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karira

As reported on pib.nic.in on 22 April 2010:

PIB Press Release

 

Discussion on Amendment in RTI Act

 

The issue of amendments to the RTI Act including regarding rejection of vexations and frivolous requests was discussed in a meeting held with the Chief Information Commissioners and Information Commissioners on 14.10.2009.

 

Different views were expressed in the meeting, but the general view of the Information Commissioners was that there was no need to amend the Act, and that if need be, the issues involved may be addressed by amending the rules. .

 

While no indication can be given at this stage regarding the amendments which will be incorporated in the Act as discussions with the various stakeholders are yet to be held, the proposal under consideration covers, inter-alia, amendment to enlarge the scope of suo-motu disclosure, to avoid frivolous or vexatious representations, to modify the provision about disclosure of cabinet papers, to make a provision for giving current charge of Chief Information Commissioner to any Commissioner, to provide the constitution of Benches of the Commission and to incorporate a new section empowering the Commission to make regulations. .

 

This information was given by the Minister of State in the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions, Shri Prithviraj Chavan in written reply to a question in Rajya Sabha today. .

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karira

As reported on pib.nic.in on 29 April 2010:

PIB Press Release

 

AMENDMENT IN RTI ACT

 

The Right to Information Act, 2005 provides that the State Information Commission shall consist of the State Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners, not exceeding ten, as may be deemed necessary. No amendment of this provision is under consideration

 

. The Act has an inbuilt system of monitoring of the implementation of the Act. It provides that the Central Information Commission and the State Information Commissions shall prepare reports on the implementation of the provisions of the Act each year which are to be laid before each House of the Parliament or each House of Legislature, as the case may be.

 

This information was given by the Minister of State in the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions, Shri Prithviraj Chavan in written reply to a question in Rajya Sabha.

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karira

As reported in governancenow.com on 03 May 2010:

GovernanceNow.com | Centre lists its grouses with RTI

 

Centre lists its grouses with RTI

 

 

The proposal to amend RTI law includes 11 sections that would need to be changed, says a DoPT reply to an information request

 

For the first time, the Centre has listed the sections of the RTI Act 2005 -- 11 in number -- that it finds problematic and the amendments that it deems desirable, mentioning its unease over disclosure of Cabinet papers, "sensitivity" of the office ofthe CJI, and the need to give "partial exemption to organizations possessing sensitive information".

 

 

 

"Government is examining a proposal regarding amendment to the Act which, in brief, covers... " says Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) in its April 30, 2010 reply to an RTI request from Subhash Chandra Agrawal, before listing 11 sections that have been deemed to require amendments.

 

"Amendment to Section 7 so as to avoid frivolous and vexatious requests; amendment to Section 8 so as to slightly modify the provision about disclosure of Cabinet papers, to ensure smooth functioning of the government and to take care of the sensitivity of the office of the CJI," says number 3 of the list of areas that, according to the government, need amendment.

 

 

It can be recalled that in November last year, outgoing chief justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan wrote a letter to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh requesting that his office should not come under the transparency law. Later, a communication between Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi also revealed the latter's intention to take CJI's office out of the purview of the RTI Act.

 

The DoPT reply also lists "amendment to Section 24 so as to incorporate a provision about partial exemption of organization possessing sensitive information," which appears to be a proposal to add more agencies to the list of 22 organisations that are exempted from the Act.

 

 

 

To remove the ambiguity as to "whether a particular NGO be treated as a public authority or not", the government is considering amending Section 2 which defines a public authority that are required by the law to respond to requests for information, says the DoPT reply. Amendment to Section 4 "so as to enlarge the scope of suo motu disclosure" is also under consideration.

 

Other proposals listed in the DoPT reply are amendments to Sections 12 and 15 to make a provision about "giving the current charge of the post of the chief information commissioner to any information commissioner."

 

 

The DoPT reply came on an RTI application that Agrawal filed in March. Agrawal had sought a copy of the proposed changes in the RTI Act.

 

It's well known that citizen groups and RTI advocates have been vehemently opposing any proposal to amend the RTI Act.

 

 

“We have repeatedly told the government that there is an urgent need for proper implementation of the Act rather than introducing any amendments,” Shekhar Singh, member, National campaign for people’s right to information (NCPRI), told Governance Now.

 

 

 

According to Manish Sisodia, another RTI activist and founder, Kabir, the amendments will result in weakening of the Act. “In the recent past, important information has come out in public domain because of the RTI Act. The government cannot see this happening and want to curb the information flow by introducing amendments. It will be great if they can first fully implement the sections that they want to amend,” said he.

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sidmis

Proposed RTI changes worry activists

As reported in the HINDU by it's Special Correspondent

 

In a letter to an RTI activist, the Department of Personnel and Training (Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions) has admitted to considering about a dozen amendments to the Right to Information Act, with the assurance that any amendment “will be made only after consultation with the stakeholders.”

