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kapilchawla

Mr. Shailesh Gandhi has done great job. I vote for him for next CIC.

 

Where are his version of minutes available?

 

Thanks,

Kapil

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karira

As reported in ndtv.com on 04 March 2010:

PM, Sonia differ on RTI Act

PM, Sonia differ on RTI Act

 

This is the second term of the UPA and till now we have always seen Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, the UPA chairperson, working in perfect harmony but NDTV has learnt that there is one issue that they disagree, on that of RTI amendments.

 

It's a rare occasion when the Prime Minister has stood firm and refused Congress president Sonia Gandhi's request.

 

In a letter to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi the PM says that RTI amendments are necessary. This in response to Mrs Gandhi writing to him against it.

 

Sonia Gandhi had written to the PM two months ago saying that she is: "Of the firm opinion, like that of the NGOs that there should be no amendments in the RTI Act and the existing Act should properly implemented."

 

But the PM wrote back saying: There is a "...need for RTI amendments" but "...all stakeholders will be consulted", all stakeholders will be consulted before the amendments are moved."

 

The PM explains in his letter explains the need for changes in the RTI:

 

* Apprehensions of the judiciary have to be taken up

* Need to streamline the act and make it more people friendly

 

The RTI is one of the legal entitlements for the aam aadmi and Sonia Gandhi has been in the forefront to ensure that there is no dilution in the Act.

 

It is very rare for the PM to say no, that too to Sonia Gandhi, for getting the RTI amendment. And it is a long battle to get it through Parliament.

 

So what are the points of differences between the two most powerful people in the UPA?

 

Sources say the proposed changes in the RTI Act are:

 

* To exclude office of Chief Justice of India

* Don't make deliberations over a decision public

* Don't entertain frivolous/wasteful applications

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vnatarajan

There is a PTI news in the Hindu dt 5th March 2010 on the subject of amendments to the RTI Act 2005.

 

This concerns exchange of notes between Ms Sonia Gandhiji and the Hon PMji.

 

Link:The Hindu : National : RTI: PM, Sonia exchange notes

 

NO amendments vs Amendments after consultation with stakeholders appear to be the subject matter.

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Atul Patankar

As reported by Pallavi Ghosh at ibnlive.in.com on 04 march 2010

PM says no to Sonia, wants RTI Act amended

 

New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi are reportedly split over amending the Right to Information Act.

In a rare instance, the Prime Minister has said a firm no to Sonia's suggestions and has decided to go ahead with amendments in the RTI Act.

Singh has reportedly written a letter to Sonia saying that changes are needed in the RTI Act after the Congress President expressed her doubts and made it clear that she does not want it to be amended.

The proposed changes in RTI by the Prime Minister will keep the Chief Justice of India out of purview of the Act.

 

Some of the amendments proposed to the RTI Act are:

 

  • Chief Justice of India would be outside the purview of the Act.
  • Discussions on policy decisions cannot be made public.
  • No frivolous queries would be allowed and necessary changes in the Act would have to be made.

 

The Congress President, who is also the Chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance, had written to the Prime Minister about two months ago explaining her why she does not want any amendment to the Act, which was a landmark legislation of UPA 1 and seen as her baby.

Her views on not amending the RTI have been endorsed by NGOs and the Left parties.

But with the Prime Minister himself stepping in and saying no to her, changes in the Act seem inevitable.

 

 

Source: IBNLive : PM says no to Sonia, wants RTI Act amended : Print Page

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Atul Patankar

As reported at zeenews.com on March 05, 2010

 

New Delhi: The proposed amendments into the Congress party’s landmark legislation the Right to Information Act (RTI) has created differences between none other than Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, claimed reports on Friday.

 

As per reports, Dr. Manmohan Singh is in favour of excluding the office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) from falling under the ambit of the RTI Act whereas Sonia Gandhi has opposed any amendments in the Act.

 

The changes proposed by the Prime Minister in the RTI Act will keep the office of the CJI out of purview of the Act.

 

It is also believed that Prime Minister Singh has written a letter to Sonia agreeing that that some changes are needed in the RTI Act to “address the concerns of the judiciary.”

 

He also stressed that keeping the CJI office out of its purview will secure confidential information related to the appointment of judges and higher administrative decisions from public scanner.

 

Prime Minister was reportedly approached by CJI KG Balakrishnan in November 2009, who wrote a letter to Dr Manmohan Singh expressing his concerns over the possible consequences of bringing his office into the purview of the RTI Act.

 

The CJI also sought exemption from the RTI law in crucial matters.

 

Dr Singh is in favour of streamlining the Act, but only after consulting all stakeholders. It is believed that the Prime Minister has also directed the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), which implements the act, to assess whether any changes are possible.

 

However, the problem occurred when some NGOs and activists got clues about the CJI letter to the Prime Minister and subsequently approached Sonia Gandhi for intervention.

 

On her turn, Sonia reportedly wrote a letter to the Prime Minister explaining why she does not want any changes in the existing RTI Act.

 

spacer.gif Expressing her doubts, Sonia also emphasised on the proper implementation of the Act.

 

spacer.gif One of the reasons for the exercise could be the approaching deadline for the Supreme Court to challenge the January 12 judgment of the Delhi High Court, which put the CJI’s office under the RTI Act. The Delhi high Court also gave the petitioners a 60-day deadline to challenge its ruling.

