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dr.s.malhotra

RTI ‘transgressing into govt functioning’, Moily wants a debate

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dr.s.malhotra

RTI ‘transgressing into govt functioning’, Moily wants a debate

D K Singh Posted: Sun Sep 25 2011, 01:19 hrs New Delhi:

can be seen here :

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/rti-transgressing-into-govt-functioning-moily-wants-a-debate/851360/0

 

Denying any rift between Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Home Minister P Chidambaram, Corporate Affairs Minister Veerappa Moily today called for a “national debate” on the scope of the Right to Information Act (RTI), saying it “transgresses into the independent functioning of the government”.

 

This came in the context of Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy citing a Finance Ministry note that has brought the spotlight on Chidambaram’s role in the 2G spectrum allocation, which was obtained through RTI.

 

“We call it argumentative India. Every person or ministry has the right to express views but you cannot interpret it as differences between Pranab Mukherjee and Chidambaram. In the context of RTI exposures, people are misreading things. Transparency, yes, but it cannot scuttle the independence of individuals and ministries expressing difference of opinion. It’s time for a national debate on this issue,” Veerappa Moily told The Sunday Express.

 

As for the Finance Ministry’s purported letter regarding the role of Chidambaram, the Corporate Affairs Minister said it could not be construed as infighting in the government. The note sent to the PMO says that had the Finance Ministry, then under Chidambaram, stuck to the auction option, the grant of licences could have been cancelled. It adds that the note “had been seen by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee”.

 

“Just because there is exchange of views on administrative matters, one cannot call it infighting. In a democratic process that our Cabinet system follows, there is free exchange of views to arrive at a correct decision. Even at the Prime Minister’s level, we express our differences. How can democracy function otherwise? But RTI obtain some extracts of such exchange of views and attribute motives to them. If this continues, no officer or minister will discuss anything. Even the judiciary should appreciate it. Time has come to re-visit the issue of (making public) file notes and discussions,” said Moily.

 

The Corporate Affairs Minister, however, refused to discuss specific changes in the RTI Act, preferring a national debate first.

 

Moily had earlier backed Chidambaram, slamming opposition parties for demanding his resignation.

 

While the Congress has been quick to back Chidambaram, party president Sonia Gandhi has refrained from making any intervention so far.

 

Sources said she has not spoken to either Prime Minister Manmohan Singh or Mukherjee or Chidambaram. “Let’s see how the court treats this matter,” said a senior Congress leader, maintaining that the party was not inclined to interfere in issues concerning governance.

 

Congress sources, however, said many senior leaders have raised the issue of a “rift” in the top echelons of the government with her. “She had made some interventions in the past but that apparently did not last long. We are sure she will have a serious talk with the Prime Minister upon his return,” said a senior party functionary.

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Dr V S Prasanna Rajan

"Time has come to re-visit the issue of (making public) file notes and discussions,” said Moily." - Moily being a law graduate should realize the fact that even the judiciary has held the view that file notings are not exempted from the RTI Act., as per the decision of the Honorable Dehi high court in W.P.© 9355/2009 & CM No. 7144/2009 paras.6,7. Moreover, as per the decision of the honorable apex court in ( CIVIL APPEAL NOS.6015-6027/2011,State of Tamil Nadu & Ors. Versus K. Shyam Sunder & Ors., Section X. WHETHER LEGISLATURE CAN OVERRULE THE JUDGMENT OF THE COURT:) it has been held that legislative body cannot overrule the judicial pronouncement through the backdoor process of amendment in the legislation.

Hence, any amendment to exclude the file notings from the RTI act, inspite of the contrary view by the judiciary in W.P.© 9355/2009 & CM No. 7144/2009 paras.6,7 would amount to acting contrary to the views of the apex court in CIVIL APPEAL NOS.6015-6027/2011.

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Atul Patankar

Actually we do need a National debate on the state of implementation of voluntary disclosures, and the psyche of babus against giving any information. Let us first implement RTI in its spirit, and then we can discuss any 'transgression', 'misuse', and all.

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Dr V S Prasanna Rajan

As rightly pointed out in post no.2, the government should first think of implementing the existing RTI act in letter and spirit!

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colnrkurup

This is not the first time. Such things keep on coming. We have to be vigil against any further amendment to RTI Act. It is better to get satisfied with the present RTI Act in its present form rather than asking for moon.

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karira

As reported by PTI in economictimes.indiatimes.com on 25 Sep 2011:

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics/nation/senior-congress-leader-disagrees-with-corporate-affairs-minister-veerappa-moily-on-rtis-scope/articleshow/10119064.cms

 

Senior Congress leader disagrees with Corporate Affairs Minister Veerappa Moily on RTI's scope

 

NEW DELHI: Senior Congress leader Anil Shastri today disagreed with Corporate Affairs Minister Veerappa Moily's contention that RTI transgresses into the independent functioning of the government.

 

"RTI is meant for transparency in government functioning and should not be seen as an intrusion into its functioning. Many in government want it amended," Shastri posted on micro-blogging site Twitter.

