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RTI’s to be published online? The Indian govt should answer them first

The Indian government is planning to publish Right to Information requests online, reports The Economic Times.

We’re not sure of what kind of impact this will have. It could lead to:

1. A reduction in overall requests if queries have already been answered.

2. A reduction in legitimate requests if the applicants personal details are also published. This was pointed out by Gautam John. Importantly, though, the note quoted by The Economic Times states that “It may be noted that RTI applications and appeals received and their responses relating to personal information of an individual may not be disclosed, if they do not serve any public interest.” That means that it is up to the publishing authority, and the applicants details are not necessarily going to be published. Note the usage of the phrase ‘may not be disclosed’, instead of ‘should not be disclosed’

3. A reduction in frivolous requests if the applicants personal details are also published. This was pointed out by Swaraj Barooah)

4. More careful responses to queries. Some government departments decline providing answers on frivolous grounds, hoping that the applicant might not file an appeal.

We’ve had 2 RTI’s rejected in the last month: one by the Reserve Bank of India, where they declined to disclose some information on grounds of it being confidential, and another by the DIPP, on the grounds that it would take up a disproportionate amount of resources for the department to put the information together. In each instance, there were parts of the queries wherein these grounds weren’t applicable, but the information officers ignored them. We’re filing appeals.

We’ve also had 2 RTI’s not even acknowledged by the departments they’ve been sent to: one to the DAVP and another to the DoT. We’re going to file appeals in both cases, but what is clear here is that, at least in these four cases, government departments are choosing to avoid answering RTI’s. Putting RTI’s and their responses online won’t help if departments won’t even acknowledge their receipt.

Two other key developments

1. The Madras High Court had initially ruled that applicants must give reasons for filing RTI, which wasn’t the case earlier. This was later recalled.

2. The admin office of the Governor of Maharashtra, on October 17th, issued a directive to all its departments and offices asking them not to reply to RTIs ‘if it does not constitute any public interest’ in order to restrict frivolous RTI filing. All Central and State government office come under the ambit of this ‘Government resolution’.

Frankly, why should a government department decide what is in public interest and what isn’t, when they don’t know what the RTI is going to be used for?

(with inputs from Aparajita Saxena)

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