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Tuesday, May 6, 2008
 
Deccan Herald » Edit Page » Detailed Story

IN PERSPECTIVE

Karnataka RTI Act 2005: restore full rights

By Venkatesh Nayak & Sohini Paul

The amendment of the RTI by the Karnataka state government curtails the scope of the citizens' right.

RTI: restore full rights

Restore full rights : DH Tue, May 6

http://mysore.12.forumer.com/viewtopic.php?t=107


http://www.deccanherald.com/Content/May62008/editpage2008050666567.asp

http://www.deccanherald.com/Content/May62008/editpage2008050566444.asp


Recently, the Karnataka Government has, through an amendment of the state Right to Information (RTI) rules, restricted citizen’s access to information. The amendment was issued by the Department of Personnel and Administrative Reforms in March 2008 without any prior notice for the people to give their inputs.

The new rule (Rule No 14) states that a RTI application can relate to only one subject matter and that each application cannot exceed 150 words. It also states that if a request is made that relates to more than one subject matter, then the Public Information Officer (PIO) will respond to the first subject matter only and advise the applicant to make separate applications for each of the other subject matters.

Reservations

Civil society has expressed deep reservations about the new amendments stating that the Act enacted in 2005 does not provide for any limit on the number of words and subject matter that an application may contain.

By restricting the application to access information on only one subject amounts to placing limitations on the right of access beyond the grounds mentioned in sections 8 and 9 of the Act which are exempted from the purview of the RTI law. This restriction therefore becomes illegal and undesirable and goes against the letter and spirit of the Act.

Secondly, the rule placing a limitation on the number of words to be used when writing a RTI application is not in tune with established practice. RTI is a fundamental right derived from the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1) of the Indian Constitution. Further, under Article 350 of the Indian Constitution any citizen may submit a written representation regarding any grievance he/she may have to any government officer. There is no restriction on the word limit or diversity of the subject matter.

Additionally, the RTI Act has created a statutory right of a general nature to access information from the government. Other than the exempt information as laid down in sections 8 and 9 of the Act, no other limitation is recognised in law. Limiting the space available for citizens to express themselves is an undesirable restriction on the fundamental right of speech and expression and is totally unacceptable.

One also needs to know that the rule-making power given in section 27 of the RTI Act is for carrying out the provisions of the Act and not for curtailing them. This new rule issued by the Karnataka government in effect curtails the scope of the citizens’ right and is therefore unlawful.

Discretion

The government notification states that rule no 14 has been made in accordance with sub-sections 1 and 2 of the RTI Act.  However, there is no power in section 27(2) that can be used for issuing such a rule.

Adding to its woes, is the fact that the new rule places a lot of discretion in the hands of the PIO to decide what constitutes a single subject matter. As this term is left undefined in the Rules, it is more likely that it will be misused more often than not as is happening in many states even in the absence of such Rules.

Both the Union and State Governments have tried to restrict the scope of RTI Act through different ways. In 2006, the Department of Personnel and Training tried to bring in amendments to exempt file notings from the purview of the act. But they were unsuccessful in their attempts.

This time Karnataka did so albeit discreetly when the state itself is under President’s Rule. The State Government should withdraw the amendment as it places unnecessary and undesirable restrictions on our fundamental right to access information from the government.

(The writers are with the Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.)

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