 

Later talking to PTI, Shastri said that the demands of amending the RTI are "wrong as the very idea of bringing transparency in the government functioning gets defeated if you dilute the law."

 

His remarks came on a day when a newspaper reported Moily calling for a "national debate" on the scope of the Right to Information Act (RTI), saying it "transgresses into the independent functioning of the government".

 

Moily had reportedly made the remark while denying any rift between Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Home Minister P Chidambaram in wake of the controversy surrounding a Finance Ministry's note on the 2G spectrum issue.

 

"...Every person or ministry has the right to express views but you cannot interpret it as differences between Pranab Mukherjee and Chidambaram. In the context of RTI exposures, people are misreading things. Transparency, yes, but it cannot scuttle the independence of individuals and ministries expressing difference of opinion. It's time for a national debate on this issue," Moily had reportedly said.

 

Shastri currently heads the Hindi Vibagh in AICC. A former editor of party mouthpiece 'Congress Sandesh', Shastri is a special invitee to Congress Working Committee.

 

He was shifted to Hindi Vibagh after an editorial in the party mouthpiece had raked up a controversy with the party officially distancing itself from his comments on the government's decision to send three ministers at airport to receive yoga guru Ramdev.

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karira

Ourview in livemint.com on 26 Sep 2011:

http://www.livemint.com/2011/09/26002216/Ourview--Transgressions-of-an.html?h=B

 

Transgressions of an Act

 

In almost all instances, what is feared is the disclosure of “damaging” information—information that shows official lapses. Looked from another vantage, if officials have not done any wrong, they should have no fear at the release of such facts

 

Six years after it was passed, the Right to Information (RTI) Act evokes contrasting feelings. Among politicians and in officialdom, suspicion and hostility are dominant moods. Among citizens, hope and despair—in almost equal measure—are quite evident. It is against this backdrop that the Act’s future and its potential must be seen.

 

The RTI’s chief weakness can be seen at the ground level.

 

Citizens from rural areas—often disempowered in information terms—still have to wage an uphill battle to get the facts they seek. At the level of panchayats, sub-divisional offices and thanas, the niceties of the RTI framework are virtually non-existent. Activists have been killed or hounded for seeking information that is damaging.

 

At higher administrative levels—in state capitals and at the national level—the picture is somewhat brighter, but just so. Here, the release of “damaging” information is often picked up by news channels and papers and the ability of officials to prevent the flow of information openly is limited. They have, however, found a way to check activists. Exceptions under the Act, even if it is clear they don’t apply, are employed to take cases all the way up to the Central Information Commission (CIC).

 

Seen in this light, the difference between the two levels is only of degrees and not substance. If anything, a “debate” is being sought on the functioning of the RTI—disclosure of information, it is held, is impairing the functioning of government.

 

This is a contemptible argument and deserves to be set aside.

 

In almost all instances, what is feared is the disclosure of “damaging” information—information that shows official lapses. Looked from another vantage, if officials have not done any wrong, they should have no fear at the release of such facts. If anything, the vigilant information commissioners—both at the state and the national levels—are capable of disciplining those who seek to misuse such information. That, however, is not the issue—it is only an excuse.

 

The heart of the matter is that officials and politicians alike were unprepared for facing the RTI. If anything, they assumed that it would be another innovation that could be snared in red tape. Now that this has not happened, excuses are being proffered to dilute the ambit of the RTI.

 

The right approach would be for senior leaders to realize that information can no longer be withheld from those who need it in a costless manner. If the RTI Act is diluted, it will only lead to protests and upheaval.

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karira

As reported by PTI in dnaindia.com on 26 Sep 2011:

http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report_rti-act-transgressing-in-govt-work-salman-khurshid_1591931

 

RTI Act transgressing in govt work: Salman Khurshid

 

Law Minister Salman Khurshid today said the RTI Act was being "misused" and officials and even judges feel the transparency law was transgressing into government functioning.

 

"Undoubtedly, it has been misused. But you have to weigh misuse with usefulness of the RTI Act. We would like our life to be miserable than the life of a citizen," Khurshid said.

 

Asked about recent remarks of Corporate Affairs Minister M Veerappa Moily that the RTI Act was "transgressing into government functinoning, Khurshid said "it is not only the government officers or ministers who fee that way, judges also feel it."

 

"There was decision by a division bench and we have an RTI application as to why one judge was silent? It is difficult to answer such queries," Khurshid told a press conference here.

 

However, section eight of the RTI Act gives a wide range of exemption clauses which keep out of the ambit of the transparency law some categories of information including judicial and quasi-judicial functioning of courts.

 

He said the RTI Act was brought after wide consultations and they are still on.

 

Minister of state for Personnel V Narayanasamy said government has received 6.05 lakh RTI applications and 90 per cent were dispose of.

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Dr V S Prasanna Rajan

"Every person or ministry has the right to express views but you cannot interpret it as differences between Pranab Mukherjee and Chidambaram. In the context of RTI exposures, people are misreading things. Transparency, yes, but it cannot scuttle the independence of individuals and ministries expressing difference of opinion. It's time for a national debate on this issue," Moily had reportedly said.

