Transparency limited by word count

The draft RTI rule is stifling


Danish Raza | February 7, 2011

“It is very much possible to write an RTI application in 250 words,” a lawyer friend recently told me. He even showed me a few applications that he had drafted. All within the stipulated 250 words, as mandated by a draft RTI rule proposed by the department of personnel and training (DoPT) for applications demanding information from government offices.

It was disconcerting to note that somebody who had been using the legislation in  larger public interest seemed in favour of this word restriction.

“The law has just completed five years. It is catching on as a tool of empowerment. Is it appropriate to attach riders to it at this stage?” I asked him.

He replied, much like the department which has proposed the limit in the first place, “Long queries have nothing but explanations in them while the idea is just to write pointed questions demanding information. Lengthy applications waste the resources of the applicant as well as that of the government.” He added that 250 words was a reasonable limit and that applications could easily be drafted within this limit.

Before he could quite finish, I got a call from one of the NGOs working for greater transparency through the RTI Act. “What the hell are they doing? They are killing the Act," the person on the other side said furiously, "How can they expect someone living in a remote corner of the country to adhere to the word limit while writing RTI application?”

He went on, “What does the government want? First, it makes such a law, and then wants to take the spirit out of it.”

I offered him my lawyer friend's argument. He interrupted, “Look, we can surely tell people to make the applications as short as possible. But to put a word limit and rejecting applications which exceed this word limit is completely unfair. You tell me. Should my application be rejected if it has 251 words in it?”

While both the lawyer and the NGO activist sounded reasonable in their arguments, the fact remains that every complainant in the country is not educated, let alone a lawyer used to drafting applications. It is this vast majority that needs to be empowered through the RTI Act. And it is this majority that will suffer on account of the draft rule mandating the 250-word limit.



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