Yashovardhan Azad, Information Commissioner, feels there is no need to introduce a provision for the withdrawal of Right to Information (RTI) applications. He said this to WION-DNA in an exclusive conversation today.
Certain provisions in the new draft RTI Rules need to be debated further as they require greater consultation, he said.
“The right to withdraw an RTI (Right to Information) petition is not required. There is no need for this provision. We at the Commission are already looking into such issues where public interest is concerned,” he said.
RTI is a legislation in India that allows applicants to seek information related to government departments except for those protected by laws for protecting official secrets or concerning the security of high-ranking officials.
The new draft rules in circulation has provisions like withdrawal of the application, and, in case of the applicant's death, that of the RTI ceasing to exist.
Azad told WION-DNA the Information Commission believes that in case the RTI applicant is assaulted or murdered, the Commission will abide by its resolution of 2011, and publish the sought information on the website.
RTI activists have criticised the suggestions in the draft rules saying that they already face a lot of violence and a suggestion like deletion of an application in case of a murder is counter-productive. Activists also say that provisions for withdrawal of RTI applications will give those with vested interests an opportunity to exert undue pressure on them.
Section 17 of the draft rules proposes to give the Chief Information Commissioner powers to shift individual appeals from one information commissioner to another. An appeal pending before an information commissioner can also be withdrawn and transferred to another under the proposed rules.
On this Azad said, "So far the procedure was that whenever a conflict of interest arose, the Commissioners would recuse themselves, or the matter would be shifted to a wider bench. This is new (new proposals) and requires wider consultation and needs to be properly debated.”
The Indian government has claimed that the new draft rules were originally proposed by the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the current government has circulated it for gauging public opinion.
Congress, on the other hand, has attacked the PM Narendra Modi-led central government for trying to dilute the RTI Act which was enacted during the UPA’s first avatar. The preamble of the RTI Act states that the act is built to promote accountability and transparency. As an Act, it overrides all other legislations in the context of public interest.
Azad told WION-DNA that a strong demand exists for bringing private companies with public interface under the RTI Act. “For example, an RTI activist can seek information on bad service from Air India, but he cannot do so when it comes to private airlines,” said Azad. The draft rules in circulation before the notification will have to be ratified by Parliament where all changes undergo intense scrutiny.