 

Moily should realize that RTI itself is based on article 19(1)(a) emphasizing freedom of information, which also covers written / recorded opinions ! Hence RTI cannot scuttle any expression of / difference of opinions! Moreover, in the 2G case, one can always establish a rational nexus between the CAG report as well as the information provided by the note from the finance ministry, which has severely embarrassed the govenment which is already troubled by series of scandals!

 

Hence all this jue and cry by the ministers about the interference (or the exposure through RTI!) of RTI in the expression of the difference of opinion, slowly paving the way for gradual dilution of RTI unless the public are vigilant!

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Atul Patankar

As reported by VIDYA SUBRAHMANIAM at thehindu.com on September 26, 2011

 

When the controversial Finance Ministry note to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) on P. Chidambaram's role in 2G spectrum allocation was traced to a Right to Information application, there was surprise — and some concern — both within the government and in RTI circles.

 

The government's discomfiture was understandable: The RTI Act, which was its proud creation, recoiled on it much like the boon that Lord Shiva granted Basmasura. In the fable, Basmasura seeks and gets the power to reduce to ashes anyone on whose head he places his hand. The Lord agrees, only to be chased around by Basmasura, who wants to test the boon on Shiva himself. From the Commonwealth Games to 2G, there has been an RTI angle to many of the scams and scandals that have emerged in recent times from the corridors of power. In the old days, a Finance Ministry note like the one that surfaced last week would have been a closely-held secret. Yet this document, used by the Bharatiya Janata Party as a weapon against both the Home Minister and the Prime Minister, was among a sheaf of papers released by the PMO itself. The irony is compounded by the fact that of the two applicants who sought the papers, one was R.K. Garg, convener of the BJP's RTI cell. The other was RTI veteran Subhash Chandra Agarwal.

 

The release of the note obviously placed the government in a quandary: It could hardly argue against its own decision. So while Pranab Mukherjee lauded the transparency of the RTI process in distant Washington, Veerappa Moily struck the first cautionary note. In a newspaper interview, he called for a national debate on the RTI, arguing that the Act could not be allowed to interfere in official decision-making. He also wheeled out the old chestnut of RTI amendments. RTI activists began to press the panic button. Activist Lokesh Batra sent out a message that said: “Alert, is this another attempt to dilute the RTI Act?”

 

The former Chief Information Commissioner, Wajahat Habibullah, who led the fight against amendments to outlaw file notings, told The Hindu that the RTI Act had acquired too much momentum for it now to be rolled back by the government. He said the Act provided for exemptions which the government could have used to deny information to the applicants. “Section 8 provides immunity from disclosure on grounds of national and economic security, privacy and commercial interest. The law does not become bad because the government chose to disclose information.”

 

Mr. Habibullah pointed to the vital role played by the RTI in digging out many of the recent scams. The CWG exposure started with a plea by the Organising Committee that it be kept out of the RTI. However, the Central Information Commission ruled that the OC was a public authority which allowed its spending to be scrutinised. This brought out a deluge of damning documents. Similarly, there were RTI queries on the procedure followed in spectrum allotment.

 

Nikhil Dey, convener of the National Campaign for People's Right to Information, said if the government attempted to roll back the RTI or bring in amendments, it would be an admission of its guilt: “That will immediately raise questions about its motives.” To Mr. Moily's charge that the RTI allowed normal inter-departmental discussions to be misinterpreted as dissensions, Mr. Dey said: “The best and most accurate interpretation can come only from full disclosure. It is only through full disclosure that you get a perspective of what happened. Leaks are far more selective and damaging.” He also argued that laws could not be enacted to make the government comfortable: “If the government feels some discomfort because of disclosure it is not a bad thing.”

 

Mr. Agarwal, who has brought out hundreds of secret documents from the vaults of the government, including correspondence between the Prime Minister and the President and between the Prime Minister and the Congress president, salutes Manmohan Singh and the PMO for upholding transparency: “With Ms. Gandhi and civil society watching, a rollback is almost ruled out. If despite this, the government dilutes the Act, it will have to pay a heavy price for it.”

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karira

An interview with Verappa Moily Corporate Affairs Minister in livemint.com:

 

28_09_2011_010_001.jpg

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karira

As reported in expressindia.com on 29 Sep 2011:

http://www.expressindia.com/latest-news/hazares-lawyer-writes-to-moily-over-statements-on-rti/853304/

 

Hazare’s lawyer writes to Moily over statements on RTI

 

Pune Reacting to an interview of Veerappa Moily about RTI and its effects published in The Indian Express on Sunday, Anna Hazare’s lawyer Milind Pawar has written to Moily stating that his statements were in contradiction to the promise made by Union government to Hazare. Moily had stated that the RTI transgresses into independent functioning of the government. A copy of the letter has also been sent to the Prime Minister’s Office.

 

The interview, which was published on September 25, quotes Moily as saying, “In the context of RTI exposures, people are misreading things. Transparency, yes, but it cannot scuttle the independence of individuals and ministries expressing difference of opinion. It’s time for a national debate on this issue.”