 

The top court has roughly a week left to challenge the HC verdict before itself.

 

Source: Sonia, PM differ over amending RTI Act: Report

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Atul Patankar

All that Ms Gandhi has to do is, declare that her party is not going to issue any whip, and MPs can vote according to their conscience. And that she is going to vote against amendments.

 

The senior Ms Gandhi, while she was a PM, used this trick to snub a party president in Presidential Elections. If Ms Sonia Gandhi, as a party president uses this to snub a prime minister, the result will be very interesting to watch.

 

But may be she doesn't have to go to all that length. She can certainly persuade the Prime Minister to drop the bill, if she really wishes to. If she chooses not to do so, it will show her stand on amendments to be just an image building exercise.

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vnatarajan

Unity in Diversity!

 

Swamy-ji supports Manmohan-ji in the Amendsments issue:

 

Small item of news appeared in the Hindu of 6th March 2010 reported by Spl Correspondent.

 

Link:The Hindu : National : Swamy hails Manmohan's stand on RTI

 

Concern is National interest.

 

Edit: Posting the news item referred to above:

 

As reported in thehindu.com on 06 March 2010:

http://www.hindu.com/2010/03/06/stories/2010030658471500.htm

Swamy hails Manmohan's stand on RTI

 

CHENNAI: Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy has welcomed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's stand on amendments to the Right to Information Act to provide reasonable restrictions.

 

In a statement, Dr. Swamy said though he was a consistent votary of the RTI, the Act needed to have new safeguards to protect the nation from anti-national elements, given the current situation in the country.

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smbhappy

Sonia on activists' side, puts RTI changes on hold

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Sonia-on-activists-side-puts-RTI-changes-on-hold/articleshow/5648798.cms

TNN, Mar 6, 2010, 03.17am IST

 

NEW DELHI: Plans to amend the Right to Information Act have been put on ice, with the Congress leadership taking up with the government the complaint of activists that the proposed changes would lead to dilution of the information law.

Senior sources said the amendments will have to wait till the time government has dispelled fears of rights activists of the law being weakened.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh some time ago, drawing his attention to the fear of activists.

The PM and virtually the entire government feel that the amendments are necessary for smooth functioning of the government and to keep out frivolous complaints, but Singh has agreed to hold consultations with stakeholders (read rights activists).

This will encourage information rights activists grouped under National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI) who shot off letters and documents to the PM, DoPT minister Prithviraj Chavan and Congress president Sonia Gandhi saying that the amendments suggested by the government were unnecessary. NCPRI member Shekhar Singh said, "We have to keep the pressure on the government."

The move comes after reports indicated an exchange of letters between Singh and Sonia with the PM indicating the need for certain amendments in the transparency law.

Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative's Venkatesh Nayak said the government was not being honest in its intention. The government had promised that it would identify non-strategic areas for disclosure and would improve on proactive disclosure, he said. "The government has not kept either of its promises. If it wants to amend the Act, it should put all the information in the public domain. We will be raising this issue at the highest levels," Nayak added.

Among the amendments under consideration include denial of information on the grounds that the appeal was "false or vexatious", non-disclosure of file notings referred to as discussions before a decision is pending and exemption for the judiciary.

Nikhil Dey of MKSS said there was no possible justification for amendments to exclude the judiciary and the office of the Chief Justice of India. "It is very strange that the courts would want to be kept out of the purview of the Act," he said. Dey added that since all decisions under the RTI Act came under judicial review, additional exemptions were not necessary.

Association for Democratic Reforms' Anil Bairwal said there were indications that the government was amending the Act to "protect" some people rather than strengthen it. "The perception that the government wants to save some people has left activists with a bitter feeling. There seems to be no effort to strengthen the legislation," he said.

The activists had met Sonia last year to press home the point that there should be no changes in the Act. Activists said the government appeared under pressure from the judiciary to bring some hasty changes. Incidentally, the Delhi HC's full bench had rejected Supreme Court's plea to keep the office of the Chief Justice of India outside the ambit of the Act. The SC only has up to March 12 to appeal against the order.

In fact, the government's move was thwarted in October 2009 after a meeting of DoPT minister Prithiviraj Chavan with state information commissioners displayed a distinct lack of enthusiasm for amendments to the Act. The proposed amendments included exclusion of Cabinet papers and inclusion of a clause to penalise "frivolous and vexatious" appeals.

With RTI campaigners pushing for status quo, the DoPT secretary was forced to concede that changes would only be made after a public consultation.

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karira

As reported in beta.thehindu.com on 06 March 2010:

The Hindu : News : Activist files RTI application with PMO

 

Activist files RTI application with PMO

 

Rights activist Subash Chandra Agrawal has filed an application before the Central Public Information Officer, Prime Minister's Office (PMO) seeking complete information together with related documents/correspondence/file notings on the Congress president Sonia Gandhi's reported opposition for amendments to the Right to Information Act.

 

Mr. Agrawal filed the application following reports about differences between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Ms. Sonia Gandhi on amendments to the RTI Act. There was stiff resistance from rights activists on the proposed changes in the Act. The government was reported to have put on hold the amendments after the intervention of Ms. Gandhi, who wrote to the Prime Minister about the apprehension of the activists that the proposed changes would lead to dilution of the Act.

