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Found 9 results

  1. Government today constituted a three-member committee of top bureaucrats to go into implications of the Official Secrets Act and the RTI law as demands mounted for declassification of files related to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. The first meeting of the panel, which consists of Secretaries of Home, Law and Personnel, will take place tomorrow, official sources said today. Read at: Govt sets up committee to examine OSA, RTI | Business Standard News
  2. Not only has the NDA government not appointed a Chief Information Commissioner for the last seven months, but has also said it cannot share any information about the selection process, Right To Information activists revealed on Monday. Read at: Secrecy over selection process irks RTI activists - The Hindu
  3. ‘Known Unknowns’ of RTI - Legitimate Exemptions or Conscious Secrecy? http://www.epw.in/system/files/pdf/2014_49/24/Known_Unknowns_of_RTI.pdf
  4. As reported by TNN in The Times of India, Chandigarh, on 19 January 2008: No random use of secrecy clause: RTI-Chandigarh-Cities-The Times of India No random use of secrecy clause: RTI CHANDIGARH: State information commission of Punjab has put an end to indiscriminate use of a secrecy clause of Right to Information Act by rejecting a plea of the forest department not to part with information on the ground it was more than 20 years old. The commission has held that information which is more than 20 years old cannot be simply withheld by any office or authority on the pretext of provisions under sub section 3 of section 8 of the Right to Information Act, 2005. The petitioner Rajiv Bajaj, estate officer, WWICS Ltd, Mohali sought the information from forest department about notification of a provision of an Act of 1914. State information commissioner PK Verma rejected the department's denial of information and directed it to provide the information within 15 days. The next date has been fixed for February 1 for reporting compliance. Pushed to a corner, the department pleaded that the relevant record has been destroyed but it could not produce a record destruction certificate. The commission also directed the department itself to provide the information instead of asking the petitioner to approach Ropar office of the department. The petitioner had sought information about the notes in administrative department's file containing proposal sent by the principal chief conservator of forests for issuance of notification No. 458 way back in 1914 under section 3 of the Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1900. The petitioner had also sought other relevant information in respect to notifications of lands in village Karoran and Nada, district Mohali issued under PLPA, 1900 but the same was withheld by the department citing section 8 (3) as the main reason. The information commissioner upheld the argument of the petitioner that the said information could not be withheld as it did not fall under the purview of sub sections (a) © and (i) of section 8 of RTI. Under RTI, information more than 20 years old can only be withheld in circumstances when a grave threat or injury to the sovereignty and integrity to the nation is posed under section (8) (a) of RTI. Similarly, information can also be withheld under section (8) © in case the privilege of Parliament or state legislatures is being breached by disclosure of information. Information over 20 years old can also withheld under 8 (i) if cabinet documents are under consideration.
  5. CIC slams Defence Ministry's for its obsession with secrecy NEW DELHI: The Central Information Commission has asked the Defence Ministry to spell out the details and records which it could reveal to the public at large, even as it chided the government for being "obsessive" with "confidentiality". The CIC asked the Defence Ministry to outline a "de-classification policy" for release of information in public domain, an agency report said. Information Commissioner A N Tiwari, hearing the petition from a journalist seeking details of INS Khukri's sinking in the Arabian Sea in 1971 after being torpedoed by a Pakistani submarine, said, "It is better to draw out a determination as to what (details) you want to part with and what you do not want to give." The petitioner had sought details from the Defence Ministry but was denied the same, after which the CIC was approached. The commission's bench headed by Chief Information Commissioner WajahatHabibullah did not find any fault with the ministry's reply but it expressed concern about the government's tendency to keep information out of a citizen's reach. Taking an apparent dig at the contention raised by officials that every data on INS Khukri's sinking, if released, could compromise its tactical thought process, Tiwari asked, "Can the country be held hostage for failure of the defence?" Drawing out a comparison with the Royal Navy of Britain, Tiwari said while all relevant information pertaining to HMS Sheffield, destroyed by an Argentine missile in 1982, was open to general public, the Indian counterpart was still reluctant to part with such information. CIC slams Defence Ministry's for its obsession with secrecy-India-The Times of India
  6. sidmis

