A matter of transparency

Clarify "one subject matter" rule for RTI applicants


Danish Raza | January 31, 2011

The government has rejected recommendations of the national advisory council (NAC) on draft RTI rules.

One of the many proposed draft rules which faced vehement opposition from the champions of the transparency act as well as NAC is draft rule 4.

The rule says that the RTI applicant can ask questions related only to "one subject matter" and the request for information should not exceed 250 words.

There are other draft rules which, if notified, are expected to make things difficult for the RTI applicants (draft rule 16, according to which, the proceedings in an information commission shall abate on the death of the appellant), the provision of one subject matter is not only ambiguous but also ultra vires of the Act.

Take the example of NREGA to understand the confusion this rule can generate among the RTI users.

Is NREGA one subject matter? Or will the queries related to the implementation of NREGA in one state fall under one subject matter? Do all queries related to expenditure under NREGA form one subject matter? Or can the applicant also seek information on the action taken against corrupt officials, in the same application? Is embezzlement of funds in NREGA one subject matter, or embezzlement of funds in NREGA in Rajasthan, for example, one subject matter?

In the time to come, RTI applicants will be brainstorming about these and many more questions arising out of this proposed rule.

Let’s now look the justification given by the department of personnel and training (DoPT) on this rule.

Suppose you have filed RTI application in government office X. In case, office X finds that the entire request or part of it, pertains to office Y, then office X should transfer your application or such part of it, to office Y under section 6(3) of the Act.

The very fact that the government office (or public authority) is supposed to transfer ‘such part’ of the application to another office implies that one RTI application can contain queries on more than one subject matter.

However, DoPT refers to the mentioned section, saying that “there is a provision of one subject matter in the Act itself”. 

Further, according to DoPT, “the singular form in the Act suggests that the Act requires an application to have requests on one subject only”.

To correct the anomaly, CHRI, an NGO, working for the RTI act, points to section 13 of the general clauses Act, 1897. It says, “In all (Central Acts) and Regulations, unless there is anything repugnant in the subject or context
? Words importing the masculine gender shall be taken to include females, and words in the singular shall include the plural, and vice versa.”

But then why has the government drafted such a provision in the first place, if it can result in such a confusion and is against the spirit of the RTI Act itself, you may ask?

Answer to this is present in DoPT’s justification of this rule. “Many a time it becomes difficult to ascertain as to who should deal with the application. It not only results in delay in reply to the application. It also creates frustration amongst the officers within a public authority.”

Babudom at work, you see!



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