 

The letter to Moily says Hazare had undertaken a fast in 2007 for RTI, during which the Central government had promised transparency through RTI. “‘The public has a right to know the decisions made by ministers. There is no need to amend the Act or bring about a fresh discussion on the same,” it says. Pawar said the \letter had been sent in consultation with Hazare.

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karira

As reported by D K Singh in expressindia.com on 06 Oct 2011:

http://www.expressindia.com/latest-news/After-Moily-Khurshid-complains-RTI-misuse-hitting-efficacy-efficiency/856317/

 

After Moily, Khurshid complains: RTI misuse hitting efficacy, efficiency

 

New Delhi After colleague Veerappa Moily, Law Minister Salman Khurshid has expressed concern over the Right to Information (RTI) Act affecting government functioning.

Advocating a re-look at RTI, Khurshid said its misuse was affecting “institutional efficacy and efficiency”, with even the bureaucracy becoming reluctant to record its opinion. A “balance” has to be maintained between transparency and accountability and institutional efficiency, he said.

 

“There is a confidential communication between a minister and the Prime Minister and then there are further consultations before we bring something to the cabinet... If everything that I as a minister write to the Prime Minister comes out, then what is the point of writing to the PM confidentially? The same goes for the communication between the governor and chief minister. There is already a litigation regarding this in Goa... These issues have to be dispassionately examined as to at what stage such papers can be given. You cannot claim papers under the RTI which are part of internal communications ahead of a cabinet decision until such time that a decision is finally taken,” Khurshid said in an interview to The Indian Express here today.

 

The minister, however, asserted that the government and Congress remained committed to “more transparency and accountability” and added that the concerns raised by him were “part of the experience of the RTI”, which is still being tested. He also clarified that there was no proposal to amend the RTI Act yet.

 

Khurshid and Corporate Affairs Minister Moily’s remarks, also in an interview to this paper, come in the wake of the controversy over a Finance Ministry note regarding Union minister P Chidambaram’s stance on 2G spectrum allocation, which had been obtained through RTI.

 

“There is a bona fide question about institutional efficacy and efficiency. Due to the use of the RTI in a wrongful way, a lot of impediments are being felt. Governors have expressed it; courts have expressed it. Undue inconvenience is caused by misuse of the RTI Act,” Khurshid said.

 

He said this could have a bearing on the functioning “between governors and chief ministers, prime minister and ministers”. The Law Minister said that due to RTI, there was “reluctance” on the part of civil servants “to record their opinion, right or wrong way”. “All that has to be kept in mind.”

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karira

As reported by Manoj C G in indianexpress.com on 06 Oct 2011:

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/No-need-to-be-defensive-on-RTI--Wajahat-tells-govt/856267/

 

No need to be defensive on RTI, Wajahat tells govt

 

At a time when some UPA ministers have come to view the RTI as an obstructive force in the wake of a string of embarrassing disclosures, former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah today said the government need not go on the defensive over the increasing use of the medium and should instead take pride in “its own creation”.

 

Speaking to The Indian Express, he said the RTI has so many positives and the government should use it to its advantage “instead of treating it like an additional burden.” Saying it can be a tool that can aid in administration, he cautioned that “it should not be treated as a weapon.”

 

He said, “The government should not be on the defensive. Corruption has been there for a long time. Corruption is being exposed now because of the access to information, and the government should take the credit for that.”

 

Habibullah, who is Chairman of the National Commission for Minorities, did not share Corporate Affairs Minister Veerappa Moily’s view that RTI is transgressing into the independent functioning of the government. “RTI has to be viewed positively, not just by the people seeking and securing information, but by the government also. There are certain things which can be beneficial for the government,” he said.

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Dr V S Prasanna Rajan

Post No. 10 In the post by Atul Patankar - IT IS RIGHTLY POINTED OUT- "He also argued that laws could not be enacted to make the government comfortable: “If the government feels some discomfort because of disclosure it is not a bad thing.”

 

The above can be aptly paraphrased as - " RTI IS TO MAKE THE GOVERNMENT / PUBLIC AUTHORITIES ACCOUNTABLE AND NOT FOR MAKING THE GOVERNMENT / PUBLIC AUTHORITIES COMFORTABLE"

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karira

As reported by PTI in ibnlive.in.com on 07 Oct 2011:

http://ibnlive.in.com/news/nothing-wrong-in-debate-over-rti-congress/190954-37-64.html

 

Nothing wrong in debate over RTI: Congress

 

New Delhi: Congress on Friday saw nothing wrong over the debate for a relook at the Right To Information Act amid growing complaints that it was affecting government functioning and allegation that the law was being misused.

 

"I think there is an invigorating and vigorous debate on RTI. There is no denying on that the RTI has been an instrument of empowering people. Now whether that empowerment is affecting efficiency of the government impinging on it."

 

"This is something we should allow the debate to play itself out rather than giving a comment. After hearing all the sides, if a response is required, we will give it,"party spokesman Manish Tewari told.

 

His comments came close on the heels of Law Minister Salman Khurshid following another Union Minister M Veerapa Moily expressing concern over the Right to Information (RTI) Act affecting government functioning.

