RTI facilities for NRIs

Central Information Commission

CIC/AD/C/2009/000885

Dated April 16, 2010

Name of the Applicant : Commodore [Retd.] Lokesh Batra
Name of the Public Authority : MEA

Background

1. The Applicant filed an RTI request dated 12.06.2009 with the CPIO, MEA seeking information on the following:
(a) The Policy, Rules, Regulations and procedures if any, to facilitate NRIs/PIOs to be able to file RTI applications to the “public authorities” in India from abroad.
(b) Keeping in view different modes of payment and amount being prescribed/ accepted by Central, State Governments and other Public Authorities like Courts etc. the information about the procedures laid down for the NRIs and PIOs for remittance of payment to Public Authorities in India in Rupees towards RTI fee and later on the cost of information under Section 7(3), from abroad.
(c) Facilities provided, if any, by the GOI to facilitate NRIs/PIOs to participate in the RTI appeal process as structured today, from abroad.
(d) Inspection of all relevant files containing the above requested information.Similar RTI applications were addressed to the PMO, MOIA and DoPT as well.

2. The CPIO, MEA transferred the aforesaid RTI application to the Ministry of Overseas Affairs under provisions of the Section 6(3)(ii) of the RTI Act 2005 on 26.06.2009 citing that the subject matter of the information sought was more closely connected with the said Ministry. The DOPT vide a communication dated 29.06.2009 responded stating that there was no such policy as had been asked for by the Applicant. This was followed by communication from MOIA stating that the issue of payment of fee for seeking information by the NRIs has to be decided by the MEA,who had been already requested in this regard. In so far as participation in the First and Second appeals is concerned, the MOIA stated that amendment of the relevant rules by DOPT was required and the matter had already been taken up.

3. The Complainant herein exchanged numerous correspondences with the various Ministries/Departments of the Government of India on this issue. However upon non receipt of any satisfactory response, the Complainant approached the Central Information Commission seeking resolution of the issue and facilitation of procedures to enable NRIs to avail facilities under the RTI Act 2005 from abroad. The Complainant sought redressal of the two main problems faced by the NRIs while availing information under the RTI Act 2005 from abroad viz.
(a) mode of payment of fee/cost of information,
(b) participation in first and second appeals from abroad. It is observed from the documents on record that the Complainant herein had originally filed this Complaint on 30.04.2009 voicing his concern over the fact that the NRIs find it difficult to avail the ‘Right to Information Act 2005’. He mentioned therein that he had filed an RTI on 30.01.2009 before the Indian Embassy in US seeking yearwise data for the years 2005 to 2008 and Jan 2009 about the RTI applications, First Appeals and Second Appeals received in the ‘Public Authority’ (Indian Embassy, US).

4. The Bench of Mrs. Annapurna Dixit, Information Commissioner, scheduled the hearing for February 10, 2010 and the notice dated 07.01.2010 for the hearing was accordingly sent to the parties.

5. Sh. Debraj Pradhan, JS (RTI) & CPIO, MEA; Mr. Mithilesh Kumar, DS (Adm.) & CPIO, MOIA and Ms. Vanaja K Thekka, US, MOIA represented the Public Authorities.

6. The Complainant was present in person during the hearing.

Hearing

7. During the hearing, the Commission opined that in the given facts and situation of the case, it was important that the representative from DoPT be also heard on the issue and also instead of a hearing, a meeting of representatives of the concerned Ministries be held at the Commission,in order to facilitate the remedy of the issue at hand.

8. Accordingly, notice dated 24.02.2010 was sent to DoPT while the parties present for hearing were intimated that a discussion in this matter will be held under the Chairpersonship of the Information Commissioner on 17th February 2010 at 5pm.

9. The meeting on 17th February 2010 Chaired by the Information Commissioner, Mrs. Annapurna Dixit, was attended by Sh. Debraj Pradhan, JS (RTI) & CPIO, and Shri Ramesh Chandra, Under Secretary (RTI), on behalf of MEA.
Mrs. Anuradha S. Chagti, Deputy Secretary and Shri R.K. Girdhar, Under Secretary,represented the Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT)
Mr. Mithilesh Kumar, DS (Adm.) represented the MOIA.
The Complainant was present in person.