    Secrecy veil off cabinet

    Calcutta, Oct. 14; The government has admitted that the minutes of a cabinet meeting cannot be kept secret and ordinary citizens have a right to know them. Co-operation secretary Rajiv Sinha, the appellate authority of his department in matters relating to the Right to Information Act, 2005, has instructed the state’s principal information officer to provide an information on a cabinet decision, a request that had been turned down earlier. This is the first time such an instruction has been given in Bengal under the 2005 law. “We had sought an information on March 30 regarding the procedures in the re-appointment of retired IAS officer N.G. Chakraborty as the registrar of co-operative societies,” said R. Agarwal, a Delhi resident and right to information crusader. The principal information officer of the department, H.P. Roy, informed Agarwal on April 30 that the government could not provide the details of the appointment as the decision was taken in a cabinet meeting chaired by the chief minister. The officer also told Agarwal that as the proceedings of cabinet meetings were classified information, they did not come under the purview of the right to information act. Agarwal challenged the reply and moved the appellate authority, Sinha, for a hearing. Sinha ruled that the principal information officer’s decision was not correct and that Agarwal should be provided with a copy of the minutes of the meeting. “We checked and found that we had committed a mistake in denying Agarwal the copy of the minutes earlier,” said Sinha. He also admitted that procedures were not followed while re-appointing Chakraborty. An official said Agarwal’s questions to the co-operation department had pointed to irregularities while re-appointing Chakraborty after his retirement on January 31, 2006. “Chakraborty was re-appointed for a year, but some basic procedures like issuing a gazette notification were not followed.” Right to information crusaders in the city said the case proves that officials handling the information act in the state are ill informed. SOUMEN BHATTACHARJEE The Telegraph - Calcutta : Bengal
  7. karira

    Prisoners of secrecy

    Prisoners of secrecy The Right To Information (RTI) Act is two years old this June but the anniversary celebrations need to be put on hold in view of the bureaucracy's attempt to sabotage its implementation and the not-too-subtle manner in which the information commissions established under this law are abetting the officials in this effort. Like many other great laws that have fallen by the wayside because of a lack of commitment among those who are to implement them, the RTI Act, too, faces the danger of becoming a toothless wonder if the country's political leadership fails to nip the mischief in the bud. The first comprehensive review of the working of this law was done by the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC), headed by Mr Veerappa Moily, last year. This commission rightly pointed out that the effective implementation of this law depends on what it calls three fundamental shifts "from the prevailing culture of secrecy to a new culture of openness; from personalised despotism to authority coupled with accountability; and, from unilateral decision-making to participative governance". Since this path-breaking law was passed in 2005, we need to take stock of the situation vis-à-vis access to information and see whether there is any sign of these fundamental shifts having taken place in the last two years. Significantly, the ARC noted in its report that the utility of this law would depend largely on the institutions created to implement it, early traditions and practices and participation of the people and public servants. An opportunity arose last week to assess the efficacy of the law on each of these counts during a 'National Consultation on Right to Transparent Governance' organised by South Asians For Human Rights (SAHR) in New Delhi to analyse existing mechanisms for governmental transparency and accountability. There was considerable disappointment at this meet over the attitude of the bureaucracy to this law and the manner in which the Central and State Information Commissions were interpreting the RTI Act. The paper presented by Mr Colin Gonsalves was revealing. It said Information Commissioners were adopting an arbitrary approach; they were not informing applicants of the reasons offered by the officers for withholding information; applicants were not told of the date of the hearing and bulk of the applications were disposed of ex-parte. Further, even though the RTI Act directs the Central and State Information Commissions to impose fines on officers who fail to comply with the Act, the commissions are just not ready to penalise the defaulting bureaucrats. Yet another disturbing trend is the high rate of rejection of appeals. While the rejection rate is 57 per cent for the Central Information Commission, it was as high as 80 per cent in respect of one particular commissioner. Mr Gonsalves says that while some officers were using this law in an innovative way, "the bureaucracy in general appears to be staging a counter-attack and using all kinds of ingenious methods to evade providing information. The standards of the Public Information Officers and Commissioners are most uneven with officers and commissioners holding widely divergent and sometimes wholly irrational views. The lack of judicial training has resulted in autocratic functioning." The feedback that is now available on the working of this law is not very encouraging. It should be clear to anyone who reads this audit of the working of this law that bureaucrats are out to sabotage the RTI Act. Having failed to prevent the passage of this law, the bureaucracy, which thrives on secrecy, is obviously finding its own devious ways to prevent its implementation. The ARC has rightly drawn attention to the fact that the effective implementation of the RTI Act will depend on the institutions created under this law and "early traditions and practices". On current reckoning the working of the commissions and the early traditions that are visible in the implementation of this law are rather disappointing. The Second ARC has made a number of recommendations. Among them are: Repeal of the Official Secrets Act, 1923, and introduction of provisions relating to official secrets in the National Security Act; dispensing with the oath of secrecy administered to Ministers; bringing in non-bureaucrats as Information Commissioners, amendment of The Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules and the Manual of Office Procedure and amendment of Section 123 in the Indian Evidence Act. It has also suggested suitable legislation to protect whistleblowers and constitution of a national coordination committee to oversee the enforcement of RTI. The commission has said that "illiberal and draconian provisions", as contained in the Official Secrets Act, clearly bred a culture of secrecy. Therefore, the Act in its current form in the statute books is an anachronism and must be repealed. The commission has said that all laws relating to national security should be consolidated and added by way of a new chapter to the National Security Act. Similarly, the civil service rules and the manual dealing with office procedure need to be amended and brought in line with the spirit of the RTI Act. Another important recommendation of the ARC that needs to be implemented at the earliest in the light of available evidence about the working of the Central and State Information Commissions relates to the composition of these commissions. The RTI Act visualises a commission comprising of members from different professions and backgrounds. But when the ARC analysed the composition of State Information Commissions, it found a preponderance of persons from the civil services. The commission has said that these information commissions should have persons drawn from the civil services, but "to inspire public confidence" it is desirable that the commissions have a large proportion of members with non-civil services background. It has said that the rules framed under the Act must state that at least half the members of information commissions do not belong to the civil services. The commission is telling us something we always suspected. The IAS first resisted the RTI Act. But once the Act went through, the IAS simply packed the Information Commissions with those from the services so that the most significant propositions of this revolutionary law are neutralised at the implementation stage. The Union Government must take note of the recommendations of the ARC and the opinion of pioneers of public interest law like Mr Gonsalves and act now if it wants to ensure that the spirit of RTI is not prematurely snuffed out by a cunning and self-serving bureaucracy. The Pioneer > Columnists
  8. ganpat1956