 

The letter to Subhash Chandra Agrawal is upfront about at least two of the amendments: exempting the office of the Chief Justice from the RTI Act and prohibiting applications which could be deemed to be “frivolous or vexatious.” However, the letter is less clear about many of the other amendments. One of them is a proposal to amend section 8 of the Act (this lists the exemptions to the Act) to “slightly modify the provision about disclosure of Cabinet papers to ensure smooth functioning of the Government.” Section 8 already exempts Cabinet papers and deliberations in the Council of Ministers from public scrutiny. However, there is a caveat here: Once a Cabinet decision has been taken, the decision (as well as the material and reasons on which the decision was based) is no longer exempt from scrutiny.

 

RTI activists surmise that the “slight” modification hinted at in the letter could in fact aim at lifting the time limit for examining Cabinet decisions, rendering them forever inaccessible and opaque. This could also adversely affect the release of file notings, aggravating tensions between the government and RTI stakeholders.

 

Another amendment relates to constitution of benches of the Central Information Commission. The letter does not say whether or not the amendment would permit the currently functional single-member benches.

“Most dangerous part”

Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi is upset about the amendment to exclude “frivolous or vexatious” applications as well as the proposal to constitute benches. Says Mr. Gandhi: “The frivolous and vexatious bit is the most dangerous. Suppose an RTI applicant wants to know about corruption in a government department.

 

The department is bound to be vexed by it. So what prevents it from deciding it is a vexatious application? Who is to decide what is vexatious or frivolous?” Mr. Gandhi disclosed that in its October 2009 meeting with Central and State Information Commissioners, the DOPT had spoken of forming two-commissioner benches. This, he feels, would “reduce the output of the Information Commissions by 50 per cent.” Right now the vast majority of the cases at the CIC are decided by single-commissioner benches, which speeds up disposal of cases: “The Act will be finished if they disallow single-commissioner decisions.”

 

For RTI pioneer Aruna Roy, the proposed amendments are an indication that “they won't let go.” Says Ms. Roy: “The truth is that RTI has opened a million cans of worms. It has put the fear of God in the government. The RTI has brought in transfer of power on an unimaginable scale and no government wants that.”

 

What upsets RTI activists and other stakeholders is that the government hands out assurances even as it shows no signs of relenting on the amendments.

The Hindu : News / National : Proposed RTI changes worry activists

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karira

As published in The Indian Express, New Delhi Edition, on 02 May 2010:

 

 

 

03_05_2010_006_034.jpg

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Atul Patankar

As reported at hindustantimes.com on 4 May 2010

 

The government is considering changes in the umbrella transparency law Right To Information (RTI) Act in order to be able to reject an application on the ground of its being frivolous and to curb powers of the Central Information Commission while hearing appeals.

This is despite Congress president Sonia Gandhi asking the government to refrain from making changes in the law, which has brought changes in lives of people and in overall governance.

The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), in a reply to an RTI application, has accepted that it was examining six changes in the four-year-old law. The changes are mainly to avoid “frivolous or vexatious” requests, making seeking Cabinet papers more difficult and imposing restrictions on seeking information from the office of Chief Justice of India.

In the name of empowering the commission, the government intends to stipulate that only a bench of two or more commissioners of the CIC can hear an RTI appeal. At present, individual commissioners of CIC can hear a case.

“The amendment will slow down the pace of disposal of cases,” said a CIC member, not willing to be named.

The department said it was also considering an amendment to make the law applicable to the private sector, including Non-Governmental Organisations, receiving funds from the government. The CIC has said that the private sector receiving funds from the government are covered under RTI.

Gandhi, in a letter to Prime Minister on November 10 last year, had said “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.”

 

Source: Changes to RTI Act being mulled despite Sonia no- Hindustan Times

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sidmis

Copy of DoPT's reply to Sri Subhash Chandra Agrawal is appended herewith.

 

Courtesy :Milap Choraria Editor: Suchna Ka Adhikar / RTI TIMES

DoPT Reply.doc

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lakshminarayanan

DEAR members

greetings on my first (possibly) posting in this forum.

i read with much disquiet the news in the papers today - the govt is moving for amendments to the act.

this is mentioned in the letter sent to mr.subash agarwal the RTI activist.

i believe that the act is the only weapon we have against corruption, inefficiency etc.

it should not be amended and diluted so that the very purpose of bringing in the act is lost.

on the other hand it should be strengthened - with amendments taking away the exemption provided to organisations like CBI etc. also the clause 9 (1) (j) should be removed or reworded.

what does our forum think on this important issue? how we can prevent the govt. from pushing ahead for the amendments?

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karira

laxminarayanan,

 

This topic is going on for a long time.