 

The applicant sought the following details: “Is it true that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has received some letter from UPA Chairperson Smt. Sonia Gandhi opposing any amendments to ‘Right To Information Act'?; If yes, please provide a copy of the said letter and a copy of the reply by Dr. Singh; Copy of proposed changes in RTI Act; Information on action taken on his letters dated October 26, 2009 and December 12, 2009 addressed to the Prime Minister and; File notings on movement of this RTI petition as well. “In case query relates to some other public authority, transfer this RTI petition to CPIO there under section 6(3) of the RTI Act.”

 

Keywords: PMO, RTI Act, UPA Chairperson, Sonia Gandhi, Subash Chandra Agrawal, Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh

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Atul Patankar

An article by Rakesh Bhatnagar at dnaindia.com on March 7, 2010

 

The genesis of the government becoming allergic to the existing Right to Information (RTI) Act can be traced to the day when the Central Information Commission took head-on the ministry of personnel, which is in charge of the entire senior bureaucracy of the country.

 

It wouldn’t be correct to say that the Centre’s zeal in changing the laudable law has been tailored by a series of judgments that has brought the superior judiciary within the purview of this transparency and accountability-centric legislation.

 

No doubt, the government has gained strength with the superior judiciary. The judiciary had stayed put on its ivory tower for too long. But it started fumbling when it was asked to disclose vital information like selection process of judges, assets of the judges and communication between the Chief Justice of India with other functionaries who are squarely covered by RTI.

 

That UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi had shown her dislike for the government’s obduracy in amending the law in order to suit the needs of secrecy-loving bureaucracy and judiciary is a matter of satisfaction for the concerned citizens.

 

The symptoms of RTI becoming an eyesore for the government started in December 2008 when CIC indicted the weighty cabinet secretary (CS) and the department of personnel and training (DoPT) for using dilatory tactics in imparting information.

 

“No level in government is higher than the provisions of an RTI Act passed by parliament,” the CIC had warned. “The commission views the attitude of the DoPT and CS with some concern as they not only made wrong statements… but had taken recourse to dilatory tactics in providing the information… In fact, the issue boils down to an authority like the Cabinet Secretariat going against the sanctity of the very Act itself,” it had added.

 

The government’s insistence on protecting itself and superior judiciary from the transparency law makes it a suspect in everyone’s eyes.

 

Source: Amending RTI won't help govt, judiciary - dnaindia.com

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nawal singh

may i know the amendments which has been proposed to be made in right to information act

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karira

Nawal,

 

Please read this whole thread - it has 4 pages.

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karira

Editorial in beta.thehindu.com on 10 March 2010:

The Hindu : Opinion / Editorial : Say no to RTI amendments

 

Say no to RTI amendments

 

Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi recently took the extraordinary step of unilaterally releasing the minutes of the October 14, 2009 meeting between Union Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Central and State Information Commissioners on a proposal to significantly amend the Right to Information Act, 2005. The meeting's importance lay in the fact that it saw the hopeless isolation of the government side (Department of Personnel and Training, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances, and Training) on the proposed amendments. Of the 60 Information Commissioners who attended, all but two were opposed to the idea of tinkering with the historic legislation. What explains such unity of resolve? The DoPT's package contained two ‘killer' amendments. The first would include under Section 8 (which specifies exemptions to the Act) applications deemed to be “frivolous and vexatious.” The second would bar from the Act's purview any discussion leading up to an official decision. The best judge of whether or not an application is “frivolous and vexatious” is the Information Commissioner who is called upon to decide the issue. In the four-and-a-half years since the Act came into force, no information officer has complained of being overburdened by such applications. Nor is there anything to suggest that government functioning is hampered by the disclosure of official discussions (previously known as file notings) and records of process. The only reasonable conclusion is that both the bureaucracy and the political government fear transparency of process because it will expose wrongdoing.

 

In recent days, RTI queries relating to public spending, governance, distribution of largesse, and even the procedure adopted for deciding awards have proved to be deeply embarrassing for the government. The ghost of RTI amendments has returned – in the controversial form of exemption for the office of the Chief Justice of India. The irony is too glaring to miss. It was the Supreme Court that laid the ground for opening up acts of governance to public scrutiny. In the 1975 State of U.P. vs Raj Narain case, the court said: “In a government of responsibility like ours, where all the agents of the public must be responsible for their conduct, there can be but few secrets. The people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in a public way, by their functionaries…” The RTI Act has empowered the ordinary citizen in a way its architects did not anticipate. Studies have shown its growing appeal across all social strata, which is surely why the government is set on blunting this powerful tool in the hands of the people. Such obscurantism must be seen through and defeated.

