for submission of comments is extended
While these Draft Rules are in greater detail as compared to the bare essentials in the 2006 version, many new provisions in the proposed Rules have the potential to snuff the life of the transparency law. The single biggest problem area is that the there is no Hindi language version of the Draft Rules on the UPSIC's website. In UP where Hindi is the official language, efforts ought to have been made to place the Hindi version of these Draft Rules in the public domain for eliciting people's views.
The other major problematic areas in the draft Rules are:
1) Giving the State Information Commission (SIC) the power to close an appeal or complaint on the death of the appellant/complainant- this can be used to murder RTI applicants as has happened with close to 40 citizens over the last 10 years;
2) Allowing for the possibility of withdrawal of an appeal or complaint - so an RTI applicant may now be threatened to withdraw a case by vested interests. More than 250 RTI applicants have been physically attacked or mentally harassed by such vested interests;
3) Permitting the SIC to impose costs in an appeal or complaint not only the public authority but also on the appellant / complainant or third party- this is a complete violation of the RTI Act's provisions;
4) Permitting the SIC to award compensation in an appeal or complaint not only to the appellant / complainant but also the public authority and the third party- this is a complete violation of the RTI Act's provisions which do not compensation to be awarded to any person other than the appellant/complainant.
5) Making references to the 2006 Rules regarding fee rates despite saying at the outset that the 2006 Rules will be superseded by the new Rules upon notification;
6) Making formats compulsory for filing RTI applications, appeals and complaints and insisting that these be filed in triplicate;
7) Violating principles of natural justice such as by giving access to the RTI applicant copies of the rejoinders filed by a public authority against an appeal / complaint only on the date of the hearing instead of giving him/her sufficient time to file a rebuttal;
8) Making the process of filing appeals and complaints cumbersome such as by requiring the appellant / complainant to file the appeal / complaint in triplicate;
9) Permitting the Registrar of the SIC to return appeals and complaints merely on grounds of technical defects;
10) Not insisting that the notice for a hearing in an appeal or complaint matter be delivered to the RTI applicant well in advance. Instead the Draft Rules merely state that the notice be issued 15 days in advance without ensuring that it reaches the applicant well in time;
11) Delegating the SIC's powers to any other office of the Commission for conducting an inquiry- this is not permitted anywhere in the RTI Act;
12) Not permitting the appellant / complainant to choose not to attend a hearing;
13) Imposing costs on the appellant / complainant and other parties even if adjournment is sought for justified reasons; and
14) Not requiring the SIC to issue orders in a case in open proceeding and immediately after a hearing is concluded.
Readers are welcome to send the analysis and recommendations for change in their own name. You may use the MSWord document (3rd attachment). Please feel free to add any other point of analysis or recommendation for change in your own submission.
Please circulate this email widely.