Bhopal: The Congress-led Madhya Pradesh government’s decision to hike the fee for filing Right to Information (RTI) queries and appeals by 10 times has drawn huge flak from RTI activists in the state. Opposing the proposal, the activists have demanded the immediate withdrawal of the new rates.
The General Administration Department (GAD) of the state has prepared a proposal to jack up the fee of filing RTI application from Rs 10 to Rs 100, and from Rs 50 to Rs 500 for first appeal and Rs 100 to Rs 1,000 for the second appeal. The increase is set to reduce the accessibility of citizens to a process through which they can get information and thereby, hold the government accountable.
“The proposal was prepared by the state government. In any case, it’s their discretion to decide the fee,” said Chief Information Commissioner AK Shukla. Sources at the CIC’s office said that it had suggested the government to bring down the proposed raise to Rs 50 instead, and leave untouched the price to procure photocopies of documents at Rs 2, which the government had proposed to raise as well.
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Dharnendra Kumar Jain, Deputy Secretary, GAD, refusing to divulge details including the rationale behind the proposal, said, “The proposal is under consideration and its contents will be made public only after it’s finalised. We’ve not yet decided on the extent of the fee raise.”
The Madhya Pradesh Suchna Ka Adhikar Abhiyan has opposed the proposed fee hike and urged Chief Minister Kamal Nath to withdraw the proposal through a letter.
“The RTI act, which has brought transparency and accountability to the government and exposed countless scams is now under threat. The state government’s plan to raise the fee 10 times is an attempt to discourage the RTI activists by making it expensive,” the letter says.
It is worth mentioning that the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh, which rode to power after a long wait of 15 years in the state, has uncovered several scams of the previous BJP regime through this very system of RTIs, including the infamous Vyapam scam. Even during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress in its manifesto had promised to review and strengthen the RTI act, but, “state government’s proposal to raise fee is as an attempt to curtail the transparency and violation of article 19 (1)(A) (Freedom of Speech and Expression),” the letter to CM says.
“The Congress government at the Centre is credited for enacting the Act, and its government in Madhya Pradesh is now scripting its undoing,” said Ajay Dubey, a Bhopal-based RTI activist and Board Member, Transparency International India.
Another RTI activist Rolly Shivhare said, “Several states and the Centre charge no fee to file appeals. Instead of reducing the fee, the government plans to increase it, which is unacceptable and an attempt to snatch their basic rights. We demand immediate withdrawal of the proposal.”
An official working with GAD Minister Govind Singh said the proposal hadn’t yet reached him, while the department had already received suggestions from the Commission on it, indicating officials had bypassed the long-held convention of securing the Minister’s approval at both the incipient and the final stages of a proposal. However, the Minister refused to comment anything more.
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