Please read the full thread above - there are 6 pages of posts and news items.

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karira

An editorial in thehindu.com on 06 May 2010:

The Hindu : Opinion / Editorials : Retrogressive intent

 

Retrogressive intent

 

Like Banquo's ghost, the scare of amendments to the Right to Information Act has made a habit of rearing its head every so often. In a recent letter to an RTI activist, the Department of Personnel and Training has confirmed the central government's intention to overhaul the 2005 Act — of course, with the now-familiar caveat that the process would include consultations with the stakeholders. No less than Sonia Gandhi argued against the amendments, to little avail, it seems. So what chance do the other stakeholders stand? In the time-tested manner of governments and bureaucracies, the department is upfront about some of the amendments while deliberately obfuscating the nature of some others. The door is to be shown to applications deemed to be “frivolous or vexatious.” Section 8 of the Act, which prescribes exemptions to the Act, could be amended to “take care of the sensitivity of the office of the Chief Justice of India” as well as to “slightly modify the provision about disclosure of cabinet papers.” What this means, shorn of officialese, is this: The office of the CJI will enjoy full immunity. Cabinet papers currently being processed are already exempted from scrutiny under Section 8. However, the bar abates once a Cabinet decision has been taken. Undoubtedly, therefore, the “slight” modification hinted at in the letter is aimed at making Cabinet decisions permanently inaccessible and opaque. Another amendment under consideration could disallow single-commissioner Information Commission benches. If that happens, the disposal of cases could slow down, rendering the Act ineffective.

 

Then there is the matter of “frivolous or vexatious” applications. Who is to decide what is vexatious and what is not? Any government department will naturally be vexed by an application that seeks to expose misconduct or corruption. A recent Union Home Ministry communication advised an RTI applicant not to disclose the names of men and women considered for the Padma awards. The anxiety clearly emanates from the arbitrary manner of deciding the awards. Under a future version of the Act, all queries relating to the awards could be deemed “vexatious.” It is true that the RTI is not always approached in the public interest; for example, there may be a disproportionate use of the Act by insiders, those within officialdom, to pursue their narrow career interests or even personal agendas. But this cannot be an excuse to dilute or degrade an Act that is recognised as being among the best in the world. At a workshop held recently to assess the RTI environment in South Asia, India was held up as model. It would be a great pity if the government was allowed to get away with the retrogressive amendments it has in mind.

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karira

An article in The Wall Street Journal on 05 May 2010:

A New Light on India's Judges - WSJ.com

 

A New Light on India's Judges

 

A court case tests citizens' rights to police the judiciary.

 

India's Congress Party-led government can't claim many achievements, but passage of the Right to Information Act in 2005 is one bright spot. Giving the public a tool to increase government accountability was a worthy effort, especially since the country's level of corruption remains legendary. So the latest attempts to dilute the Act are worth a closer look.

 

In Delhi, the Supreme Court is again appealing a High Court verdict that the Chief Justice's Office falls under the Right to Information ambit. The case was triggered by an activist who filed an application in 2007 seeking information on whether judges were disclosing their assets, a request that was initially denied. The Supreme Court twice appealed to the High Court, but lost both times. Now the case has been passed up to the highest authority to decide—the Supreme Court itself.

 

The Act tries to strike a balancing act between allowing citizens access to important information and protecting sensitive state secrets. It excludes anything that would negatively impact national security or impede an ongoing police investigation, for instance. Private financial information that isn't relevant to the "public interest" is also excluded.

 

That makes outgoing Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan's calls to exclude the judiciary from the Act's purview hard to understand. Some judges are not afraid of disclosing their assets—many have done so voluntarily as a measure of good faith. But the moment the Chief Justice's Office accepts that it is subject to the Act in one regard, it opens the door to greater disclosure in other areas, most notably judicial appointments.

 

In a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last September, the chief justice sought an amendment to prevent the disclosure of "privileged" information, such as complaints against sitting judges, as well as discussions over judicial appointments—an opaque process currently decided by a small collegium of judges. Mr. Singh has promised to "look into the suggestions."

 

Arguments that requests for information would impinge on the judiciary's "independence" fall flat—transparency has little to do with judicial independence. And while the government wants to introduce certain provisions to strengthen the legislation and address procedural issues with right-to-information applications, it is also capitalizing on the opportunity to act on its own worries about the disclosure of Cabinet papers and internal memos.

 

The Act has strong grassroots support. In 2006, government efforts to restrict its scope triggered a nation-wide reaction, including a sit-down protest near Parliament and even a hunger strike. The government beat a hasty retreat.

 

The public's faith in the judiciary has been dented recently, due to controversies such as the one involving Karnataka Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran, who refuses to go on leave while he faces charges of corruption. India's new Chief Justice Sarosh Homi Kapadia has an opportunity to repair the judiciary's image by declaring his commitment to transparency and accountability.

