Jharkhand is the state where two ex-ministers with corruption charges have been put behind the bars. It is the same state sin which the Governor House witnessed serious allegations during the President' Rule. The same where the IAS officers who were very close to the governor are facing CBI raids.
And now the new Governor of Jharkhand Mr KS Narayan never forgets to add the terms like 'transparency and accountability' in each of his speeches. But the fact is that RTI Act (which ensures transparency and accountability) had been badly thrashed recently in the state.
The Jharkhand Cabinet (election) Department issued an order on 05.06.09. This order was sent to District Election officers and Deputy Commissioners. The order brought great pleasures to the officials. Without delay, the DC offices forwarded it to all the public information officers in their district. This started the consequences of demanding a large sum of money for providing information.
Wonder what was hidden in the order?
The order contained arbitrary explanations of the circular no. 1/4/2008-IR, dated 25.04.2008 of Ministry of Personnel, Public grievances and Pensions, Govt. of India. The letter provides guidelines to the public authorities. The circular also gives directions regarding suo-motu declaration or self-disclosure of information prescribed in sub section 4(1)(b) of the RTI act.
But the Jharkhand Cabinet (election) Department had comically described the letter. The order reads-
According to Section 4 of Right to Information Act, provision is made that all the government departments/office should maintain the record of important and relevant information related to their departments/office and put them in their office and on website; and shall make it available to Indian citizen in condition of duly filing the application with prescribed fees.
This statement is a false one. Section 4 makes the provision of self declaration of the information. Every department has to publish 17 categories of information related to its office and works. It should provide as much information suo-motu to the public at regular intervals through various means of communications, including internet, so that the public have minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information. The public authorities should do this with constant endeavour. Section 4 does not even mention about application and fee. It is clear that the order releasing authorities should first need to understand section 4.
The above mentioned circular of Ministry of Personnel, Public grievances and Pensions, Govt. of India guides about proper compliance of section 4, self declaration of information with constant endeavour, proper maintenance of documents and keeping the information in electronic form. The Jharkhand Cabinet (election) Department did not even mention these responsibilities. Apart from this, its order gives the tip to collect a huge sum of money for the time and expense undergone in case the desired information is not recorded or maintained in the office. Section 6 of RTI act is referred for this purpose. The order reads -
Under these circumstances, section 6 of Right to Information Act 2005 has made provision to assess the expenses in getting the information and to inform the applicant, so that if he bears the expenses he could be provided with the information.
It is interesting to note that section 6 had no provision mentioned as such. It only mentions about the filling of RTI application. It is Rs 10 in case of Jharkhand. Section 6 does not have clause of taking any further money. It's clear that the officers aren't informed about this section as well.
The order that has arbitrary descriptions of the Law has many clauses to dishearten the applicant. It is said that an officer or assistant could take hours or even days to gather information.
It had been suggested the applicant should pay the salary of the staff for whatever days it takes to gather the information. The rates are also mentioned. Including the wages and allowances, an assistant would cost Rs 940 per day, whereas a sub-division officer would cost Rs 1080. (Thank God the daily rate of bribe is not included).
If you became angry while going through the order, it is time to get your temper down. It is laughing time now. The order reads-
If the applicant wants to take the CD of the information, and the soft copy is available in the office; he will have to pay Rs 50 per CD. But if it takes long time to make the CD, then the tentative time will be calculated at the rate of Rs 674, the per day salary of the computer operator.
Now who will ask that if the soft copy is available in the office, then why it would take much time just for making a copy in CD? In fact instead of giving Rs 674 to that incompetent computer operator, people would prefer to throw him out of the office.
The Jharkhand Cabinet (election) Department order also says that if the applicant wants to inspect or go through the documents (under section 2(j)(i) of the act), he would have to pay as per the salary of the assistant staff. This direction is also illegal. The rules and regulations of central government say that no money could be taken for the first hour for inspection. The charge of Rs 5 would be taken for every extra hour. In Jharkhand, it is free for first hour, whereas Rs. 5 would be charged for every extra 30 minuts. In this case asking for assistant's wages is quite comic.
It should be kept in mind that only the personnel and administrative departments of the Central and State governments have the right to formulate rules, fees and expenses related to RTI. Cabinet (election) has to follow the guidelines of the Law.
The Jharkhand Cabinet (election) Department had offended the law and proved its ignorance towards the RTI act. But the issue of transparency had to suffer as the public authorities had started making fool of the public. Even if this order is dismissed, it would take a long time to heal the wounds it had caused to transparency. The already corrupted information officers would try to use different methods to discourage the people from asking for information. On the other side, every applicant who becomes a victim of this order would surely lose his faith in the right to information law.