Education

Takeaways from an RTI experience

| Updated on January 24, 2011 Published on January 24, 2011

BL24LVS1

A case where request for info on some Budget 2007 notings was rejected by the CBDT, but made available by the Central Information Commission, the Second Appellate Authority under the RTI Act.



The Right to Information Act of 2005 is a very important piece of legislation to bring about complete transparency in the functioning of the bureaucracy and thus increase accountability as well as reduce corruption.

Since it is a relatively new legislation it takes time for people to understand its implications and make good use of it. Already we hear about lot of RTI activists making best use of the Act.

India being a diverse country with people in different economic strata, any systemic change takes its own time to be visible.

The experience of the past suggests that even though it is slow, such changes indeed are accepted by the people over a period of time. For example, VRS and privatisation of PSUs were vehemently opposed when introduced, but were well embraced later by the employees of PSUs.

Through this article I wish to share an interesting experience with the Central Information Commission (CIC), the Second Appellate Authority under the RTI.

Request rejected

I had sought from the Central Board of Direct Taxes, New Delhi (CBDT) the file notings in the Union Budget of 2007, concerning the retrospective amendment to Section 54EC of the Income-Tax Act, as per which the investment of long-term capital gains was capped at Rs 50 lakh and thus any capital gain in excess of this amount was taxable even in the previous year 2006-07.

This request was rejected by the CPIO (Central Public Information Officer) in the CBDT. The appeal against this request was also dismissed by the First Appellate Authority in the CBDT stating that file notings in the “Budget Files” are exempt from disclosure under the RTI Act. The matter was carried in further appeal to the CIC.

For filing the appeal with the CIC, it is possible to do it online on the CIC Web site ( rti.india.gov.in), which is very user-friendly. After submitting it online, a physical copy of the application has to be printed, signed by the appellant and sent to the CIC along with the enclosures such as the information request to the CPIO, his response, appeal to the First Appellate Authority, decision of the said Authority, and so on. An appeal number is generated as soon as the online filing is complete and at any subsequent point of time, the status of the appeal can be tracked on the Web site by quoting the appeal number.

Videoconference

The hearing by the CIC is conducted through videoconference for appellants who are stationed outside Delhi. The respondents (CBDT) will be required to present themselves in person in the courtroom of the CIC in Delhi. The appellant can present himself at the local office of the National Informatics Centre. NIC is present across all State capitals and in a number of districts in various States.

In my case, I got an intimation for the videoconference for a particular date and just a day before that I got another intimation for a subsequent date. Hence I was under the impression that the hearing has been postponed. But just to reconfirm this I called up the CIC office at Delhi on the morning of the first date when they realised that there has been some error in sending the second communication and that the hearing is scheduled on the first date itself.

As it was too late for me to proceed to the NIC office, the CIC officials took down my landline number and informed me that the Information Commissioner (IC) will conduct an audio conference with me and the respondent (CBDT).

Bingo, the call came from the IC and the hearing lasted for about 30 minutes and it got concluded with a decision from the IC that the file notings in the “ Budget File” have to be shared and there is nothing confidential about them, three years after the said Budget was presented in Parliament.

The physical orders are awaited from the IC, though the same has already been posted on the CIC Website ( cic.gov.in), for any one to see. Thus it will be seen how the whole process is so citizen-friendly, which we are not generally used while dealing with bureaucrats.

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

Published on January 24, 2011
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor