Mumbai, April 24 (IANS) Social activists in Maharashtra Tuesday flayed amendments in the state's Right To Information (RTI) rules which could bestow discretionary powers on officials to deny information to the public.
Leading RTI activist Anil Galgali said that the amendments were passed in the recent budget session of Maharashtra legislature and the new rules will be announced April 30.
"This was despite many of us, including Julio F. Ribeiro, Narayan Varma and other formally approaching Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and opposition leaders in both houses, and giving them written submissions," Galgali said.
The new rules stipulate that any request for information must not exceed 150 words, should be related to one subject matter only and if required, separate applications must be made if it relates to more than one topic, the public information officer (PIO) must allow the person inspecting documents to take a pencil only and all other writing instruments would be barred.
Galgali said that these new RTI rules would restrict the use of the act and give the PIOs discretionary powers to withhold information or harass the RTI users, leading to conflicts and increased number of appeals.
He accused the government of including these rules 'secretly,' without any public discussions, as mandated by Sec. 4 (1) of the act.
The 150-word limit on applications may deter a majority of Maharashtra's people, especially the semi-literate and underprivileged sections who lack concise drafting skills, he added.
"We also object to the arbitrary nature of this rule change. By what process was the 150 word-limit arrived at? Why not 250 words? Or 10 words for that matter? Unless it is based on study and judicious reasoning, this rule is arbitrary," Galgali demanded.
Similarly, he said that even the stipulation of single subject mater would give unnecessary discretionary powers to the PIOs to reject applications, result in disputes and delays in getting information.
Terming it as "a sad development," Galgali said that Maharashtra is not the only state to have passed such restrictive rules.
Even Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka have passed such rules and attempts have been made in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, creating hurdles for people to get imformation.
Galgali urged the need for all RTI activists in the country to unite and pursue uniform rules which are in harmony with the Central RTI Rules.
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