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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Cost of RTI appeal in Noida Rs 500

RTI activists are up in arms against a notice issued by the New Okhla Industrial Development Authority (NOIDA) on Thursday, which says that an RTI applicant will be charged Rs 400 on first appeal, and another Rs 100 for getting the judgment of an appellate authority.
They say this is an attempt to defang the Act by discouraging RTI applications and shield corrupt officials.
As RTI activist and Magsaysay Award winner Arvind Kejriwal puts it: "It is an illegal and shameless attempt to cover up NOIDA's nefarious activities." The NGO, Parivartan, too condemned this as "subverting of the RTI Act".
Expressing concern over the turn of events, state chief information commissioner Gyanendra Sharma said: "NOIDA's CEO cannot levy any charges for an appeal under the RTI Act. I have summoned the NOIDA principal information officer to Lucknow on Monday."
It all began with NOIDA releasing a notice to a section of the media on Thursday. The notice said a "fee of Rs 400 will be charged if an RTI applicant files an appeal before Noida's appellate authority, about NOIDA not providing timely or desired information. Also, Rs 100 will be charged for obtaining the judgement of the appellate authority, who is NOIDA's additional chief executive officer."
NOIDA has even introduced some "amendments" in the Act. While the law says information under the Act can be held up in "public interest", the NOIDA website announces it can be held up "in the interest of the authority" too.
The website further states that the "competent authority" is the CEO of NOIDA. However, Section 28 (2) of the RTI Act limits the "competent authority" to speakers of legislative bodies, the President, state governors, Supreme Court and high court chief justices and administrators of Union Territories.
Also, the RTI Act has no provision which allows even the "competent authority" to levy any fee for appeals. The competent authority can only regulate the cost of providing the information.
Said RTI activist Commander (retd) Lokesh Batra: "Levying a fee for appeals is like saying the appellant will be penalised if NOIDA does not provide information under the Act. This move is an attempt to cover up corruption in NOIDA."
In Jalvayu Vihar, claimed Batra, NOIDA has "even stopped providing sanitation facilities after a number of applications under the RTI Act were filed by the residents".
Asked to comment, NOIDA CEO Sanjiv Saran asked to contact his deputy, saying: "Deputy CEO C P Singh is looking after RTI here. Please ask him." When Singh was approached, he in turn said, "Please ask the CEO as he looks after RTI."
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