The union government’s recent reply in the Lok Sabha that Non Resident Indians (NRI) don’t have the right to file Right to Information (RTI) queries in the country has sparked a controversy among the community as well as the political circles.
Responding to an unstarred question in the parliament, Ministry of State PMO Jitendra Singh said in a written reply on Aug. 8: “Only citizens of India have the right to seek information under the provisions of Right to Information Act, 2005. Non-Resident Indians are not eligible to file RTI applications.”
The question regarding the eligibility of NRIs in filing RTI was asked by BJP’s Member of Parliament from Jammu, Jugal Kishore Sharma. It also included a question related to the process of online RTI filing.
Singh said that subject to the provisions of the Act, the citizens of India can file online application under the Right to Information Act, 2005. “Currently, systems of 2,200 public authorities have been aligned to receive, process and reply to online RTIs from the applicants,” he said, on the same day a bill to allow “proxy voting” for NRIs was passed in the lower house.
Following Singh’s reply, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said on Twitter that denying NRIs the right to file RTI is totally wrong as they have all the rights that Indian citizens living in the country hold.
“NRIs are citizens of India who happen to live abroad. Of course they have all the rights of Indian citizens living in India,” he tweeted.
“Not living in India doesn’t mean that we don’t have any concerns in the country. We have our homes, we send money, do investments and maintain bank accounts. We do file income tax,” Parmendra Srivastava, an NRI living in Kuwait, told Little India.
“If I hold the passport of India then I should have access to all the laws of India. Outside India, we don’t have legal rights of the country we live in, as we are considered aliens. And now our home country considers us as aliens and tells that since we live outside so we don’t have access to the law of the country. If the country has a right to impose all the laws on us then we should also have a right to take recourse of the laws in country, which include RTI,” he added.
Activists are also questioning the Indian government’s contradictory stand regarding NRIs, raising queries like when the government can give them a right to vote, how can it then deny them a right to question their elected government.
Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said in Lok Sabha on Aug. 9 this year that the Indian constitution makers had given the right to vote to all Indians. Hence, NRIs also had the voting right, NDTV reported.
“Let us not deride the contribution of NRIs. They have made a place for themselves by their hard work. Their commitment to India is truly remarkable,” he had said, according to the report.
Denial of right to NRIs to file RTIs is an oddity because “NRIs are those who hold an Indian passport but remain outside India for more than 182 days in a financial year,” RTI activist Commodore (Retd.) Lokesh K. Batra told the Wire. So NRIs remain citizens of India, Batra added.
Prasad’s reply in the parliament reveals that the government doesn’t see NRIs as Indian citizens, Sunil Kumar KK, an NRI living in Oman, told the News Minute. “This is a shame. Why can’t we enjoy the facilities that Indians living in India do? We ask only those questions which can be asked according to the Act. So, why should they deny us the online facility?,” Kumar asked.
Back in 2013, the UPA government had introduced an “electronic Indian Postal Order” (eIPO) of RTI fee from abroad.
An official press note from the Department of Posts said: “Department of Posts, Ministry of Communication and IT, Government of India in association with department of Personnel and Training has launched Electronic Indian Postal order (ePIO) on 22nd March 2013 to enable Indian citizens abroad to pay RTI fee online.”