Bogus training material produed by State Institute of Rural Development, Orissa
A Training Module on "Transparency and Accountability" has been prepared byState Institute of Rural Development, Dept. of Panchayati Raj for capacity building of Panchayat Representatives in Orissa. This work is a part of Project Dakhayat, an ambitious project funded by DFID and Govt. of India. Very recently we happened to comeacrossthe above document in course of a training programme organised for Panchayat Representatives in Angul district. Just a close look into the contents of this module, and one realizes what a misleading and misinforming document it is ! If allowed as a manual for the trainers, which it is slated to be, we are sure, this so-called training module will not only confuse the Panchayat Representatives about the historic RTI Act but also certainly discourage them from using it.
So far following lacunae of major types have come to our notice:
1.Page No- 47
In an attempt to define "Information", it is mentioned that "File Noting" does not come within the definition of information. This is false, since nowhere it is written in the Act. The Central Information Commission has already made it clear thatFile Noting comes within the purview of the definition of Information. Not only in Orissa but also in many States across the country, the Public Authorities have been providing copy of the 'file notings' to the applicant citizens. For instance, on 29th January 2009, the PIO, Dept. of Panchayat Raj Orissa has provideda copy ofthe File Noting of Minister for PanchayatiRaj on Project Dakhyata in response to the application by Mr. Pradip Pradhan, an Applicant under RTI Act.
Under the Head "Type of the information", it is mentioned that the information relating to Human Rights can be given within 45 days. Such an over-simplisticstatement is misleading, because firstly, it is not information relating to 'human rights' as such but information in respect of 'allegations pertaining to violation of human rights' or that pertaining to 'corruption' which are subject to disclosure by the notified security and intelligence agencies, despite the exemption from disclosure allowed to them in respect of other types of information.Secondly, information in respect of allegations pertaining to human rights violation can't be provided within 45 days as such, but subject to approval by the Central Information Commission or State Information Commission, as the case may be, whose approval might have been sought within the specified period of 45 days. But as regards the information pertaining to corruption, there is no exemption from disclosure or conditionality of Commission's approval or extended time limit of 45 days. Thus the information pertaining to allegations of corruption has to be provided by the notified agencies within 30 days from the date of request as required under Section 7 of Act. (Vide Section 24 of Act).
The above Manual has created confusion by clubbing together 'appeal and complaint' under on head. In fact, the RTI Act has made two separate arrangements, one for Appeal (Section 19) and another for Complaint (Section-18). While the appeal is a two-stage process, the complaint is a single-stage, direct method to reach to the Commission. The manner in which the Manual has confused between the two, the reader shall not get any correct idea about either.
4. Page -55
The Manual mentions that prior to penalising PIO, opportunity will be givento himfor his opinion. Such a statement is not only one-sided but also biased in favour of the defaulter PIO and against the appellant/complainant. Nowhere itis found in the Act. In fact, the RTI Act speaks of two things on this matter. On one hand, it says, before penalisng a PIO, the PIO 'shall be given a reasonable opportunity of being heard'. But next to it, it is mentioned on the other, " Provided further that the burden of proving that he acted reasonably and dilligently shall be on the CentralPublic information Officer or State Public Information Officer as the case may be." (vide Section 20-1).
5. Silence on Citizens' right to access suo motu information under Section-4:
The Manual deals very scrappily about an outstanding feature of RTI Act i.e. the obligation of every public authority to make as much proactive disclosure of information about itself as possible so that the people shall feel the least compulsion. to apply under the Act to get an information (Section 4-2). In fact the Section 4 of the Act provides for two things at a time i.e (1) Obligation of public authorities for making such suo motu disclosures; and (2) Citizens' Right to inspect and access instantly such suo motu disclosures without having to make any application or to deposit application fee. Further, Rule 2(2) of Orissa RTI (Amendment) Rules 2006 obligates every public authority to maintain a register to record the particulars of citizens visiting an office for inspecting suo motu information under Section 4 of Act. But the Manual has simply mentioned about 17 types of documents to be disclosed but is totally silent on citizens' right to access such information and procedure thereof.
6. Silence about exemption of BPL families from any payment under RTI Act:
The above Manual is completely silent about the exemption of BPL families from paying any fees, as mandated under Section 7(5) of the RTI Act. The latest guideline dated 27th Feb. 08 issued by the national level nodal agency for RTI, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pension, GOI, which the State nodal agency Dept. of I&PR displays on its website says at Para-18 , "If the applicant belongs to below poverty line (BPL) category, he is not required to pay any fee. However, he should submit a proof in support of his claim to belong to the below poverty line". Besides the official version of Oriya translation of RTI Act, which is available on Orissa Suchana Commission's Website clearly says at Section 7(5) that BPL families can't be charged with any of the three fees (application fee, cost of information fee and additional cost of information fee), which non-BPL persons are required to pay. The Manual's silence on this important legal right of BPL families is simply unwarranted in view of the fact that as much as 47% of Orissa's population belong to BPL category.
7. Silence about the right of the citizens aggrieved by the Commission to approach the Governor:
It has been noticed that many citizens whose complaints or appeals have not been entertained by the Orissa Suchana Commission or who have been aggrieved by an allegedly unjust decision of the Commission don't know what to do next. In fact the Section 17 of the Act provides for the powers of Governor to enquire into the allegations against the Commissioners on charges of corruption, incapacity or moral turpitude and also to suspend or dismiss them from office on these grounds. As such the Section 17 confers a great power to the common citizens to move against the apparently highest appellate authority under RTI Act i.e Suchana Commission and as well entrusts a great obligation on the Governor to take penal, remedial or deterrent action against the Commissioners. The above Manual by its silence over Section 17 has sought to keep the people of the State in dark about a great right of theirs to question the questionable act and behaviour of the Commissioners.
8. Silence about the procedure of access and appeal in respect of Central Govt Offices:
Everybody knows that besides the offices under the control of State Govt there are several Offices under the control of Central Govt. located in Orissa such as Post Office, Railway, BSNL, Nationalised Banks, Reserve Bank of India, Regional Research Laboratory, Geological Survey of India, Doordarshan and All India Radio etc. The above Manual only informs about the RTI Rules applicable to Offices of Govt of Orissa, but completely ignores that which is applicable to Central Govt. Offices. It is a fact that the Rules applicable to Central Govt Offices are not only dissimilar but also much simpler and cheaper than the Orissa RTI Rules. For instance, just to make application for information to any Office of State Govt., one has to take the trouble of getting together a filled Application Form (Form-A), a photocopy of voter's card, disclosure of personal information like permanent address, spouse name and particulars of citizenship identity besides a treasury challan for application fee or submission physically to the PIO of application fee in cash; whereas he/she needn't undergo any such hassles to apply for information to a Central Govt office. The above Manual by remaining silent about the simpler and citizen-friendly RTI Rules of Central Government, does, not only keep the people ignorant about how to avail their right to information in respect of Central Govt Offices, but also promote the spread of a misleading impression as if the Orissa RTI Rules is applicable to every office, be it of State Government or of Central Government.