The Railways has issued new norms requiring that all replies to Right to Information applications must be approved by zonal or divisional heads, The Hindu reported on Thursday.

As per an advisory issued by the Railways, replies to Right to Information applications have to be approved either by general managers of zonal Railways or divisional railway managers.

This came days after a controversy broke out about the Central Railways’ response to a Right to Information query on the cost of selfie booths featuring Prime Minister Narendra Modi at railway stations within the zone.

According to the reply, the Centre has approved expenditure of Rs 6.25 lakh on each permanent 3D selfie booth and Rs 1.25 lakh on each temporary booth. In total, the Central Railways is spending Rs 1.62 crore on setting up photo booths at railway stations where the public can take selfies with images of Modi, according to The Hindu.

The Central Railway has installed selfie booths featuring Modi across 50 railway stations in five divisions: Mumbai, Bhusaval, Nagpur, Pune and Solapur.

On December 28, the railways told the general managers of all zones in an advisory that the “quality of replies to RTI applications handled by zonal railways and other field units had deteriorated”.

It also said that the timelines for disposing of applications were not being followed, “resulting in a large number of appeals filed before the First Appellate Authority or the Central Information Commission”.

This, according to the advisory, not only increases the amount of work but also brings disrepute to the organisation.

Due to this, the Railways had decided that replies to all RTI applications would “henceforth be approved respectively at the level of the General Manager in Zonal Railways and Divisional Railway Managers in the Divisions”.

It added: “Similarly, replies to first appeals received under the RTI Act need to be shown to the GM and DRM concerned.”

Last week, the railways had transferred Shivraj Manaspure, the chief public relations officer of the Central Railway.

A Ministry of Railways spokesperson has denied any connection between the recent advisory and the RTI response, reported Hindustan Times.

“These conversations are internal to the railway board,” said the spokesperson. “The board is allowed to have internal instructions and the fresh instructions are for convenience…the directive is unrelated to the transfer and the RTI response made by the officer.”

However, the Congress remarked that the official’s transfer would mean that no officer would be willing to directly provide information.

“The dictator is afraid of the truth,” the party wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The RTI query in question was filed by Ajay Bose, a retired railway official. The applicant said that the Northern Railway, Southern Railway and Western Railways had not revealed the total expenditure on the selfie booths.