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Monday, April 6, 2009

NBRI demand for ID proof from applicant unjustified

Times of India, 06 April 2009: 6 Apr 2009, 0321 hrs IST, Neha Shukla, TNN

LUCKNOW: An RTI applicant may or may not possess a ration card. The Act has no provision requiring an information seeker to submit any proof of identity. This restricts a public authority from asking an applicant to submit such details unless it has `very strong' reasons to do so.

However, National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI) seems to make it a common rule now. It will provide information to the applicants only when they submit a copy of voter card, PAN card or ration card. The response issued by NBRI on March 31 to a query regarding the number of PhD degrees awarded under the guidance of few of its scientists clearly asks an applicant to submit the proof of identity in support of being a citizen of India.

The response does not mention the reason behind asking for such a proof. It is also not clear if it was a case-specific response or will it be a common rule. Though the public information officer (PIO) of the institute could not be contacted and the reason behind the move could not be ascertained, sources claimed that this might help the institute to check the number of applications coming from fictitious sources.

The response shot off by the PIO informed the applicant that information requested by her was ready. But, it can be provided only after she would submit documents in support of her identity proof of being a citizen of India which could be a copy of PAN card/ration card/voter card. On the receipt of the above, the information will be sent to her.

The information commissioners and activists might differ in opinion but they agree unanimously that RTI Act does not mention any such thing. "There is no such provision mentioned in the law but as an exception it might be done and the public authority will have to have a very strong reason behind asking for an identity proof,'' said Shailesh Gandhi, information commissioner, Central Information Commission, New Delhi. The reasons have to be mentioned in the response issued to the applicant which NBRI has not done.

In the cases heard by information commissions in other states there have been instances where PIOs have challenged the integrity of the applicants. In such cases a step like this might be taken but it can never be a routine exercise on the part of the public authorities.

"It cannot be allowed to become a general practice as public authorities can use it as a tactic to delay information,'' said Gyanendra Sharma, chief information commissioner, UPSIC. Such response could only come with very strong reasons, he added.

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