The move would help phase out postal orders, which cost more to the exchequer than their Rs 10 issue price.
It defies logic as to why the Department of Posts should incur an expenditure of Rs. 37.45 on every Rs. 10 postal order that is submitted along with an application filed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. But this is precisely what has been happening since the RTI Act came into force in 2005. In the absence of any enabling provision, such as a special stamp for payment of the fees, RTI applicants have been forced to pay through postal orders.
While the issue has been discussed at length, the introduction of new stamps for the payment of RTI fee costs has been restricted by the provisions of the Indian Postal Act, 1898, which prescribes that postage stamps be used for only postal articles.
However, following a Central Information Commission (CIC) order on March 30, 2016, the postal department has decided to constitute a new committee to consider issuing RTI stamps, similar to the radio and TV licence fees stamps, said RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agarwal, on whose petition the decision had come.
Agarwal said an earlier committee had rejected the CIC recommendations on the flimsy grounds of letting things continue as they are.
He claimed that documents received under an RTI response revealed that officers at the security printing presses cited red-tapism and the unavailability of paper as the cause for their inability to print RTI stamps despite printing postage stamps of a prominent living cricketer against postal norms within a few days of the decision on the RTI stamps.
Incidentally, in 2015, a committee comprising four senior officials of the Department of Personnel and Training, CIC and the Department of Posts had discussed the matter of issuing special RTI stamps. It also received suggestions from several citizens. It was told that the postal department had also constituted an expert committee to examine the possibility of introducing exclusive RTI stamps.
The expert committee had said introducing exclusive RTI stamps was not a feasible option and had instead suggested a definitive series of postage stamps.
Thereafter the four-member committee deliberated only on the issue of ordinary postage stamps as a mode of payment for RTI fees. But when it sought the opinion of S.K. Tripathi, director of the postal department, it was told that the Indian Postal Act did not allow the use of postage stamps for purposes other than sending postal articles.
Another glitch that came in the way was section 25(3)(e) of the RTI Act, according to which each ministry or department is required to provide information related to the charges collected by them under the RTI Act. It was thus contended that while monitoring payments to each ministry or department through postal orders was possible due to their particular serial number, the same would not be feasible with ordinary postage stamps.
It was also pointed out that the central government had already launched RTI Online to enable the filing of RTI applications online, including the payment of RTI costs, and the service had been utilised for filing over 190,000 applications since its launch in August 2013.
Besides, the Centre had also launched the facility of electronic Indian postal order, or elPO, to purchase IPOs electronically by online payment. The use of postage stamps for payment of RTI costs, the committee had observed, would thus be a regressive step in the efforts towards electronic delivery of services.
Holding this view, the committee had observed that use of postage stamps as mode of payment for RTI costs would not be feasible legally or from an accounting point of view. Also, it said, it would not be in line with the Centre’s move towards Digital India.
Agarwal insists a lot of time has been wasted on discussing the issue of using postage stamps for the payment of RTI fees. He said RTI stamps are the way ahead and their sale in a particular year can be taken as collected RTI fees and copying charges for that year. “Attractive RTI stamps should be issued only in three denominations of rupees two, 10 and 50, which will also serve as tool of popularising the transparency Act,” he suggested, adding that the beginning could be the release of exclusive RTI stamps in the inaugural session of the annual CIC convention to be held in October.