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karira

An editorial in centralchronicle.com on 09 March 2010:

Central Chronicle - Madhya Pradesh's News Portal

 

Watch Tower: Two severe thorns in UPA's track

 

The Govt should not submit to any kind of pressure from the affected lobbies but stick to what their collective wisdom earlier legislated upon in the over-all interest of the nation's welfare and alleviating the problems of 'aam admi'- RK Kutty

 

Apart from the price rise issue what mostly haunts the UPA dispensation these days is the issue of bringing back the black money stashed in tax havens by Indians. The RTI activists, leading politicians and columnists, time and again, are reminding the government to bring out details of the action taken in this regard. Only recently, quoting from the President's address to the joint budget session of parliament, BJP stalwart Lal Krishna Advani has raised this question in parliament also and has demanded a 'white paper' on the action taken. Responding to this, the P.M. informed the House that India has prioritized a list of 20 countries and jurisdictions for negotiation of tax treaty, facilitating exchange of information on ill-gotten wealth. The PM further said negotiations have been concluded with some of them viz Bahamas and Bermuda and steps are being taken for signing of agreements. We have also approached Switzerland for re-negotiation of our tax treaty, so that we can have access to bank information. The PM also said in Parliament that illegal wealth kept by Indians in Tax Havens is USD 140 Billion. That is at Rs 45 for USD it is Rs.6,30,000 Crore [6.3 Lakh Crore rupees]. The economic survey [2009-10] suggests that our GDP at market prices for 2009-10 is Rs 61.64 Lakh crore [Advanced Estimate] This means, slightly more than 10 percent of our current GDP is illegally kept abroad. Though the PM has not given any source for his estimate, but authentic information gathered from the tax havens, by other advanced countries, indicates that India is the top one in five countries including the US, UK, Russia and others that have siphoned off sizable amounts in tax havens. Interestingly, other than the main Swiss tax haven - USB, new secret tax havens are now being operated upon. Even in the United States, the pressure to bring out more details from Switzerland is reduced considerably, as the defaulters even over-powered legally the Swiss banking authorities. Under such circumstances, instead of unilateral approach, the affected countries may join together and re-negotiate the Swiss authorities jointly that would bring forth some tangible results.

 

The other thorn that is now hurting the UPA more stringently is the demand for an amendment in the RTI Act. While the Prime Minister is under tremendous pressure from the upper Judiciary to exempt it from the RTI's purview and he even asked the DoPT to bring out such an amendment, the UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi is being pressurized by the RTI Activists, mostly the NGOs, not to bring any amendment to water down or exempt anyone from the RTI' Act. It is reported that the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative's Venkatesh Nayak recently said the government was not being honest in its intention. The government had promised that it would identify non-strategic areas for disclosure and would improve on proactive disclosure. "The government has not kept either of its promises. If it wants to amend the Act, it should put all the information in the public domain. We will be raising this issue at the highest levels," Nayak added.

 

Among the amendments under consideration include denial of information on the grounds that the appeal was "false or vexatious", non-disclosure of file noting, referred to as discussions before a decision is pending, and exemption for the judiciary. Further, Nikhil Dey of MKSS said there was no possible justification for amendments to exclude the judiciary and the office of the Chief Justice of India. "It is very strange that the courts would want to be kept out of the purview of the Act," Dey further added that since all decisions under the RTI Act came under judicial review, additional exemptions were not necessary.

 

Association for Democratic Reforms' Anil Bairwal said there were indications that the government was amending the Act to "protect" some people rather than strengthening it. "The perception that the government wants to save some people has left activists with a bitter feeling. There seems to be no effort to strengthen the legislation," he said.

 

The activists had met Sonia last year to press home the point that there should be no changes in the Act. Activists said the government appeared under pressure from the judiciary to bring some hasty changes. Incidentally, the Delhi HC's full bench had rejected Supreme Court's plea to keep the office of the Chief Justice of India outside the ambit of the Act. The SC only has up to March 12 to appeal against the order.

 

In fact, the government's move was thwarted in October 2009 after a meeting of DoPT minister Prithiviraj Chavan with state information commissioners displayed a distinct lack of enthusiasm for amendments to the Act. The proposed amendments included exclusion of Cabinet papers and inclusion of a clause to penalize "frivolous and vexatious" appeals.

 

With RTI campaigners pushing for status quo, the DoPT secretary was forced to concede that changes would only be made after a public consultation. Apart from these, one cannot also overlook the brutal killings of certain RTI Activists in Pune recently. The UPA government, therefore, look into it very cautiously as the RTI has turned a tool in the hands of the common man to bring the crooks, corrupt and the fraudulents to book. Needless to mention that in the State of Madhya Pradesh, consequent to the raiding of premises and unearthing of assets of one senior IAS couple, the bureaucracy is reportedly non-coperative and the effort of the CM to appease them too attracted adverse criticism from the alert public. It is, therefore, quite imperative that the Govt. should not submit to any kind of pressure from the affected lobbies but stick to what their collective wisdom earlier legislated upon in the over-all interest of the nation's welfare and alleviating the problems of 'aam admi'.

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Atul Patankar

An article by Malvika Singh at telegraphindia.com on 12 March 2010

 

STAND UP AND BE COUNTED

 

The Right to Information Act was one of the most salutary initiatives of the United Progressive Alliance government, endorsed by the Congress. Recent rumblings that the prime minister and his administration would like to amend its constitution, applications and other modalities make one wary of the possibly limited and isolated intentions that merit changes and, therefore, dilution. There was a time in the not-so-distant past when secretaries to the government of India, people like L.P. Singh, L.K. Jha and endless others, were proud and honourable, correct and careful, when marking their comments on the ‘file’. They stood by their markings, were in complete control of the subject and not given to lobbies or delivering favours. There were exceptions to that rule, but few and far between. Today, alas, the reverse is true. In this context, we in the public domain cannot support exempting public servants from scrutiny. There is no other way to cleanse the system of governance that has overwhelmed India.

