Can’t demand signed copies of online RTI applications: CIC to Army

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Demanding a signed copy of an online RTI application negates the whole purpose of such a mechanism, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has said while cautioning the army to refrain from such a practice.

Information Commissioner Divya Prakash Sinha held that seeking citizenship proof in case of demand of sensitive information is justified but seeking a signed copy of the application does not seem appropriate as the online portal does not mandate uploading of signatures.

Mr. Sinha was hearing the plea of an Odisha-based RTI applicant who had sought from the army information regarding implementation of rules under the the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 in all defence establishments.

The army did not provide any information to the applicant, the CIC noted.

Akhand approached the Commission with a complaint that the central public information officer (CPIO) of the army has demanded a signed copy of his online RTI application as well as identity proof before providing him the records.

“In this regard, it may be noted that as far as CPIO’s request for citizenship proof is concerned, the same is not questioned as Commission in its prior decision(s) has held the view that Armed Forces stand on a slightly different footing as there may be instances that involve disclosure of sensitive information, and for such reasons it may be rationale for the CPIO to ask for citizenship proof,” Mr. Sinha noted.

He, however, said the facts of the instant case “do not suggest disclosure of sensitive information“.

A Punjab and Haryana High Court judgment may be referred in the matter of Fruit & Merchant Union vs. Unknown, decided on November 2, 2012, which has validated the need for RTI applicants to provide identity proof, he said.

However, asking for a signed copy of an online RTI application does not seem appropriate as the online portal does not mandate uploading of signatures, Mr. Sinha said.

”…if applicants do so voluntarily by uploading a signed copy of the RTI Application under the supporting documents head, it is acceptable but insisting on signed copy of online RTI Applications cannot be a norm and delaying the provision of information for want of a signed copy of online RTI Application negates the whole purpose of filing an online RTI Application,” he said.

Mr. Sinha directed the CPIO to exercise due caution while dealing with online RTI applications in future.

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