RTI at premium: Chhattisgarh assembly charges Rs 500 per query

New rules seek Rs 15 for photocopy of a page, Rs 50 for inspection of papers

prasanna

Prasanna Mohanty | January 27, 2012




Chhattisgarh may be one of the better governed states but its assembly secretariat hates transparency and accountability. No other conclusion can be drawn from the fact that the Vidhan Sabha secretariat has hiked the application fee for every RTI query to Rs 500.

About a month ago, the secretariat framed a new set of rules. Some of the key provisions under these are as follows:

Application fee: Rs 500 (up from Rs 50)
Fee for photocopy of documents: Rs 15 per page
Fee for inspecting documents: Rs 50

Compare it with what the union government and other state governments charge:

Application fee: Rs 10
Charge for photocopying documents: Rs 2 per page
Fee for inspecting documents: Rs 10
 
Why did the Chhattisgarh assembly secretariat take this extraordinary step?

Governance Now spoke to Devendra Verma, secretary to the Vidhan Sabha, on phone to understand this. Here is an edited excerpt of that telephonic interview:

Q: Sir, why has the RTI application fee been hiked to Rs 500?
A: We are empowered under the RTI Act to make our own rules and we have exercised that power. You can also refer to Rule 271 of the rules and procedures of our Vidhan Sabha.
Q: Why was the fee hiked from Rs 50 to Rs 500?
A: I don’t know it was Rs 50 earlier. I will have to check. Yes, it has been hiked to Rs 500.
Q: What was the consideration?
A: No consideration. The UP assembly has framed rules making application fee Rs 500. We followed it.
Q: What was the logic? Was it to weed out frivolous applications?
A: Yes, to weed out frivolous applications.
Q: How many RTI applications are received by the secretariat in a day?
A: Not more than 50.
Q: Every day?
A: No, since the RTI Act came into being.
Q: Which would mean 50 applications since 2005 or 2006?
A: Yes.
Q: So, what is the logic of such a big hike?
A: We want uniformity regarding the RTI rules relating to the assemblies. In any case, Rs 500 is not a big amount.
Q: Not a big amount for a tribal state sir? What is the per capita income in Chhattisgarh?
A: I don’t know. I will have to check.
Q: Sir, why are you following UP?
A: UP is the largest state in the country.
Q: Which other assemblies have hiked RTI fee to Rs 500?
A: I don’t know. I will have to check.

Verma disconnected saying that he was getting a call from the deputy speaker but not before clarifying that the rules regarding access to the assembly proceedings remained unchanged – RTI application fee Rs 10 and photocopying charge Rs 1 per page.

The new rules are meant only for questions relating to the day-to-day functioning of the Vidhan Sabha secretariat.

Meanwhile, the Chhattisgarh government has sought to disassociate with the development. An official spokesman said the state continued to charge Rs 10 per RTI application.

A statement from NCPRI

NATIONAL CAMPAIGN FOR PEOPLE’S RIGHT TO INFORMATION

The NCPRI is dismayed to learn that the Chhattisgarh Legislative Assembly has increased the RTI application fees by 900% from Rs. 50/- to Rs. 500/-, the fees per copy to Rs.15 and the inspection of documents to Rs. 50.

A move of this nature can only be designed to discourage potential RTI users from filing applications. The net result will be to significantly and negatively affect the transparency of the legislative assembly. In particular, chances of the poor using the RTI to ask questions and take documents of documents from the legislative assembly will be seriously compromised. 

The issue of exorbitant fees being imposed by various public authorities has been raised many times and in some cases the concerned public authority has reconsidered and brought the fees in line with what has become a national norm – Rs 10 per application, Rs 2 per copy.

The NCPRI strongly urges the Speaker of the Chhattisgarh Legislative Assembly to reconsider this decision and would like to suggest that the fees actually be reduced from Rs 50 to Rs 10.

We take this opportunity to urge other governments and public authorities who have fixed high fees to reduce them, in line with the Rs. 10 norm.

Signed/-
Venkatesh Nayak, Angela Rangad, Nikhil Dey and Ramakrishna Raju
(For the NCPRI)
Dated: January 25, 2012
 

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