 

When the Act was passed in 2005, Prime Minister Singh told the Lower House that the law would help "eliminate corruption and bring the concerns of the common man to the heart of all the processes of governance." Those were strong words worth sticking to.

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Guest pcbali

Any how if the act is amended, what then? What is legal remedy? Only writ in Supreme Court. Can we make some agitations? What is suggested? Please come to the point that what is our future action to counter it before the amendments actually enacted.

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karira

As reported by Nidhi Sharma in dailypioneer.com on 09 May 2010:

The Pioneer > Online Edition : >> PM proposes Sonia disposes

 

PM proposes, Sonia disposes

NAC to decide RTI amendments

 

The controversial amendments to the Right to Information (RTI) Act, which have been a bone of contention between Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, will now be examined by the National Advisory Council, the newly reconstituted policy watchdog headed by Sonia. Though the Prime Minister had earlier insisted on a slew of key amendments, the Government has sufficiently pruned the list of proposals to undertake just a few administrative amendments.

 

According to highly placed sources, due to difference of opinion between Sonia and Manmohan Singh, the matter would now be examined threadbare by NAC. However, the original list of amendments - which included exempting file notings, preventing “frivolous and vexatious” applications and keeping Cabinet deliberations out of the purview till a decision is completed - has just got shorter.

 

A source said, “We are now proposing only administrative amendments which are necessary for smooth functioning of the Central Information Commission (CIC), the final appellate authority for RTI Act. This draft will be sent to NAC for further discussions.” Sources indicated that after Sonia took serious note of the amendments some of them have been dropped. The Government is not likely to push amendments that give powers to information officers to reject “frivolous and vexatious” applications or exempt certain file notings as proposed earlier.

 

With the Budget session of Parliament over, the Government would first appoint members of the NAC, the influential civil society-Government interface which played a key role in the enactment of RTI Act 2005. Last week, the Congress president had confirmed to reporters in Parliament corridors that members would be appointed this month and the NAC would be back in action.

 

Earlier, worried RTI activists, including Sonia’s close confidante Aruna Roy, had shot off letters to the Congress president and the Prime Minister expressing fears that such amendments would dilute the transparency legislation. They had argued that the limits of the Act have not been tested and amending it would not help at all.

 

After receiving these letters, Sonia had written to the Prime Minister last year saying, “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 it must be strengthened... It is important, therefore, that we adhere strictly to its original aims and refrain from accepting or introducing changes in legislation on 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, in fact, said that lack of training of Government staff, inadequate record maintenance, harassment of applicants and lack of awareness needed to be addressed.

 

The Prime Minister had dug in heels to assert that certain issues could not be dealt with without changes in the Act. However, now the DoPT seems to have given in.

 

The shortened draft includes amendments to solve certain administrative difficulties. The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) is firm on reducing the number of organisations mentioned in the Second Schedule of RTI Act which are exempt from disclosure norms. At present, there are 22 security and intelligence organisations which do not have the general obligation to disclose information unless it is a matter of human rights violation or corruption. These include RAW, Intelligence Bureau, DRDO, SPG, CRPF and CISF. Sources said organisations like Narcotics Control Bureau could be taken off the Schedule.

 

Another amendment which stays on the list is on the Chief Information Commissioner’s term in office. At present, there is no provision in the Act that lays down who would head the commission in case the chief resigns suddenly or is indisposed. Source said, “These are administrative issues that need to be resolved, so we will put these amendments for NAC’s perusal.”

 

Another proposed amendment would be to bring some clarity on the issue of benches in CIC. There was much controversy when DoPT said that there was nothing in the RTI Act which enabled Information Commissioners to hold separate hearings. DoPT said that Chief Information Commissioner had no powers to constitute separate benches and all Information Commissioners should hear the cases together. This controversy, however, was resolved but it brought to the fore a big lacuna in the Act. The draft amendment would now vest power in the chief of a commission to constitute benches.

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sidmis

Saving the right to information miracle

 

as reported by Vidya Subrahmaniam in the Hindu, May 12, 2010

 

The RTI juggernaut has begun to roll over Indian babudom. Let us not turn the clock back.

 

Over the past week, there have been reports that the Prime Minister's Office, responding to Sonia Gandhi's muscular intervention, is backing off on the dreaded amendments to the Right to Information Act, 2005.

 

On the other hand, it is worth remembering that the amendments scare has never been too far away. It resurfaced as recently as April 30, 2010 — this time in the benign form of a friendly letter to an RTI applicant. The letter, from the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), was in response to his application seeking details of the amendments under consideration, and it confirmed that far-reaching changes were in fact under way.

