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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cops’ RTI reply on missing kids costs Rs 78,927

Publication: Times Of India Delhi; Date: Mar 15, 2009; Section: Times City; Page: 2


New Delhi: How much could asking for information on missing children under the RTI Act possibly cost? Well, if the questions are addressed to Delhi Police, it could be as high as Rs 78,927. That’s exactly how the office of DCP (southeast) responded to an application filed by the NGO, Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), seeking details of Delhi’s missing children (2006-08).

In a reply to the BBA application, the DCP’s office said,

‘‘We have to suspend our regular work in order to furnish the requisite information sought by you for which considerable manpower will be utilised/diverted to discern this information. Hence, as per provisions of Sec 7(3)(a) of RTI Act, 2005, the requisite details/information can be provided on payment.’’

The letter then provides the project’s financial details. For instance, one head constable each from 15 police stations in the district would work for three days at the rate of Rs 840 per day costing Rs 37,800. Similarly, one constable each from the 15 police stations working for the same would cost another Rs 36,945. Similar charges for the sub-inspector associated with the work for three days adds another Rs 4,182 to the cost.

Section 7(3)(a) of RTI Act, 2005, says the public information officer shall send intimation to the person making the request giving ‘‘the details of further fees representing the cost of providing the information as determined by him, together with the calculations made to arrive at the amount in accordance with fee prescribed...’’.

The police seems to believe it is playing by the rules. However, activists are wondering whether the letter is just a way of making it difficult to obtain information. ‘‘The question of public authorities charging citizens the cost of manpower employed for collection of information does not arise. Compliance with the Act’s provision is like any legal duty performed by a public servant,’’ says RTI activist Commodore Lokesh Batra.

Interestingly, Rakesh Sengar of BBA, points out that other police districts such as northeast and west have offered information on the same without asking for any legwork money as done by the southeast police. The NGO has appealed to the Central Information Commission, says Sengar.

It is not an open and shut case though. Wajahat Habibullah, Chief Information Commissioner, says there are similar cases pending before the commission. ‘‘This is a live issue before us. We have not passed any judgment in this regard,’’ he says. Those in favour of right to information would be hoping a favourable decision comes sooner than later.

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