 

Most Indians want this nation to return to clean, inclusive governance. Any attempt, however mild, to protect the erring civil servant or to veil him in secrecy will be unacceptable. Sonia Gandhi has been steadfast in her support to initiatives such as this in an effort to restore dignity to government. For the UPA government, led by her and the Congress, any tempering down would amount to tampering with the essence of the act. I have often wondered why honest administrators and jurors would object to scrutiny. Surely, they must stand up there and be counted. Unfortunately, our rulers have complicated the laws with a plethora of addenda, making them untenable and impossible to enforce. Those who make our laws today neither live by them nor enforce them. Now they are demanding ‘protection’, terrified that their exploitative processes will be exposed.

 

Long wait

 

The Indian administration does not need protection for its inaction, for politicizing what was deemed a non-partisan civil service machine and for corrupting the processes of function and delivery. This breakdown neither merits explanation nor must it be permitted under any circumstances to operate in the unacceptable manner it has adopted over the last few decades. If anything, it needs radical administrative reforms that each successive government has shunned. As a technocrat, Manmohan Singh understands well that a service such as the IAS or the police must be incorruptible, must abide by and enforce the law, and stand by the notings made on file. The abject lack of transparency and running amok of ‘coteries’ that change with shifting power manipulations have made India a laughing stock. A committed process of correction is essential and who better than a technocrat to lead the charge. So, please lets have no dilution whatsoever of the RTI Act.

 

The unspeakable performance in Parliament by members of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Samajwadi Party has shamed all Indians, and insulted the mothers, wives, sisters and daughters of this civilization. Small wonder that women continue to be brutalized by men if the male leadership in place can behave in such an uncouth manner on the floor of the House and get away with it. Of course, the RJD, SP and other such parties will stall the bill and find different ‘reasons’ to do so. Why did these ‘leaders’ not ensure a place for women in their own parties? Why was it a wife who was pitched into the fray and not 30 per cent of the Dalit and Muslim women since these men claim they are the saviours of the less privileged? Fourteen years is a long time and there is no explanation except that they do not believe in allowing any such representation at all.

 

Source: The Telegraph - Calcutta (Kolkata) | Opinion | stand up and be counted

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karira

An article by Yamini Iyer in indianexpress.com on 17 March 2010:

Holding authority to account

 

Holding authority to account

 

Like clockwork, news of amendments to the Right to Information Act (RTI) makes its way to newspaper headlines. It started with the issue of “vexatious” and “frivolous” applications, and whether discussion notes (file notings) ought to be made public. Now, it has moved on to the latest controversy, sparked by the office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) seeking to exempt itself from the purview of the act. For the moment, the official government line is that amendments are on hold till public consultations are undertaken. Whether or not these consultations take place, the proposed amendments have serious ramifications for the RTI and for efforts to institute norms of transparency and accountability in our institutions of governance, and must thus be debated. Let’s consider the latest controversy first. The question over whether the office of the CJI ought to fall within the purview of the RTI came to a head recently when the Supreme Court’s secretary general moved the apex court to appeal against the Delhi high court verdict declaring the CJI a “public authority”. The irony of the apex court appealing to itself is inescapable but this move also throws up important questions about the scope and powers of the RTI.

 

The act states that any authority established by the Constitution, Parliament, state legislatures or by government notifications and orders is a public authority. The fundamental principle here is that public institutions — institutions that draw on public funds and that are endowed with the power to make decisions that directly impact citizens’ lives — have to be answerable for their conduct. On this view, the office of the CJI, as upheld by the Delhi high court, is a public authority.

 

The Supreme Court disagrees. According to reports, the appeal argues that placing the office of the CJI within the ambit of the RTI compromises judicial independence. Judges discharge unique constitutional functions making it necessary not to subject them to “litigative public debate”. While the constitutional merits of this argument ought to be the subject of a broader public debate, one reason why this argument may not hold much weight in India is that the judiciary no longer performs its traditional role. In fact, and by its own argument, because of government inaction and ineffectiveness, the Supreme Court has begun to shape policy through public interest litigation and in this process, has forayed into legislative and executive functions. Given that judges are no longer discharging “unique” functions but play a broader role in governance, shouldn’t they be subject to the same norms that apply to the rest of the system? Whatever the technicalities, the move for exemption undermines the credibility of the apex court and this is a serious concern.

 

Related is the issue of what constitutes “public information”. The argument for the proposed amendment to exempt discussion notes or file notings is that it curbs discretion and hampers decision making and by implication ought not to be made public. The same argument has been used by the courts against information requests for details on appointment procedures. The validity of the argument is questionable. On first principles, any information essential to understanding how public functionaries exercise power and authority in public interest is public information, and decision making processes are an important element of this. No doubt, when it comes to tricky issues like appointments there is a need to strike a balance between discretion and transparency. But in an environment where government posts starting at the block level are being bought and sold, striking this balance in favour of transparency is the only solution.

 

Finally, there is the question of the nature of applications. If there is one thing that the RTI has achieved, it is the introduction of two new words in our governance vocabulary — ‘vexatious’ and ‘frivolous’. At any given opportunity, government argues that the RTI has resulted in an overflow of vexatious and frivolous requests for information that overburden officials and undermine the value of RTI. Yet, there is little real empirical or anecdotal evidence to support this claim. Rather than amend the law, what we need is a systematic analysis of the applications received by public authorities to determine the extent to which these are in fact vexatious and frivolous. The irony is that that information on applications is extremely hard to get — in fact you need to file an RTI to access copies of applications.