10. The Complainant reiterated during the meeting about his experience in 20082009 when he was
abroad for a considerable period and was unable to exercise his “right to information” in the
absence of procedure/rules for payment of RTI fees in foreign currency from abroad. He was,
however able to participate in the hearing of his case conducted by CIC through audio
conference. He amplified his statement stating that in the absence of procedure/rules for
payment of RTI fees in foreign currency from abroad, the issue applies to all Indian
Citizens’ abroad that includes citizens’ who may be residing abroad for a short visits, long stay
for education and job purposes, and even officials posted in Indian Missions or on deputation to
International bodies and so on. Thus as per the Appellant, consequently, the Indian Citizens’
living away from country are unable to exercise their right to information.
It was further suggested during the meeting, that the MEA, which is the administrative Ministry
for the Indian Missions abroad, could accept RTI fees in foreign currency from the applicants
filing RTI to Central Public Authorities using the same procedure as they do in India for RTI
applications concerning them. In that case the mission’s role would be restricted to
accepting the fee along with a copy of passport to verify citizenship (as they do now) and
issuing a receipt/Ereceipt to applicant for fee (and later cost of information if necessary).
Thereafter the RTI applicant with proof of fee paid can make a choice to forward his/her
application to the concerned Central Public Authority (PA) online (where facilities exist) or
by post and deal directly with the PA.

11. Shri Debraj Pradhan, JS, MEA explained that there are complex issues which need to be addressed within MEA and CAG.

12. Smt. Anuradha S. Chagti, DS stated that DoPT is working on facilitating ‘On Line’ payment of
fee. She explained the complexities involved in making the system functional and on a query
from the Chairperson, viz. the Information Commissioner, Mrs. Chagti accepted that
conceptualization and implementation of the system may take approximately six months’ time.
The Chairperson, Mrs. Annapurna Dixit, Information Commissioner wondered since, DoPT’s
initiative is likely to take time, whether it is possible for the different Ministries to agree to an
interim arrangement such as dealing with only the Centre in the initial stages based on
suggestions given by the DoPT and the Complainant. The representative of DoPT expressed
apprehensions while quoting the Section 1(2) of the RTI Act, 2005 that the Act “….. extends to
the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir”. Responding to this, the
Complainant reasoned that it meant that the RTI Act, 2005 is applicable to all Public Authorities
in India except those Public Authorities falling under the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
Furthermore, the Complainant quoted the Section 3 of the RTI act, 2005 which states that
“Subject to the provisions of this Act, all citizens shall have the right to information”. The
Chairperson, Mrs. Annapurna Dixit, added that Indians while staying abroad, for whatever
reasons, continue to be citizens’ of India as long as they hold the Indian Passport therefore their
Right to Information under this Act remained unaltered despite change in their location.

13. Shri. Mithlesh Kumar, DS, representing the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA),
submitted his views stating that the MOIA has fully appreciated the difficulties being faced by
Indian Citizens’ living abroad and have given their recommendations to both MEA and DoPT
vide their letters dated 15 December 2009. His Ministry agrees that RTI Fee as applicable can
be paid to nearest Missions/Posts abroad in foreign currency. The representative for the MOIA
further stated that they were willing to create a separate link on their website to accept Online
RTI applications and appeals for their Ministry and had in fact also recommended to DoPT that
all Central Ministries and Departments to provide similar links on their websites to facilitate
Online filing of RTIs and Appeals from abroad.

14. After hearing the detailed views of the various Ministries and the Complainant, it was suggested that MEA should carry out Inhouse deliberations in consultation with the CAG and intimate the out come thereof, by 03 March 2010. Similarly the DoPT was also granted further time to consider the options discussed in the meeting and come out with a positive solution.

15. Subsequently all the aforementioned Ministries and the Complainant were intimated to remain present at the Central Information Commission on 29.03.2010, to discuss the development on this issue.

16. The meeting on 29th March 2010 was Chaired by the Information Commissioner, Mrs.Annapurna Dixit, and attended by Sh. Debraj Pradhan, JS (RTI) & CPIO on behalf of MEA.
None was present for the Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT)
Mr. Mithilesh Kumar, DS (Adm.) represented the MOIA.
The Complainant was present in person.

17. The MEA official present during the meeting made three fold submission regarding the
developments till date. At the very threshold, the MEA official pointed out that legally it was
beyond the scope of the RTI Act for a Public Authority to collect information from another Public
Authority and supply the same to the Applicant. While the Section 6(3) of the Act provides for
transfer of the RTI application to the Public Authority which is likely to be the custodian of the
information sought for, it is the contention of the MEA that there is no specific provision of the
Act of acceptance of applications by one Public Authority in respect of another. It has further
been stated by the Respondent [MEA] that Missions/Posts abroad serving as window of the
Government of India, accept requests from NRIs seeking information from any particular Public
Authority in India. But since the services to be provided by the Missions/Posts are clearly
defined and it is not an all encompassing role to be played in lieu of the GoI, therefore, only RTI
applications on subject matters related to the particular Mission/Post should be filed therein.
Remaining RTI applications should be filed directly with the concerned Public Authority in India.