 

Advocating a re-look at RTI, Khurshid had said its alleged misuse was affecting institutional efficacy and efficiency, with even the bureaucracy becoming reluctant to record its opinion.

A balance has to be maintained between transparency and accountability and institutional efficiency, he had said.

 

RTI has been touted as a major achievement of the Congress-led UPA in its first term with party chief Sonia Gandhi taking a lead in the matter.

 

AICC General Secretary Digvijay Singh, speaking separately, dismissed suggestions of any dilution of the Act to usher in transparency and accoutability. "The accepted party line of Congress is to be the strongest supporters of RTI. There is no question of withdrawing from that".

 

A senior party leader, who did not wish to be identified, said there was a view that the notings of bureaucrats should not be made public and there were apprehensions that it will affect the "doctrine of candour" which is intrinsic to the bureaucratic process.

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karira

As reported by Manish Chibber in indianexpress.com on 07 Oct 2011:

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/Can-t-accept-RTI-hurts-governance--Ex-CJI/856783/

 

Can’t accept RTI hurts governance: Ex-CJI

 

Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid’s suggestion that the Right to Information (RTI) Act needs a relook since its misuse was affecting “institutional efficacy and efficiency” has not found favour with jurists and activists.

 

In fact, activists are viewing it as yet another attempt by the UPA to water down the law whose main aim was to make government functioning more transparent.

 

In an interview to The Indian Express, Khurshid, while saying that a balance needs to be maintained between transparency and accountability and institutional efficiency, had suggested that there should be a dispassionate examination of at what stage confidential documents, particularly communication between the PM and ministers, can be given under RTI Act.

 

But, former Chief Justice of India J S Verma does not buy this contention. “The RTI Act is modelled on the US Freedom of Information Act. The main premise of the Act was that there would be maximum disclosure and minimum confidentiality. I don’t think any honest officer has anything to worry about in case his file nothings are provided under the RTI Act. Also, the Act itself has adequate safeguards to check its misuse,” Justice Verma told The Indian Express.

 

Asked if reasonable restrictions should be put in place on where material accessed under the Act can be used, Justice Verma replied in the negative. “I don’t accept the logic that governance is getting affected due to the Act. Let the Law Minister specify what he means. I think the government’s new line of thinking is because of the material provided under the RTI Act that has led to scams being unearthed. Don’t the people have the right to monitor the functioning of the government?” the former CJI said.

 

Former civil servant-turned-activist Harsh Mander, who is a member of the Sonia Gandhi-headed National Advisory Council (NAC), feels there should be no tinkering with the RTI Act.

 

“This Act has done more to check corruption than any other administrative reform. It has created a billion-plus Lokpals, with each and every citizen armed with the power to inspect the government working. It is a misplaced premise that civil servants are scared due to the misuse of the Act. Having worked in the government, I can say that any government servant, who does his work conscientiously, is not bothered by whether his decisions would be subject to inspection. In fact, I would say that the government must strengthen and consolidate the Act,” Mander said.

 

Team Anna member and Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan feels the government’s unease could be because of the unearthing of scams, one after the other.

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karira

As reported in timesofindia.indiatimes.com on 07 Oct 2011:

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/An-achievement-that-has-turned-thorn-in-govt-flesh/articleshow/10260537.cms

 

An achievement that has turned thorn in govt flesh

 

 

NEW DELHI: "The enactment of RTI is the first significant achievement of the UPA government. This is the first piece of legislation to ensure transparency and delivery by government... Regardless of which government is in power, each citizen can put questions and expect answers" -- Sonia Gandhi in March 2010.

 

"With RTI in hand, people are exposing more and more scams... Implementing RTI was one of the greatest achievements of the Congress government that made a big impact to bring about transparency at all levels. Had RTI not been implemented, many of these scams we talk about would not have even surfaced" - Rahul Gandhi in April 2011.

 

The Congress president and general secretary have hardly been the exception in praising Right To Information. Congress leaders have regularly touted RTI along with the rural employment guarantee scheme to burnish their pro-people credentials.

 

Yet, the season for open government might be drawing to a close. The transparency measure seems to have boomeranged, going by the unease of senior ministers like M Veerappa Moily and Salman Khurshid that RTI is revealing more than it should. Too much sunlight, rather than being a disinfectant, was turning into a blinding glare.

 

The law came into being despite the misgivings of the bureaucracy and politicians due to the strong impetus provided by Sonia but some seven years down the line, it has become a bit of a thorn in the flesh for a government reeling under corruption scandals.

 

The RTI revelation on the finance ministry's controversial 2G note blaming home minister P Chidambaram for not insisting on auctioning spectrum has proved the last straw for a harried government. Law minister Salman Khurshid has said that RTI was affecting functioning of the government when it reveals confidential communication between a minister and the PM.

 

Despite the accolades that RTI has received and Sonia's support for it, it seems clear that the government is turning conservative over how the law is to be used as letters and documents have been used as politically flammable material by the opposition that has targeted the government.

 

The 2G and Commonwealth Games graft cases have seen reams of documents being made public and this has helped in maintaining pressure on government not to go slow in investigations. Media reports have also been taken note of by the courts in deciding whether investigations were to be monitored.

