For CIC, one subject matter equals one RTI request

Demands extra application fee if the query seeks info on more than one subject matter

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Danish Raza | January 18, 2011



What might come as a surprise to right to information (RTI) applicants is that the central information commission (CIC) is following the ‘one subject matter per RTI application’ rule in implementing the act.

In a nutshell, the CIC wants you to fork out charges as applicable if you are seeking information on multiple issues. If your RTI application contains questions on more than one subject, it will treat the questions on a particular subject as ‘one request’ and will ask you to pay extra application fee depending on how many ‘requests’ you have made.

In response to an application by Governance Now, forwarded to it by the department of personnel and training (DoPT), the CIC has said that as the questions relate to a different subject matter, one has to submit an additional fee of Rs 10 to get a response to the queries.

In December last year, Governance Now filed RTI application with the DoPT asking 11 questions. While the first five questions were related to the draft rules, the rest of them sought details of RTI helpline which the CIC is planning to launch. The DoPT forwarded the query to the CIC for response on point 6 to 10.

Replying to the query, the CIC said, “….However, from the perusal of your application it is seen that there are two requests made in one application. Point no. 1 to 5 would qualify as ‘one request’ for which you have already paid IPO of Rs 10 and point no 6 to 10 would qualify as ‘another request’."

"In view of this reply, you are requested to send an IPO of Rs 10 for RTI application to entertain your query no. 6 to 10 as one request,” the CIC said in its dated 12- 1- 2011.

Earlier this month, the CIC gave a similar reply to another RTI applicant- a reporter working with the Chennai bureau of a national daily.

According to the officials in the CIC, the response of the commission is derived from an order passed by its former chief Wajahat Habibullah.

“If the chief information commissioner has passed an order, it is a law for the commission,” said a senior official in the CIC on the condition of anonymity.

In the order, Habibullah is believed to have ruled that information may be defined as information relating to one subject matter.

Speaking to Governance Now, Habibullah confirmed to have passed the mentioned order. “I gave a decision in the Rajendra Singh vs the CBI case in June 2010,” he said.

RTI activists believe that breaking down the RTI application into various ‘requests’ is against the spirit of the law.

“This is totally illegal. There is simply no basis for asking the applicant to submit an additional fee of Rs 10. The CIC is becoming biggest bottleneck in implementing the RTI act,” said Arvind Kejriwal.

Venkatesh Nayak, programme coordinator, access to information programme, CHRI, said that as per the law, in addition to the application fee, the public authority can collect the cost of gathering information unless the applicant belongs to below poverty line category. “However, the recveving officer cannot collect the application fee for the second time,” said he.

The draft RTI rules, awaiting government notification also contain a section asking the applicant to keep the RTI application, subject specific.

However, in the reply sent to Governance Now, the CIC has not informed whether it the basis of the reply were the draft rules or the June order of Habibullah.

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