 

These regular calls for amendments have served one purpose — that of obfuscating the real challenges that the RTI faces. Recent studies on the RTI have highlighted problems such as difficulties in filing applications, delays in appeal processes, the absence of record management systems and the failure of public authorities to comply with the mandate (Section 4) to proactively disclose information. The official line is that amendments will serve to strengthen the RTI. This is clearly not the case. Rather than push for amendments, the prime minister and his government would do well to focus on addressing the implementation challenges and in so, doing make good on his commitment to bring in an era of accountable governance.

 

The writer is with the Accountability Initiative, Centre for Policy Research.

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sidmis

PEOPLE POWER AT RISK

As reported by V. Kumara Swamy in THE TELEGRAPH, March 24 , 2010

 

The government is mulling amendments to the Right to Information Act, but these may weaken the law, says V. Kumara Swamy

2403law-.jpg

When Sunil Kumar Mahto, a Ranchi-based right to information (RTI) activist, filed an application asking for the reason for what seemed to be an inordinate delay in laying a metalled road to a village in his district, he received a reply that shocked him. “The public information officer (PIO) gave it in writing that according to the documents, the road had been laid two years ago and that a sum of Rs 28 lakh was spent on the project,” recalls Mahto.

 

What followed was a flood of RTI applications from Mahto and others to unmask the people responsible for the irregularities. “Ultimately, we were able to establish who the government officials responsible for the bungling were, and a few were suspended too,” says Mahto.

 

Mahto and thousands of citizens like him may be benefiting from the Right to Information Act, 2005. But a central government move to carry out some amendments to the Act could seriously compromise the people’s power to hold government functionaries accountable for their actions.

 

Some controversial amendments that are reportedly under consideration include refusal of “frivolous or vexatious” applications, non-disclosure of “discussions/consultations that take place before arriving at a decision” (file notings) and also exempting certain functions of the judiciary from the ambit of the RTI.

 

Although President Pratibha Patil in her address to Parliament in June 2009 had announced that the government would “strengthen” the Act, activists say that the amendments proposed would only weaken the law and reduce transparency.

 

“Some of the amendments have been proposed purely because of the inability of the bureaucracy to handle the pressure from citizens filing RTI applications. Government officials can’t believe that they are being held accountable for their actions,” says Shekhar Singh, founder member, National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, New Delhi.

 

One of the most hotly debated points relates to the amendment proposed to Section 8 of the RTI Act that deals with “exemption from disclosure of information”. The government is said to be keen to add to this section the “discussions/consultations that take place before arriving at a decision”, or ‘file notings’.

 

“Officers are scared to register their frank opinion while passing or rejecting a file since they know that it can be accessed by a vengeful person in the future. This is why we want the file notings to be exempted from the purview of the RTI Act,” says an official of the department of personnel and training (DoPT), which handles the administration of the RTI Act.

 

But those opposing the move claim that it is only the corrupt who would benefit if file notings were exempted from the right to information. “Why would an upright officer fear anything? Only corrupt officials don’t want their opinion to be known publicly. In fact, it is through file notings that we can unmask the corrupt,” says Arun Bhatia, a Pune-based former IAS officer-turned-politician, who filed a case in the Supreme Court against any changes to the RTI Act.

 

Another proposed amendment that has been under discussion for a long time relates to the rejection of “frivolous and vexatious” applications. In fact, the Second Administrative and Reforms Commission had suggested an amendment to Section 7 of the RTI Act by inserting sub section (10) that would state that the “PIO may refuse a request for information if the request is manifestly frivolous or vexatious. Provided that such a refusal shall be communicated within 15 days of receipt of application, with the prior approval of the appellate authority.”

 

To be sure, there are plenty of “frivolous” requests for information and there is no doubt that addressing them does amount to a waste of government resources. However, activists say that a clause allowing PIOs the right to label this or that petition as frivolous would lead to misuse.

 

Even now PIOs do reject some petitions because they are deemed nonsensical but, say critics, the amendment would encourage them to reject many more which may not be quite so irrelevant or frivolous. “A labourer of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme wanting to know the exact amount of wages due to him could be interpreted as frivolous by a PIO. But for the labourer it is a matter of his livelihood,” says Singh.

 

Besides, any rejection by the PIO on the grounds that the application is frivolous can be appealed to the Central Information Commission (CIC).

 

“An amendment like this would lead to the CIC being flooded with an unmanageable number of petitions,” says Subash Aggarwal, one of the most active RTI applicants in the country.

Yet another issue that is being hotly debated relates to the judiciary.

 

“There is talk of exempting the judiciary from the ambit of the Act to a great extent. But the Act is the only tool to induce at least a measure of accountability in an otherwise non-accountable judicial system,” says Aggarwal.

 

After a full bench of the Delhi High Court rejected the Supreme Court’s plea to exempt the Chief Justice of India’s office from the RTI Act, the Supreme Court has appealed to itself and an order is expected soon.

 

“The Supreme Court appealing the case to itself is a very peculiar situation. We already know what the apex court thinks about the RTI’s provisions. But let us wait for the final judgement,” says Singh.