 

Earlier, Moily had also said RTI was being misutilized and incorrect inferences were drawn from such disclosures. He said this would lead to officers hesitating to work and hiding information.

 

The government has tried to prune RTI earlier as well and the effort saw it at odds with the Sonia-led National Advisory Council. This time, the government has issued a circular that asks government departments to be prudent in handing out information in response to RTI applications.

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karira

An opinion in expressbuzz.com on 08 Oct 2011:

http://expressbuzz.com/opinion/editorials/Frivolous-arguments-to-whittle-down-RTI-Act/321008.html

 

Frivolous arguments to whittle down RTI Act

 

 

Opinions expressed by Union law minister Salman Khurshid and his Cabinet colleague Veerappa Moily on the Right to Information (RTI) Act give the distinct impression that the UPA government is no longer enamoured of it. They should have taken credit for enacting a law that has empowered the citizen like the right to vote that every adult citizen enjoys. Instead, they have been complaining about the so-called misuse of the Act that has adversely affected “institutional efficacy and efficiency”, which are actually synonyms for misuse of power and corrupt practices. It seems the government wants to whittle down the Act because it has become a nuisance for some of those in power.

 

For nearly six decades, the government treated most of its files as either ‘secret’ or ‘top secret’. The government was obliged to answer only those questions MPs and MLAs asked in Parliament and state legislatures respectively. What the RTI Act did was to extend the same facility to every citizen. Though there have been attempts to water down the Act by excluding some agencies like the CBI from its purview, it has definitely brought about a measure of transparency in government functioning. There is a strong case for strengthening transparency, rather than confidentiality, based on the Act’s premise of maximum openness and minimum secrecy.

 

Arguments that disclosure of file notings would be detrimental to the interests of good governance are flawed. Officials who have no vested interest should have no difficulty in expressing their opinion in writing. An honest official cannot have two opinions, one to be expressed openly and the other to be expressed in ‘confidential’ notes. A minister has the authority to overrule an official under him, if he is convinced about the justifiability of his action and is ready to put it in writing. The Act has provisions to protect honest officials and prevent its misuse. All this underlines the need to strengthen — not weaken — the RTI Act.

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colnrkurup

The real problem is entirely different. Ministers are generally hesitant to give written orders to the Secretaries or record it in file noting when they have to convey inconvenient or unlawful orders for acts that involve corruptions and other irregularities. But Babus invariably make record of such verbal orders in the files often without the knowledge of the Ministers. That is the reason for a recent statement of a Minister that he has not read the file. Under the protection of Official Secrets Acts all these notings and files kept concealed from public. Even if one has access to these files, he cannot go to the Press or open his mind as he is answerable for disclosing such information and become guilty of violation of the Official Secrets Act.

 

With the advent of RTI Act the situation is changed. The corrupt Ministers and Babus does not get the protection of Official Secret Act. If a Minister cannot act at will he looses the very charm of becoming Minister. Naturally every corrupt Minister and his supporting clout of Babus will make every effort to trim the RTI Act so that their corrupt orders are not divulged.

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ambrish.p

As reporting in Dainik Jagran on 08/10/2011

 

सूचना अधिकार पर मंत्रियों के बयानों से उलझन में कांग्रेस

 

नई दिल्ली, जागरण ब्यूरो : यूपीए-दो सरकार के लिए जी का जंजाल बना सूचना अधिकार कानून (आरटीआइ) कांग्रेस के लिए गले की फांस बन गया है। आरटीआइ से बाहर आई चिट्ठी के बाद जिस तरह से सरकार के वरिष्ठ मंत्रियों सलमान खुर्शीद और वीरप्पा मोइली ने इस कानून में संशोधन की वकालत शुरू की है, कांग्रेस उसका खुलकर समर्थन भी नहीं कर पा रही है। खुद की सबसे बड़ी उपलब्धि बताती रही कांग्रेस आरटीआइ कानून में संशोधन की पैरवी आखिर करे भी तो वह कैसे? मगर उसने कानून में संशोधन पर व्यापक बहस का समर्थन कर पार्टी के भीतर बेचैनी के संकेत तो दे ही दिए हैं। पीएमओ से आरटीआइ के तहत बाहर आई चिट्ठी ने जिस तरह से प्रणब मुखर्जी और चिदंबरम को आमने -सामने खड़ा कर दिया, उसके बाद केंद्र के मंत्री इस कानून में संशोधन पर मुखर होने लगे हैं। सरकार बहुत पहले से इसकी जरूरत महसूस करती रही है कि आरटीआइ से मंत्रियों और सचिव स्तर की नोटिंग को सार्वजनिक नहीं किया जाना चाहिए। पीएम ने इस आशय पर मुहिम भी चलाई, लेकिन आरटीआइ लाने का श्रेय लेती रहीं सोनिया गांधी ने ऐसा करने से रोक दिया। अब यूपीए दो सरकार बनने के बाद से लगातार आरटीआइ कानून के तहत सामने आ रहे घोटाला से सरकार की फजीहत हुई है। आरटीआइ के भय से सरकार में कई काम नहीं हो पा रहे हैं। इसीलिए, कानून मंत्री सलमान खुर्शीद और कंपनी मामलों के मंत्री वीरप्पा मोइली ने कहा कि यह वक्त है कि आरटीआइ में संशोधन हो। फाइलों पर पीएमओ और कैबिनेट मंत्रियों के नोट सार्वजनिक किए जाने की व्यवस्था पर पुनर्विचार होना चाहिए, क्योंकि इससे सरकार का कामकाज में कई दुश्वारियां पैदा हो रही हैं। कांग्रेस में भी एक बड़ा धड़ा इन तर्को से सहमत है, लेकिन अपने ही लाए कानून के खिलाफ ज्यादा बोलने के सियासी नुकसान से वह डरी हुई है। इसीलिए, उसने इसके विरोध या समर्थन के बजाय व्यापक बहस का दांव खेल गेंद दूसरे दलों के सामने फेंक दी है। कांग्रेस प्रवक्ता मनीष तिवारी ने कहा, इसमें कोई शक नहीं है कि आरटीआइ ताकतवर है, लेकिन इसके उपयोग-दुरुपयोग पर वाद-विवाद हो रहे हैं। कई हलकों में चिंता है कि इससे सुशासन में फर्क पड़ेगा। इस पर बहस के बाद ही हम रुख तय करेंगे।

