In August 2018, the government made a shocking statement with regards to the rights of an NRI (Non Resident Indian).
The Indian government proposed to suddenly curtail non-resident Indians (NRIs) from filing online applications under Right to Information (RTI) through the e-IPO way. Incidentally it was the same BJP who had fought hard for this issue in 2013.
It is also important to note that this decision was not communicated via any formal intimation, however, the same was conveyed through an announcement in the Lok Sabha on 8th August 2018, when Jugal Kishore, BJP Member of Parliament (MP) asked,
“Whether non-resident-Indians (NRIs) are also eligible to file online RTI applications and if so the procedure aid down in this regard.”
To this, Minister of State in the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, Dr. Jitendra Singh, replied with a comment which is incorrect on facts. The Minister who is also a MoS in the Prime Minister’s Office stated,
“Only citizens have the right to seek information under the provisions of RTI Act, 2005. Non-residents are not eligible to file RTI applications.”
This left the common man with an alarming question whether the minister meant that the NRIs are not citizens of India? It subsequently led a Delhi-based RTI activist to question the government’s definition of an NRI.
Commodore (Cmde) Lokesh Batra (retd) filed an RTI application with the department of personnel and training (DoPT) to get absolute clarity on the definition of an NRI. In his application he said,
“As I understand it, NRIs are very much citizens of India, holding an Indian passport, but whose stay abroad exceeds 182 days in any financial year. Thus, NRIs also have the right to seek information under the provision of the RTI Act, 2005.”
He further highlighted the fact that in fact the then government in 2013 had stated under ‘Rights of NRI’s that under the current provision of the RTI Act, NRIs can file RTI applications seeking information from Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) itself.
He also elaborated that the information could be seeked by paying Rs. 10 fee per application, equivalent in local currency accepted by Missions and Posts abroad. He pointed out that despite this arrangement, the minister contradicted the same in August 2018, by saying that NRIs cannot file an RTI application.
Commodore Batra emailed DoPT immediately on hearing the minister’s statement. He sought replies on two queries primarily:
- Definition of an NRI;
- Certified scanned copies of a complete set of documents and notings relevant to Lok Sabha unstarred question No. 3535, starting from the time the question was first received in DoPT up to the time a response was finalised and forwarded to the Parliament (Lok Sabha).
The DoPT failed to provide the information, and thereby, Cmde Batra filed another complaint with the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC). He shared his unsatisfactory experience of not receiving response from DoPT for his RTI application. Batra asked CIC to deem this as refusal to provide information as per Section 7(2) of the RTI Act and thus he had to approach the CIC.
Another complaint was filed with Deepa Jain, under secretary, MEA protesting against the non-reply to his RTI requisition. However, her response to Cmde Batra was,
“Reference your trailing mail dated 25 September 2018 in the matter of your RTI application. It may be noted that your application was received in this ministry for point (a) i.e. “Definition of an NRI” through DoP&T which was initially transferred to Under Secretary (US) (Coordination) in MEA and now has been forwarded to the concerned CPIO, i.e., Lakshmikant Kumbhar, US (OIA-II), Room No. 1023, Akbar Bhawan, New Delhi, Tel: 24197930, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Reply would be sent by the above-mentioned CPIO to you directly. Deposition of additional fee (if required) would also be intimated to you by them.”
Mr. Kumbhar once again tossed back the ball back to Jain stating,
“Information requested by Commodore Lokesh Batra about the definition of NRI does not pertain to OIA-II Division. This division deals with the welfare of NRIs. Hence, I have transferred (online) the RTI request to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), which deals with the citizenship issue. You may advise the DoPT accordingly.”
Batra wrote yet again to Ms. Jain citing the trailing exchange of emails where the said division said that it only dealt with the welfare of NRIs. He remarked that if the Indians living abroad were availing welfare measures as Indian Citizens then the issue related to the eligibility of NRIs being able to file RTI applications must be clarified.
Finally its been nearly 40 days and Cmde Batra sums up,
“My RTI application dated 27 August 2018, the MEA again forwarded my application to Lakshmikant Kumbhar, US(OIA-II) & CPIO, MEA and to Pramod Kumar, Director (Foreigners) & CPIO, MHA. I need this information as, despite the record in 2013 wherein NRIs have been given the right to file RTI applications in Indian missions abroad, why is the minister contradicting it in the Lok Sabha?”
Commodore Batra continues to patiently await for the CIC hearing.
There have been 176 Indian Missions abroad showing favourable responses to RTI applications from Indians abroad. This constantly raises the question of why no department is able to reply to this information which is already existing and has many precedents.
The inputs have been edited from an article published by an RTI Activist in Moneylife.in