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Business News/ Opinion / Online-views/  Views | The curious changes in Maharashtra’s RTI rules
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Views | The curious changes in Maharashtra’s RTI rules

Views | The curious changes in Maharashtra’s RTI rules


The Maharashtra government’s clandestine amendments to right to information (RTI) rules appear to be turning into a major embarrassment at a time when its senior officials are in the dock for their involvement in the so-called Adarsh scam, involving the construction of a swank residential tower on land that was reserved for war widows. Several murky details of the scam that led to the resignation of the then chief minister, Ashok Chavan, were exposed using provisions of the RTI Act.

The government has made three key changes and the strangest of them all is the one that says that an RTI applicant can only use a pencil while making notes, when he or she is inspecting government records. Mercifully, it does not specify whether the pencil has to be a HB pencil or otherwise.

The government has introduced a word-cap of 150 words on all RTI applications. It is not known whether the word-cap was designed to avoid too many questions or was inspired by twitter that has a similar word cap of 140 words. Also, an RTI application in Maharashtra can henceforth relate to only ‘one subject matter’; a subjective clause that remains open to interpretation and endows discretionary powers on individual information officials.

RTI activists are of course not amused and have drafted a letter to the chief minister, which they plan to send after getting signatures from eminent public personas. The lack of any consultation by the government on these changes has made it vulnerable to the charge of trying to stifle an act that has been used by opposition parties as well as independent activists to expose many of its misdeeds.

Ironically, as a central minister of state in the prime minister’s office, Maharashtra’s current chief minister, Prithviraj Chavan had expressed reservations on similar amendments that were proposed by the Centre and later dropped owing to howls of protests from RTI groups.

The letter to Chavan, drafted by RTI activists Nikhil Dey and Bhaskar Prabhu, among others, points out that the way the changes were made was not in sync with either the spirit of the RTI law that aims at transparency or with the letter of the law that mandates the state to publicize key changes.

The landmark RTI act is arguably the best legislation drafted by civil society groups in recent years and has helped uncover crucial information on how public resources are managed. While there are instances of abuses of the provisions of the act, it is equally true that many government departments are obdurate when it comes to sharing information. Most RTI activists or even media-persons file RTI applications only as a last resort.

Erecting hurdles on their path does not bode well for a chief minister, who came to power on the mandate of transparency.

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Updated: 06 Apr 2012, 03:16 PM IST
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