Monday, October 19, 2009

The RTI battle of the NRIs

The NRIs in the US have been leading a campaign for their right to use the Right to Information Act from abroad even as the government admits their “issue” is complex” and may need an amendment in the law.

NRIs, with meagre help from overseas public authorities, remain largely clueless on basic information required for filing an RTI application — from paying the Rs 10 fee to keeping abreast of the different payment modes varying from state to state.

Central Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah says NRIs can better participate in RTI if an amendment is made in the rules to name the “Ministry of Overseas Affairs as the nodal authority to monitor RTI applications from NRIs”. The applicants currently can file the application fee in the currency of the nations in which they reside. The applications can be submitted with the respective embassies, but a proper mechanism through the amendments has to be worked out for processing the requests. I found the MEA not the right authority to entertain applications,” Habibullah says. But Vishal disagrees with Habibullah, and feels a “simple gazette notification” would do. “Under Section 26 (3)(c)(h)(i) of the Act, the government is empowered to update guidelines on the manner in which requests for access to information shall be made to a Public Information Officer, the notices for fees to be paid and for any additional regulations or circulars. Hence the concerns of the NRIs can be addressed by a simple gazette notification,” his e-mail to Pradhan on October 7 says. The DoPT now also says that the RTI Act would need an amendment for NRIs.

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