 

And yet, whatever the outcome of this see-sawing confrontation between the government and the growing band of RTI stakeholders — activists, Information Commissioners, ordinary citizens — one thing is clear. Almost against its will, official India is changing.

 

The DoPT's letter is an example in itself. In the past, the department, the nodal government agency for matters relating to RTI, would get into a lather if anyone so much as asked a question. RTI activists and the Central Information Commission (CIC) fought a marathon battle to get the DoPT to acknowledge that the Act allowed access to file-notings. The department stubbornly maintained the opposite on its website, providing just the excuse the other Ministries needed to stonewall demands for file-notings.

 

The DoPT's April 30 letter is accommodating to the point of disbelief. In reply to “point number 8,” it says: “copy of file noting is enclosed.” Was this the same government organ that possessively clutched file-notings to its bosom? Not just the DoPT. There is reason to believe that RTI glasnost is wrecking babudom's practised ways everywhere in government. If today we know for a fact that Ms Gandhi and the Prime Minister hold opposing views on amending the RTI Act, it is thanks, ironically, to RTI. The Manmohan Singh-Sonia Gandhi correspondence was accessed by Subhash Chandra Agrawal, an RTI zealot with an unmatched penchant for bombarding government offices with complicated queries — the kind that would have normally got the government bristling.

 

Yet today he has in his possession documents of unimaginable importance. To name only a few: The entire 2004 and 2010 Padma awards records, including a 2004 “secret” letter from A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to Atal Bihari Vajpayee on norms for deciding the awards; information on the wealth and assets of judges as well as expenditure on the travels of judges and their spouses; files relating to appointment of judges; the Naveen Chawla-N.Gopalaswami correspondence; details of RTI amendments under consideration; and most recently, a CIC ruling extending the RTI Act to correspondence between the Prime Minister and the President.

 

Indian Express has scooped significant stories using the RTI Act, and recently published the entire lot of letters exchanged between Ms Gandhi and Dr. Manmohan Singh over the term of the first United Progressive Alliance government. The letters confirm what many have suspected for long: that two different visions inform the offices of the Prime Minister and the Congress president.

 

The CIC has far surpassed expectations, pushing the envelope to uphold transparency and accountability in the public sphere, and shaking up the judicial fraternity with its daring interpretation of the RTI Act. The CIC's January 2009 ruling that the Act covers the assets of Supreme Court judges is beyond anything one could have imagined in pre-RTI India.

 

To understand the import of this decision one has only to look at the incredible phenomenon of the Supreme Court appealing to itself against the Delhi High Court order upholding the CIC's ruling in the judges' assets case. Significantly, the effect of all this has been to open rather than shut doors. One judge after another has come out voluntarily to declare his assets.

 

A little over a month ago, this writer filed two RTI applications with the Ministry of Rural Development. Twenty days later, I got a call from the Ministry. Over the following week, officials incessantly fussed over me, worrying that I was not finding the time to go over and inspect the files. Once in the hallowed corridors of Krishi Bhawan, officials eagerly obliged with mounds of files, pointing out file-notings and such, and printing out photocopies late into the evening.

 

In the case of the second application, the Ministry overshot the RTI deadline of one month by five days. But no harm done. A Deputy Secretary was on the phone profusely apologising for the “unwarranted” delay. The ease with which officials parted with file-notings was a knock-out surprise. Indeed, the experience was almost surreal. Did I owe the kindness to my being a journalist or was something else happening here? The former possibility is fairly ruled out because the fourth estate is not a particular favourite of the bureaucracy.

 

In truth, not just me, RTI applicants everywhere are possibly finding it just a bit easier to approach the giant behemoth called the government. The term “top secret” which was the bureaucracy's single biggest weapon, no longer looks that forbidding. A correspondent from The Hindu approached a member of the Padma awards committee seeking details of the controversial Padma Bhushan award to NRI hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal. The member threw a fit: “How dare you even call me? Don't you know our decisions are secret?” Yet thanks to RTI, within days we had full information, not just on the award to Mr. Chatwal but on the 1,163 names considered by the committee. The awards committee member, like so many from the “secrecy” era, had not understood that what was secret in his time was open information today. The Hindu correspondent actually held in her hand President Kalam's “secret” note to Prime Minister Vajpayee. And the letter was handed out by the Home Ministry, once the proud repository of all things secret.

 

Spectacular as these breakthroughs are, it is the smaller stories involving a score of poor RTI applicants that truly point to the transfer of power taking place on the ground. Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi's favourite story is of a man in rags who was treated with respect at the ration office only because he had filed an RTI application. “The same officer who used to treat him like dirt offered him a chair and tea,” says Mr. Gandhi. “The man understood the power of information, and told me what he had achieved was far more than a ration card. From being always overpowered, he actually felt powerful.”

