Government restricts free supply of information under RTI Act to BPL applicants

Thiruvananthapuram: The government has notified an amendment to Kerala Right to Information (Regulation of Fee and Cost) Rules to restrict the free supply of information to those living below the poverty line to 20 pages in A4 size paper.

The notification, issued in January during the administration of Oommen Chandy government, said that the amendment was being made because of misuse of exemption from paying fee by some interested groups.

Section 7(5) of the RTI Act specifies that no fee shall be charged from the persons who are of below poverty line as may be determined by the appropriate Government. So, the amendment brought by the State government is in contravention of the Central Act. State governments do not have powers to change provisions of Central Act. Even in the case of State legislations, rules cannot be made against express provisions of the Act.

The RTI Kerala Federation, representing RTI groups and activists, have approached the State Information Commission seeking direction to the government to withdraw the amendment.

In its petition, the Federation noted that the amendment was illegal as it is in conflict with Section 7 of the Act. It resulted in refusal of information and providing information in part to those who are eligible to receive information under the RTI Act.

It urged the Commission to issue a direction to all public information officers and Appellate Authorities in the State to provide information to all applicants below poverty line without charging any fees as specified in the RTI Act.

It may be noted that the previous government had taken several steps to restrict supply of information to the public under the Act. Executive orders were issued to deny information on Mullaperiyar issue and vigilance cases against VIPs, besides suggesting to the Parliamentary Committee on Subordinate Legislation to keep journalists out of the purview of eligible applicants or charge higher fees for information supplied to them. 

In addition, a large number of cases were allowed to be piled up before the State Information Commission by not appointing commissioners. The present government is also pursuing similar policies and has refused to disclose full information on Cabinet decisions. It has also approached the Kerala High Court against an order of the State Information Commission to release details of Cabinet decisions.

RTI notification

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