According to Singh, the Act and its implications are yet to be understood by government officials and the public at large, and hence it should be examined only after it has been implemented fully. “It is by no means a perfect law. And it is still a very young law. First, let the government implement it sincerely, and then we can think of amendments,” he says.

 

According to Aggarwal, if the government is indeed serious about making some changes to the Act, it should be in the form of amendments to Sections 27 and 28 of the law that give the “power to make rules by appropriate government”. Aggarwal says that this provision should be repealed to make the law uniform for all states and public authorities. “At present many states and public authorities have drafted their own RTI rules which are contrary to the basic sections of the Act itself,” he points out.

 

The government has of course said that it will consult all stakeholders before making any amendments to the RTI Act. The impending Supreme Court decision could hold the key here, some say. “I think the government will try and bring in the amendments based on what the Supreme Court says, but we should be very vigilant against any dilution of the Act,” says Singh.

 

© The Telegraph - Calcutta (Kolkata) | Opinion | People power at risk

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Atul Patankar

Posted by Krisnnaraj Rao at Ground Report India (GRI) on 27 March 2010

 

Right to Information Act 2005 :: Leaked letter of DOPT betrays hidden agenda of 31st March consultation meeting

 

 

Somebody at DoPT goofed up very badly yesterday. While emailing an invitation to Activist Bimal Khemani of Aligad, UP, an official unwittingly attached an entire word file containing many other letters pertaining to RTI. A couple of these letters clearly show the intent of the meeting being convened on 31st March. A draft of a letter from DoPT Secretary Shantanu Consul addressed to PM’s Principal Secretary T K A Nair states, “The proposal for making some essential amendments in the Act are still under consideration and as per the Minister’s directions the Department will hold consultation with the civil society to allay apprehensions they may harbour that amendments would tinker with the efficacy of the RTI Act.” (Blue highlight in the first, second and last letter: DOPT's invitation with a leak, which betrays intention to amend.doc - File Shared from Box.net - Free Online File Storage )

 

Nested between the three differently dated drafts of this revealing letter was the draft of invitation (yellow highlight) for the meeting being held at Civil Services Officers Institute, New Delhi on 31st March. The invitees are prominent NGOs all over the country (Green highlight at bottom of invitation letters.)

 

And as if the above confession were not sufficient, another letter from Shantanu Consul to Nair candidly states, “there are some amendments which need to be carried out in the Act to remove ambiguities in its effective implementation. Rules also need to be framed to smoothen the procedures to ensure easier access to information. Proposals in the above regard are already with the Prime Minister’s Office.” (Blue highlight in this letter: DOPT's leak no 2.doc - File Shared from Box.net - Free Online File Storage )

 

Fellow Activists, now that we have been forewarned of why such meetings are being held, let us respond forcefully, and speak out in one voice: DON’T AMEND, IMPLEMENT! Please print one of the below drafts and send them to DoPT, PMO and Sonia Gandhi.

· Demands for RTI Implementation ENGLISH: Demands for RTI Implementation ENGLISH.doc - File Shared from Box.net - Free Online File Storage

· Demands in HINDI with English Subtext: Demands for RTI Implementation -- HINDI with English subtext.doc - File Shared from Box.net - Free Online File Storage

 

These demands have been drafted after consultation with many activists around the country, so we hope that you will not find them lacking in any way.

 

Column by: Krishnaraj Rao

 

Source: Ground Report India (GRI): Right to Information Act 2005 :: Leaked letter of DOPT betrays hidden agenda of 31st March consultation meeting

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Atul Patankar

As reported at toi.timesofindia.indiatimes.com on Apr 9, 2010

 

NEW DELHI: Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who played a key role in the enactment of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, thinks it is "changing people's lives" and that it does not require any changes. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, however, thinks that some issues cannot be resolved without amending the act.

 

"The RTI Act is now four years old. Much has been achieved in these initial years and while there are still problems of proper implementation, the RTI has begun to change the lives of our people and the ways of governance in our country," wrote Sonia Gandhi in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on November 10 last year.

 

"It will, of course, take time before the momentum generated by the act makes for greater transparency and accountability in the structures of the government. But the process has begun and must be strengthened," she added.

 

Sonia Gandhi stated that in her opinion the RTI Act does not need any amendments.

 

"It is important, therefore, that we adhere strictly to its original aims and refrain from accepting or introducing changes in the legislation or the way it is implemented that would dilute its purpose. In my opinion, there is no need for changes or amendments. The only exceptions permitted, such as national security, are already well taken care of in the legislation," she said.

 

Sonia Gandhi said the problem with the RTI Act is about "public lack of awareness of the RTI and the harassment of applicants" and "these problems need to be addressed."

 

Replying to Sonia Gandhi's letter, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he agrees with her on the RTI's effectiveness and how it is changing the way of governance, but there are some issues that cannot be resolved without amending the act.

 

A copy of the letters were given to RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal in reply to a query.

 

"However, as the implementation of the act is still in its infancy, we are all learning as we go along. While we are taking steps to improve dissemination of information and training of personnel, there are some issues that cannot be dealt with except by amending the act," said Manmohan Singh in his reply Dec 24.

 

"Just to cite a few, the act does not provide for the constitution of benches of the Central Information Commission though this is how the business of the commission is being conducted. There is no provision about alternate arrangements in the event of a sudden vacancy in the office of the Chief Information Commissioner," he said.