 

The implications of this transformation are surely not lost on the top echelons of government. Though not fully by any means, feudal, secretive India has adapted to an open information culture sooner than anyone could have anticipated. Who could have thought that government departments would treat information seekers with deference? If this is the case with the number of RTI users still being minuscule, one can guess the scale of the havoc a fully operative RTI Act would cause.

 

Says RTI pioneer Aruna Roy: “What we are witnessing is a potentially massive transfer of power. This is democracy at the grassroots, and that is why it is hard to believe that the government will let go of the amendments. RTI has opened a million cans of worms. It has put the fear of God into the bureaucracy.”

 

And so we have a strange situation. One half of the government is ever so slowly relaxing its hold on information, while the other half is far from giving up. The conflict becomes visible every now and then. Last month, the Home Ministry released the details of the 2010 Padma awards aspirants but advised the RTI applicant who sought them not to make them public.

 

At a South Asia RTI workshop convened in Delhi recently, delegates from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka seemed in awe of the Indian achievement in RTI. Pakistan framed a freedom of information ordinance in 2002. However, official data from that country shows that all its federal departments and ministries put together get less than five information applications a month. Between 2003 and 2007, only 51 complaints reached the office of the Federal Ombudsman (equivalent to the Indian CIC). Of these, only eight were filed by ordinary citizens. The Indian CIC in the single year of 2009 received 21,500 appeals and complaints, of which it disposed of 19,500.

 

India's RTI activists and Information Officers are an unusually inspired lot. Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah has passed landmark rulings that have changed the rules of governance. Information Commissioner Gandhi has been working with a rare dedication, spending his own money to employ staff, and disposing of 5,800 cases annually. Aruna Roy and countless other activists breathe and sleep RTI.

 

For all their sake, and more importantly, for the sake of the common citizens, the miracle called the Indian RTI Act must be saved.

 

The Hindu : Opinion / Leader Page Articles : Saving the right to information miracle

 

 

For a copy of DoPT reply plz see post 57.

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sidmis

Right in

 

As reported in Deccan Herald, 12 May 2010

 

'The amendments go against the spirit of the law.'

The UPA government’s move to introduce some amendments to the Right to Information (RTI) Act is meant to reduce the scope and effectiveness of the legislation. In the last five years of its working, the Act has done much to undo the culture of secrecy that marks the functioning of government and public authorities and to empower the citizen. Some of the proposed amendments will directly go against the spirit of the law.

 

One of them is to give immunity to the office of the chief justice of India from any queries under the RTI. This issue has been debated at length in the country. The Delhi High Court, in two rulings, has declared that the CJI is a public authority coming under the purview of the RTI Act. The supreme court has refused to accept this.

 

The proposed amendment will validate its unfair position. It is ironical that the apex court which did much to promote and expand the right to information wants to erect a wall around itself, and it is unfortunate that the government is facilitating it.

 

Another amendment, which has been proposed, is more restrictive. It provides for the rejection of ‘frivolous and vexatious’ requests for information. This will lead to rejection of inconvenient queries because the office from where the information is sought will only be happy to withhold it by relying on this exemption. No one would give away information which shows itself in poor light.

 

Even if there are frivolous and vexatious queries that is no reason to deny information. The words will be interpreted by bureaucrats according to their convenience and to suit their interests. In any case there have not been many complaints about frivolous queries in the past. So why should such an exemption be introduced?

 

It is also proposed to bring Cabinet decisions within the ambit of exemptions. Already cabinet papers under process are in the exempted list. If even the final Cabinet decisions are not open to the public, one important area will be removed from public scrutiny.

 

It is the success of the RTI Act in opening up the government that has prompted the authorities to put more shackles on the Act. An overwhelming majority of the information commissioners have opposed these amendments. There should be concerted pressure on the government to drop the idea of tinkering with the Act. Its scope should actually be widened further.

 

Right in

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sidmis

RTI amendments: A retrograde step

as posted Shashikala Sitaram in Deccan Herald, 19 May 2010

 

Without information, people cannot adequately exercise their rights or make choices.

 

The UPA government’s move to amend sections of the Right to Information Act (RTI) negates the very purpose for which the Act has been passed. One of the proposed amendments is to give immunity to the office of the Chief Justice of India from any queries under the Act. The RTI Act was passed in 2005 to cover all the departments except defence, atomic energy and all those dealing with the country’s security.

 

That the CJI is also a public authority and therefore comes under the jurisdiction of the Act has been found unpalatable by the supreme court, within five years of its passing.

 

The RTI Act has been considered a progressive and meaningful legislation as it brought in transition from an opaque system of governance to a transparent system: from one of ‘confidentiality is the rule and disclosure an exception’ to ‘transparency is the norm and secrecy an exception.’ This undid the culture of secrecy that was the hallmark of government functioning for over six decades.

