As per the Right to Information (RTI) Act rules, an applicant can pay the fees of Rs10 for filing his application through any of the multiple modes of cash, demand draft, postal order, non-judicial stamp, or online challan.
However, in several cases, the public information officers (PIOs) insist on only one mode of payment that is probably convenient to that public authority. Once, I had to argue when a PIO refused to accept fees through the IPO, which I had bought from the postal office.
This issue might seem like a minor one, but it has a larger impact for it is highly inconvenient for a citizen to be illegally refused choices that are available to him by the transparency law.
Last week, Rahul Singh, the Madhya Pradesh (MP) state information commissioner, imposed a penalty of Rs10,000 on a PIO for refusing to accept the RTI application fee of Rs10 on a non-judicial stamp. The PIO, KL Ahirwar, who is also the executive engineer of MP housing infrastructure development board in Satna, insisted that the RTI applicant, Rajeev Kumar Khare, pay only in cash.
During the hearing, Mr Ahirwar, the PIO, defended himself saying that, as per a 2008 circular in his office, it is mandatory to pay RTI fee through cash only. Mr Singh though, on probing the issue, found out that another circular was issued in 2010 by the general administration department (GAD) of MP, which mandates that RTI fees can be accepted through multiple modes as described in the RTI Act.
Mr Singh further observed in the order that, “any circular made in contradiction with the rules of RTI act 2005, is illegal.”
In his order, while imposing the penalty, Mr Singh pointed out that, “the appellant, is free to deposit the fee through any medium as per their convenience and that it was wrong to force the appellant to make the payment through only a particular medium. The commission observed since the applicant has already incurred the cost of Rs10 on the non-judicial stamp, the demand of Rs10 in cash was not justified and stands against the rules of the RTI Act.”
The complainant Mr Khare had sought information from Madhya Pradesh housing infrastructure development board about the total number of buildings in Satna, places of construction, and vacant buildings.
Mr Singh mentioned that the department should maintain transparency in the work that it carries out and the information sought should have been made available to the appellant within 30 days as per Section 7 (1) of the RTI Act. This section states that “Section- 7 (1): Subject to the proviso to sub-section (2) of section 5 or the proviso to sub-section (3) of section 6, the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, on receipt of a request under section 6 shall, as expeditiously as possible, and in any case within 30 (Thirty) days of the receipt of the request, either provide the information on payment of such fee as may be prescribed or reject the request for any of the reasons specified in sections 8 and 9.”
It may be noted that the department of legal affairs under the ministry of law and justice clearly states on its website legalaffairs.gov.in that:
1. A citizen who desires to seek some information from a public authority is required to send, along with the application, a demand draft or a bankers cheque or an Indian postal order of Rs10 (Rupees ten), payable to the Accounts Officer of the public authority as fee prescribed for seeking information. The payment of a fee of Rs10 can also be made by way of cash to the public authority against a proper receipt.
2. If the applicant belongs to below poverty line (BPL) category, he is not required to pay any fee. However, he should submit proof in support of his claim for belonging to the below poverty line.
So, obviously, any inter-office circular in this regard by any public authority is invalid and illegal!
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also the convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)