 

Source: http://in.jagran.yahoo.com/epaper/article/index.php?choice=show_article&location=49&Ep_relation=1&Ep_edition=2011-10-08&articleid=111723082432602928

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karira

As reported by Swaraj Thapa in indianexpress.com on 10 Oct 2011:

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/Govt-may-table-proposals-to-tighten-RTI-Act-at-meet/857868/

 

Govt may table proposals to tighten RTI Act at meet

 

A meeting on RTI next week may see discussions on proposals sponsored by the government to tighten the Act, in the wake of recent protests from bodies like the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) as well as ministries like Finance and Telecom, whose role has come under public scrutiny in the 2G spectrum issue.

 

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar will be giving the valedictory address at the two-day, sixth annual RTI convention that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will inaugurate on October 14 at Vigyan Bhawan.

 

Among the issues likely to come up is the release of information on RTI queries by the Prime Minister’s Office. According to sources, the Finance and Telecom ministries have conveyed to the PMO that RTI queries should be transferred to nodal ministries instead.

 

The government was recently caught in a controversy over the release of a Finance Ministry note to the PMO on 2G, which was seen as bringing out differences within the government on the issue.

 

Another proposal that may be taken up is denial of information on issues in which investigations are underway.

 

However, detractors argue that the government can use this clause to restrict outflow of information through the RTI. The issue of whether parliamentary privilege is breached by release of documents through RTI even before a JPC looking into the matter has accessed them is also likely to figure at the RTI convention.

 

For example, the JPC looking into the 2G spectrum scam was not given the Finance Ministry note even after it was released through the RTI. The parliamentary body had taken up the issue with the government. Sources asserted that all relevant papers lying with the PMO on the 2G issue are now to be sent to the JPC by October 11.

 

The meet will also discuss the potential and efficacy of measures to curb corruption, redress grievances and ensure transparency and accountability, with special reference to PPP projects.

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karira

An editorial in economictimes.indiatimes.com on 10 Oct 2011:

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/opinion/editorial/any-amendments-must-strengthen-not-dilute-the-rti-act/articleshow/10295846.cms

 

Any amendments must strengthen, not dilute, the RTI Act

 

Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid's remarks on the need to revisit the Right to Information (RTI) Act, on the purported reason that its 'misuse' was hampering 'institutional efficiency', displays the discomfort amongst the political and bureaucratic classes over an Act that has unprecedentedly empowered ordinary citizens.

 

Talk of amending the Act on those and similar grounds is nothing but those classes seeking to disempower citizens, and return to the days of official opacity.

 

The power of the RTI is manifest in the number of scams that have been unearthed by deploying it - be it a citizen seeking details about that perpetually unrepaired neighbourhood road or a multi-crore scam of national proportions.

 

Perversely, the number of RTI activists killed or threatened is also testimony to the danger this Act has posed to all sorts of entrenched, vested interests. The UPA government, in fact, had pledged to strengthen the Act.

 

In her address to the joint session of Parliament in 2009, President Pratibha Patil laid down the government's agenda to put in place a public data policy that would "place all information covering non-strategic areas in the public domain". By no stretch of the imagination can anything other than military or intelligence-related, or sensitive communication of a specific kind be called 'strategic areas'.

 

Indeed, amendments, if any, should be those that buttress and consolidate the RTI Act - providing protection for RTI activists and whistleblowers in general, for instance - rather than seek to dilute it. But, it seems, as the power of the RTI becomes manifest sections of our polity who thrived on the withholding of information are getting queasier by the day.

 

An opaque state is essentially a colonial vestige. One that is impervious, mysterious in its workings, if not actually hostile towards ordinary citizens. In contrast, a state which envisages the disclosure of information not just as a citizens' right, but its own fundamental duty is one where citizens can feel part of governance and its workings.