 

"The Chief Justice of India has pointed out that the independence of the higher judiciary needs to be safeguarded in the implementation of the act. There are some issues relating to cabinet papers and internal discussions," Manmohan Singh added.

 

The prime minister said that a decision will be taken after consultations with all stakeholders without diluting the spirit of the act.

 

However, RTI activists across the country fear that amendments may affect the original spirit of the act.

 

Source: Sonia, Manmohan differ on amendments to RTI Act - The Times of India

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Guest pcbali

Any amendment to curb the rights will be strongly oppossed and challenged in Court of law. Be ready.

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smbhappy

I had posted this news regarding Sonia's snub to Manmohan Singh many weeks earlier. But thanks to the admn(s), that never saw the light of the monitor.

 

Nevertheless - Came Late, Came right'

 

All the best.

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karira
I had posted this news regarding Sonia's snub to Manmohan Singh many weeks earlier. But thanks to the admn(s), that never saw the light of the monitor.

 

Nevertheless - Came Late, Came right'

 

All the best.

 

Your one post is very much available in this very thread !

Please see: http://www.rtiindia.org/forum/36051-amendments-right-information-act-anvil-post118788.html#post118788

 

The other post was deleted, because it was a duplicate post. You can see the deleted post reference between Post #36 and #37 of this very thread.

(Note: This thread has 5 pages so you might have to go back to page 4 to see those).

 

Sometimes the Moderators have to move or merge posts into existing threads so as to maintain the continuity of the topics as well as keep the forum better organised for easy reference. The same might have happened to your post - probably you started a new thread and your post was merged into this thread since the topic was the same.

 

In case you are interested in seeing what happened to any of your posts, all you have to do is to click on your name which appears on the top left hand side of every post you make. A drop down menu will appear. Scroll down to "Find all posts by..." and left click on it. A new page will open with a list of all posts you have made. (In fact you can do this for any member/poster on the portal).

 

Here is the link to all the posts you made: http://www.rtiindia.org/forum/search/searchid-167571/

 

If you scroll down to the posts you made on 6th and 8th March, you will find the two posts listed there. Clicking on those subheadings will take you directly to those posts.

 

There are a lots of hidden features on this portal. Spend some time just playing around the various buttons and clicking on various links (some obvious and some not so obvious) - and you will discover lots of features that will make your browsing experience a pleasure and helpful.

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smbhappy

THANKS. i DID'NT MEAN TO OFFEND YOU OR ANY BODY ELSE.

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karira
THANKS. i DID'NT MEAN TO OFFEND YOU OR ANY BODY ELSE.

 

There is nothing in my post above to show that I am offended.

I am just trying to be helpful to you in using this portal more efficiently.

 

Once again, I repeat, spend some time clicking (left and right) on various buttons, links, etc...and you will discover many things and shortcuts. It will make life much easier for you as well easy for reference - specially when your posts reach thousands.

 

Don't worry if you make any mistakes, nothing will happen.

All you have to do is click the back button on your browser and you will be back to where you started.

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karira

An editorial in timesofindia.indiatimes.com on 12 April 2010:

The RTI Spectre - The Times of India

 

The RTI Spectre

 

 

Few of our public institutions foster a culture of transparency and accountability. The Right to Information (RTI) Act was enacted in 2005 to change this tradition of opacity and make governance a transparent process. The Act's been working reasonably well and has become a useful tool for a large cross-section of civil society to examine the workings of government. Since in the process institutional failings get exposed as well, there is resistance to the RTI culture from various quarters including the government.

 

Many public institutions that come under the ambit of the Act now want its radical edge blunted. Many state information commissions are starved of funds and personnel, which may lead to a collapse of the institution itself. Pleas to amend the Act must be seen in this context and handled with caution. As Congress president Sonia Gandhi wrote in her letter to the prime minister, "It is important that we adhere strictly to its (RTI Act) original aims and refrain from accepting or introducing changes in the legislation on the way it is implemented that would dilute its purpose." Sonia's intervention has come in the wake of a letter written by the chief justice of India (CJI) to the prime minister. The letter states that information concerning the functioning of the judiciary should be exempted from the scope of the Act to safeguard its independence.

 

The CJI's apprehensions about possible misuse of information of "a highly confidential and sensitive nature" are valid. But should, for example, information on in-house inquiry proceedings regarding allegations against sitting judges or appointment of judges in high court be considered sensitive and barred from the public eye? Should not the apex court be in the forefront of an initiative to make the working of public institutions transparent? The push to amend the RTI Act came first from the government itself. Last year, the government proposed amendments to the Act so that "frivolous and vexatious" applications could be discarded and disclosure of file notings exempted. The amendments failed to pass muster with state information commissioners, but they could be revived at any time.

 

To give teeth to the RTI legislation, the government must beef up infrastructure at the information commissions. More personnel and infrastructure must be created fast at the commissions to avoid a breakdown. There are already more than 11,000 cases pending with the Central Information Commission. The situation is worse in many states. The focus must be on a climate of openness, rather than trying to restrict the scope of the RTI Act.

 

 

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      The Bill also states that the salaries and allowances of the CIC, ICs, state CIC and state ICs shall be such as may be prescribed by the Central government. Though the amendment also maintains that salaries and allowances and other conditions of service of these officials shall not be varied to their disadvantage after their appointment, the government can reduce it for future appointees.
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