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Railways Tighten RTI Rules Following Row Over PM Selfie Point Costs

The right to Information Act gives Indian citizens the right to request any available information from a public authority and makes the government and its employees more accountable and responsible.

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The Indian Railways has implemented stricter rules for responding to Right to Information (RTI) requests after controversy erupted over the high cost of selfie booths with Prime Minister Modi's image at railway stations. 

The new rules require RTI responses to be approved by general managers of Zonal Railways or divisional railway managers before release. This followed an RTI revealing that permanent Modi selfie booths cost Rs 6.25 lakh each, and temporary booths cost Rs 1.25 lakh, as approved by the Central Bureau of Communication under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

This information was provided by the Central Railway in response to an RTI query.

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The Right to Information Act was passed in the year 2005. This law gives Indian citizens the right to request any available information from a public authority and makes the government and its employees more accountable and responsible.

An advisory sent to railway general managers on December 28, 2023, noted that the quality and timeliness of RTI responses had deteriorated, prompting more appeals and harming the Railways' reputation.

To address these issues, the advisory mandates compliance with timelines for disposal as prescribed in the Act. Furthermore, to ensure quality, all RTI replies going forward must be approved respectively at the general manager (GM) level in Zonal Railways and divisional railway managers (DRMs) in the Divisions. The advisory added, "Similarly, replies to first appeals received under the RTI Act need to be shown to the GM and DRM concerned".

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The controversy intensified with the transfer of Central Railway’s Public Relations Officer Shivaji Manaspure. The transfer took place after his deputy, Abhay Mishra, as Deputy General Manager of Central Railway, disclosed the information related to selfie points. Manaspure, who held the position for seven months, faced the transfer against the usual two-year tenure for the post.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi suggested that Manaspure’s transfer was an act of punishment due to the embarrassment caused to the Modi government. On X, Gandhi wrote, “Shahenshah ki raza, sach ka inaam saza (King rewards truth with punishment)”.

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