RTI activists say UPA II had notified eIPO services for NRIs to seek information under RTI, which is yet to be withdrawn by this govt.
New Delhi: RTI activists are dismissing as factually incorrect the Centre’s assertion in Parliament that Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) are not eligible to file applications under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
“Only citizens of India have the right to seek information under the provisions of Right to Information Act, 2005. Non-Resident Indians are not eligible to file RTI applications,” MoS, PMO, Jitendra Singh, said in a written reply in the Lok Sabha Wednesday, on the day a bill to allow “proxy voting” for NRIs was passed in the lower house.
RTI activists, however, say that back in 2013, the then UPA government had introduced the electronic Indian Postal Order or eIPO service to help Indian citizens living abroad seek information under the RTI Act.
According to a notification, dated 7 October, 2013, issued by the Department of Personnel Training (DoPT), the nodal ministry for RTI, the government had extended the eIPO, for payment of RTI fee in Indian missions, to “Indian citizens abroad”.
Notification was to ease the process for NRIs
The eIPO refers to “a facility to purchase an Indian Postal Order electronically by paying the fee online”. The facility was extended to NRIs allowing them to access information under the RTI Act since paying Rs 10 — the fee to file an RTI application — was difficult in other currencies.
“It has been brought to the notice of this department that Indian citizens living abroad are facing difficulties in payment of fees for accessing information from Indian missions/posts abroad as the facility of e-IPO was not available with them,” the 2013 notification reads, making it but obvious that NRIs were entitled to access government information under the RTI Act in the first place.
“In order to facilitate the obtaining of information under the RTI Act, 2005, for the Indian citizen living abroad from Indian Missions/Posts under the Ministry of External Affairs, the facility of e-IPO is extended to 176 Indian Missions/Posts. List is enclosed,” the notification further reads.
Citing the 2013 notification, RTI activists accuse the government of presenting misleading data.
“The MoS response in Lok Sabha is completely misleading,” RTI activist Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd) said. “It seems the word ‘NRI’ has created the confusion but NRIs are Indian citizens…This statement is creating unnecessary confusion among NRIs,” he added.
Confusion over the terminology too does not quite explain the MoS’ reply either, since a similar notification by the Ministry of External Affairs in the same year is titled “Electronic Indian Postal Order (e-IPO) facility for payment of RTI fee by NRIs.”
“The government has been trying to dilute RTI provisions for some time now, so this just creates more confusion,” Batra said.
Recently, the government put on hold, controversial amendments to the RTI Act after facing stiff opposition from political parties and activists. Through the bill, the government sought to do away with the fixed tenure of information commissioners, and, instead, enable the Central government to decide their tenure.