18. The Official for MEA elaborated that Logistic limitation is being faced by the Ministry and
likewise the Missions/Posts due to the tremendous volume of work being generated by RTI applications
without corresponding increase in manpower in different Divisions/ Sections. It was pointed out during
the meeting that many Indian Missions function on skeletal staff strength and hence accepting
applications addressed to other Central Government Ministries/Departments would further aggravate
the already increasing workload manifolds. Therefore processing the RTI applications even for
forwarding the same to the appropriate Public Authority in India, would require augmentation of the
Mission’s staff, which is not an easy process in itself. The Respondent MEA expressed apprehension
that in view of the fact that the RTI Act 2005 does not set any limits on the number of RTI applications
that can be filed by a single individual or the maximum number of applications to be accepted by any
Public Authority, Missions located in countries having high population of NRIs may find the traffic of
applications overwhelming, if the Missions are to serve as a single window repository of RTI applications
for the entire GoI. It was further contended that since the frequency of diplomatic bags have been
reduced, therefore adhering to time limits as prescribed under the Act would be possible if only
information related to a particular Mission/Post are asked from the said Mission/Post, without losing time
in procuring information from other Public Authorities via the diplomatic bag. This would also help in
avoiding unnecessary delays in forwarding of the RTI applications to the appropriate Public Authority/s.

19. While discussing the third fold of his contention viz. the Issue of fees, it was suggested that fees on RTI applications in Missions abroad maybe fixed in the same manner as for Passport and Consular services, which are different from fees charged in India. However the official for MEA expressed the concern of the Respondent that the large NRI community resident in certain countries could lead to additional voluminous and timebound work relating to RTI adding to further stretch on manpower resources, which are already hard pressed for staff. The MEA also added that the issue of fees should be decided by DoPT in consultation with the CIC, while the MEA could forward its recommendations considering the exchange rate and the minimum denomination of the different foreign currency. The Respondent also stated that conversion of an amount as small as Rs. 10/into local currencies could impose additional burden on Missions/Posts on account of extra accounting work. In so far as fee and costs to be charged under Section 7(3) was concerned, the MEA contended that the same should be commensurate with the local cost of living like the visa and consular fees charged by the Mission/s.

20. Though the DoPT was not present during this meeting, it had been expressed earlier that they were awaiting inputs and suggestions from all other relevant Ministries. The DoPT sought to collaborate with some agency to conceptualise and design the format and working module etc. of the set up in its endeavour to come up with some concrete action in this regard.

21. The Complainant countered the arguments of the Respondent MEA on the Logistic hassle as pointed out hereinabove. It was submitted by the Complainant that large amounts are granted to the Missions/Posts abroad outside the Charter. As an example, the Complainant referred to the NGOs which operate in various places to provide aid and assistance to victims of Domestic Violence abroad. It was argued that if such schemes addressing socio legal causes could operate, which also fall outside the defined role of a Mission/Post, definitely some ideas could be developed for RTI Act as well. Furthermore, while addressing the issue of fees, it was contended by the Complainant that studies from various Banks revealed that conversion of Rs.10/RTI fees would not be a hindrance at all.

22. The Commission after considering the detailed submissions of the parties is of the opinion that the laying down of Policy, Rules, Regulations and procedures if any, to facilitate accessibility of the RTI Act to the Indians living abroad is a time consuming affair wherein efforts, suggestions,cooperation and co ordination of the various concerned Ministries along with DoPT have to be incorporated. Accordingly, the Commission in exercise of provisions of the Section 25 (5) of the RTI Act recommends that a system be formulated by DoPT to facilitate the accessibility of the RTI Act by the Indians living abroad, if possible by six moths, as stated by the representative from the DoPT, during the meeting held on 17.02.2010, to do the necessary research work in this regard. The PIO, DoPT is directed to submit timely update about the progress done in this regard to the Complainant, under intimation to the Commission.

(Annapurna Dixit)
Information Commissioner
Authenticated true copy:
(G.Subramanian)
Deputy Registrar

Cc:
1. Commodore [Retd.] Lokesh Batra
H02,
Sec25,
Jalvayu Vihar
NOIDA, UP

2. PIO
Union Ministry of External Affairs
South Block, Room No. 183 A
New Delhi – 110 011

3. Officer in charge, NIC

4. Press E Group, CIC

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