 

Frivolous and vexatious

The UPA government also wishes to bring an amendment which allows rejection of request for information which is considered ‘frivolous and vexatious.’ This merits serious concern as it makes non-compliance easier. Information can be withheld or refused whimsically based on this exemption. The proposed amendment favours the information provider who would be only too happy to reject many of the requests on flimsy grounds. For the RTI Act to manifest its benefits, information should be viewed from both the information seeker and the providers’ angle.

 

The amendment would demean the interests of the information seeker. The spirit of this citizen-centric legislation which brought in a paradigm shift in the citizen-government relationship is being dampened.

 

How does one categorise information either as frivolous or vexatious is a question that begs an answer especially in view of the fact that access to quality information, in the way and form in which it is needed, is often in dearth.

 

Even the budget data of local self-governments that are public documents are not easily available and when available, it is full of errors as seen by the study of Centre for Budget and Policy Studies, Bangalore. Many zeroes are added to the budget figures, the closing balance at the end of the financial year does not tally with the opening balance of the next financial year. All this and more, reflects the low importance given to managing information. That budget information can be used as a tool that can hold governments accountable is lost because of this attitude.

 

The RTI law is applicable to governments at all levels, Union, state and local. Demanding the resolution of the council meetings of the urban local bodies in a few cases in Karnataka has been found to be a good measure of holding elected representatives accountable. The civil society can verify if the promises made by the councillors is fulfiled by asking for the resolutions passed at the meetings.

 

The UPA government is proposing to bring cabinet decisions within the ambit of exemptions; this would not only remove an important area from public scrutiny but encourage the other tiers of the government to take cover under such an exemption.

 

What seems to be lost sight of is the fact that RTI would, by itself, build informed citizenry. But then, this can happen only if it is allowed to settle down and strengthened. Without information, people cannot adequately exercise their rights or make choices.

 

Information is an important ingredient of democracy effective. The opening lines of the Right to Information Act, 2005, states that democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information which are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and to hold governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed.

 

It is precisely for this reason that the Right to Information movement originated in a remote village in Rajasthan. The movement began as a demand for labour that rightfully belonged to the poor as designed by the food for works programme of the government of India, it led to ‘Jan Sunwais’(public hearing) which exposed corruption among officials and demand for information by the Mazdoor Kisan Sakthi Sangatan. This resulted in the national campaign for the people’s right to information and subsequently to the passing of the RTI Act.

 

South-east Asian countries like Indonesia, which consistently rank high amongst the most corrupt nations, are struggling to place their Freedom for Information Act and are looking up to India for learning. Hopefully they don’t learn from the retreat theory that India seems to follow.

 

RTI amendments: A retrograde step

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smbhappy

As posted by sidmis

 

Another amendment, which has been proposed, is more restrictive. It provides for the rejection of ‘frivolous and vexatious’ requests for information. This will lead to rejection of inconvenient queries because the office from where the information is sought will only be happy to withhold it by relying on this exemption. No one would give away information which shows itself in poor light.

 

Even if there are frivolous and vexatious queries that is no reason to deny information. The words will be interpreted by bureaucrats according to their convenience and to suit their interests. In any case there have not been many complaints about frivolous queries in the past. So why should such an exemption be introduced?

 

if the government go ahead with this amendment it will render the PIO/FAA useless, as almost all the RTI request will be labeled under this frivolous clause; and all the burden of RTI work will shift to the CICs/SICs. I mean to say that the number of appeals go up alarmingly. Moreover, this will also cast aspersions on the intention of the Government. It will be win of the corrupt, for the corrupt and by the corrupt.

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smbhappy

In Post No 66 of sidmis, it is very well stated that

 

"How does one categorise information either as frivolous or vexatious is a question that begs an answer especially in view of the fact that access to quality information, in the way and form in which it is needed, is often in dearth."

 

It is matter of another debate. If there is any information available, how it can be frivolous or vexatious? These terms " frivolous or vexatious" are the terms which the Government has invented to ward off parting with the information. This means that these terms" frivolous or vexatious" shall not stay as those. Some penal provisions will also be made therewith to dissuade the citizens from seeking information. Citizens have to think twice before filing a RTI application for information.

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Atul Patankar

As reported by J. VENKATESAN at beta.thehindu.com on June 10, 2010

 

The Right to Information (RTI) Act will be amended to avoid frivolous or vexatious requests and prevent the Centre from disclosing information relating to the Cabinet papers so as to ensure the smooth functioning of the government.

 

The Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions gave this information to RTI activist Subash Chandra Agrawal, who wanted to know whether there was a proposal to introduce amendments in the Act.

 

The government also said that the office of the Chief Justice of India would be protected in view of the sensitivity involved. It must be noted that the former CJI, K.G. Balakrishnan, wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the Act might be amended so that certain personal information regarding judges need not be disclosed under the RTI application.