 

It seems our netas and babus, among others, would prefer the former. This must be resisted. The point is to strengthen democracy, not starve it of information.

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karira

As reported in telegraphindia.com on 11 Oct 2011:

http://www.telegraphindia.com/1111011/jsp/nation/story_14609581.jsp

 

Jairam fuel in RTI debate

 

New Delhi, Oct. 10: Rural development minister Jairam Ramesh today opposed sharing of certain “privileged” and “secret” matters under the right to information (RTI) law, echoing cabinet colleagues Salman Khurshid and M. Veerappa Moily.

 

“Ministers write to the Prime Minister on a variety of issues. There has to be a concept of secrecy in government,” Ramesh said.

 

According to Ramesh, communications leading to a cabinet decision or a policy decision of the government should be shared under the RTI act “only after” the decision is taken. “But before the decision, any paper relating to the matter should not be made public.”

 

The minister’s observations come at a time the Congress feels a broad debate on the act could throw up suggestions about how to tackle its “misuse” and may even help the nation treat “sensational” information with greater maturity.

 

Law minister Khurshid had earlier said that purported misuse of the RTI act had been affecting institutional efficacy and had sometimes made bureaucrats reluctant to record their opinions. He has suggested a second look at some RTI provisions.

 

Corporate affairs minister Moily, a former law minister, too has spoken in a similar vein.

 

There have been reservations in some circles about the wisdom of having such a law in a vast country like India that is struggling with basic problems.

 

The latest debate, however, was triggered by the “shock” the government received following the disclosure by the Prime Minister’s Office, under the RTI act, of the 2G note prepared by the finance ministry.

 

The controversy over the confidential note ended up creating a rift between two senior ministers.

 

Ramesh cited examples of controversial decisions he had taken when he was environment minister to back his argument. “Documents relating to the decision on BT (genetically modified) brinjal or environmental clearance to Posco can be shared under RTI,” he said.

 

“But if there is a privileged communication between a minister and the Prime Minister, if that is not leading to any policy decision, there is no reason why it should be given under RTI.”

 

Ramesh called for widening the ambit of the RTI law by bringing under its purview all public-private-partnership (PPP) projects, which are now kept outside the act’s domain. “Every citizen has the right to know how the money has been spent under the PPP projects,” he said.

 

Asked about some senior ministers’ reservations about the alleged misuse of the act, party spokesperson Manish Tewari said: “Allow this debate to play itself out.”

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karira

An editorial in indianexpress.com on 11 Oct 2011:

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/full-disclosure/858293/0

 

Full disclosure

 

The Right to Information Act, brought in after decades of civil society pressure in 2005, has been one of the UPA’s biggest achievements. It is an enforceable right of public access to official workings, a radical switch that assumes government and governed have the same interests. In its brief life, RTI-enabled investigations have shed light on large matters like the Commonwealth Games corruption, the Adarsh scam and the 2G debates within government, apart from exposing land scams and misuse of public funds, even forcing the higher judiciary to declare assets. Confronted with the clamour for a Lokpal office, the RTI is the government’s most convincing proof of its commitment to accountability. So it is both predictable and disappointing that the RTI should now be viewed as a liability, in the wake of all these revelations. The finance and telecom ministries have demanded the PMO be kept out of its remit. Others claim the joint parliamentary committee investigating the 2G matter should have first dibs on this information. Ministers like Veerappa Moily and Salman Khurshid have also questioned the RTI, calling it an obstructive force, and one that impairs “institutional efficiency”.

 

It is only natural that the RTI should be unloved and unwanted by much of the executive and administration. It has been criticised for causing disruptions and wasting official time with “frivolous” petitions. It has been alleged that RTI would end up gagging official opinion, make civil servants more cautious with file-notings. Despite the fact that Section 8(1) of the RTI provides exemptions for material likely to threaten security, strategic, scientific or economic interests, information received in confidence from foreign governments, or information that will impede investigations, among other heads, many corners of the government have asked to be left out. If it was made to the government’s specifications, RTI would be reduced to meaninglessness — the requests considered not too frivolous, not too motivated, and not too threatening to institutional efficiency, could end up being a rather slender range of things.

 

The government must be reminded that the RTI’s recent embarrassing disclosures have only reflected the embarrassing actions within government. It has revealed the cross-purposes and the confusion within the government. However, if these developments are used as an excuse to roll back the RTI, the UPA would be diluting its obligations towards democratic accountability.

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      By momita
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      Recounting the state of affairs in various state commissions, the plea has noted that there are six vacancies in the SIC of Karnataka even though 33,000 cases are pending there.
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    • momita
      By momita
      The plea that was filed by RTI activists Commodore Lokesh Batra (retired) along with Anjali Bhardwaj and Amrita Johri on 24 April will be heard by the top court when it reopens Monday after the summer break.
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      “Currently, there are four vacancies in the Central Information Commission, even as more than 23,500 appeals and complaints are pending,” the petitioners claim.
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      Recounting the state of affairs in various state commissions, the plea has noted that there are six vacancies in the SIC of Karnataka even though 33,000 cases are pending there.
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