 

Proposals

 

The amendment proposals are: to Section 2 of the RTI Act so as to remove difficulty in ascertaining whether a particular NGO should be treated as a public authority or not; to Section 4 so as to enlarge the scope of suo motu disclosure; to Section 7 to avoid frivolous or vexatious requests; to Section 8 to slightly modify the provision about disclosure of Cabinet papers to ensure smooth functioning of the government and to take care of the sensitivity of the office of the CJI; to Sections 12 and 15 to make a provision about giving current change of the post of Chief Information Commissioner to any Commissioner; to Section 13 and 16 to bring the provisions on a par with similar provisions in other Acts; to Section 19 to incorporate a provision for constitution of Benches of the Commission; to Section 24 to incorporate a provision about partial exemption of organisations possessing sensitive information; and to incorporate a new Section 29A empowering the Commissions to make regulations.

 

The government, however, made it clear that these amendments would be introduced only after consultations with the stakeholders.

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karira

As reported in economictimes.indiatimes.com on 15 June 2010:

Right to information key to democracy-Editorial-Opinion-The Economic Times

 

Right to information key to democracy

 

Instead of delivering on the promise contained in the President's inaugural address to the 15th Lok Sabha , to expand citizen's access to information on public affairs, the government now seeks to curtail such access by amending the Right To Information Act.

 

It plans to make a dozen or so amendments, to prevent disclosure of Cabinet papers, shield the office of the chief justice of India and to empower officials to classify any request for information as trivial or vexatious. This is wholly regressive.

 

It is, in fact, a move to curtail openness and transparency and to re-establish a culture of unaccountability and secrecy. The impact the RTI has had is to do with opening up the process of governance. The colonial idea of the state and its workings being opaque to the people informs the conduct of governance even today.

 

The RTI Act has been a significant blow against that culture. The sole possible reason to seek these amendments can only be that the bureaucracy and the political class want to restrict information so as to cover up their malaises and prevent any knowledge of wrongdoing.

 

Another indication of mala fide intentions has been the lack of movement on the government's promise that it would consult all the stakeholders before bringing in the changes. The proposed change to Sec 7 is the most dangerous one, as it would leave it entirely up to the state to determine what application can be deemed frivolous.

 

If anything, data contradict the notion that frivolous or vexatious requests are numerous enough to become a problem.

 

The government is, in effect, trying to change a progressive piece of legislation. Even the move to exempt the CJI would go against the January ruling of the Delhi High Court that the office of the CJI comes within the purview of the RTI Act and that details of a judge's assets should be revealed under it.

 

In general, access to information is key for democratic governance, as it reveals the principles and reasons that inform policymaking, thereby making people participate and determine governance . Any move to curtail that must be resisted.

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karira

As reported by IANS in thaindian.com on 26 August 2010:

Transparency law to be amended to curb frivolous pleas

 

Transparency law to be amended to curb frivolous pleas

 

New Delhi, Aug 26 (IANS) The government is considering amendments to the Right to Information (RTI) Act to discourage frivolous representations, the Rajya Sabha was told Thursday.

 

In a written reply to P. Rajeev of Communist Party of India-Marxist, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Prithviraj Chavan said the amendments to the law will be made after consultation with all the stake holders.

 

There were proposals to modify the provisions about the disclosure of cabinet papers, he added.

 

Amendments to safeguard the sensitivity of the office of the chief justice of India have also been proposed, the minister said.

 

The minister said another proposal pertained to the constitution of benches of the commission (Central Information Commission) and to incorporate a new section empowering the commission to make regulations.

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karira

As reported in pib.nic.in on 26 August 2010:

PIB Press Release

 

Amendment in RTI Act

 

Proposal for amendment of RTI Act is under consideration in the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions. The proposal under consideration includes, inter-alia, amendment to enlarge the scope of suo-motu disclosure, to discourage frivolous or vexatious representations, to modify the provision about disclosure of cabinet papers, to safeguard the sensitivity of the office of the Chief Justice of India, to provide for constitution of Benches of the Commission and to incorporate a new section empowering the Commission to make regulations. Amendments, if any, will be made after consultation with stakeholders.

 

This was stated by the Minister of State in the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions, Shri Prithviraj Chavan in written reply to a question in Rajya Sabha today.

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Guest pcbali

than what is expected, in our favor or against

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smbhappy

It was made clear by the government that all the stake-holders will be taken into confidence before any amendment is carried out. Last Time, when this matter came up a few months ago, the DoPT had approached me for the comments, which were duly submitted to them.

 

This time I am still awaiting to hear from the DoPT. Is there any such move in offing?!

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nr_mohanraam

chennai tnsic order madras high court

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