    Ontario secrecy provision nixed

    The Ontario Court of Appeal struck a historic blow for freedom of information Friday, ruling that government officials cannot simply suppress information about a notorious Ontario murder case without first considering the public interest in its release. Ignoring the virtues of open, informed debate seriously damages the reputation of the justice system “and places us back to an era where government secrecy was the norm, and disclosure was at the whim of the minister,” a 2-1 majority said. The ruling will likely force the province to hand over an internal Ontario Provincial Police report into the botched prosecution of two men who were acquitted in the execution-style murder of gangster Domenic Racco in 1983. Ontario's Information and Privacy Commissioner, Ann Cavoukian, said in an interview Friday that she was “delighted” by the ruling. “It is a wonderful day for openness and transparency. The manacles are off.” Lawyer Frank Addario, a spokesman for the group that won Friday's case – the Criminal Lawyers Association – expressed optimism that the province will accept its loss with dignity. “This is the first time that a secrecy provision in FOI legislation has been successfully attacked in North America,” Mr. Addario said. “There has always been a big gap between the promise of FOI laws and their delivery; a gap that is nursed by governments that think they own the information. I hope the government will take the high road, decline to appeal, and start working on a new approach to public access to information.” The case has run a long and circuitous course. In 1997, Graham Court and Denis Monaghan were acquitted of murdering Mr. Racco based on police misconduct and Crown non-disclosure of evidence. In a terse, one-paragraph release, the OPP later exonerated the police of any wrongdoing. However, the force refused to release its 318-page decision, relying on special FOI exemptions invoking law enforcement and solicitor-client privilege. CLA lawyers David Stratas, Brad Elberg and Trevor Guy – with help from the Canadian Newspaper Association – challenged the provisions that were used to suppress the report. While the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario responded to their request by saying that there was a clear public interest in releasing the report, the office lacked the power to override the province and force it to hand it over. In Friday's majority ruling, Mr. Justice Harry LaForme and Madam Justice Jean McFarland said that public debate involving a notorious criminal case is a form of “expressive activity” that must clearly be given protection under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They rejected government arguments that opening up a so-called “public interest override” provision will lead to a costly and disruptive flood of litigation from individuals and media organizations. However, in a toughly written dissent, Mr. Justice Russell Juriansz said it was altogether too presumptuous for judges to read constitutional guarantees into legislation where parliamentarians specifically refused to do so. “It would be a ‘very big step' for the courts to interpret the Charter as guaranteeing a right of access to government information where such a right was proposed, considered and rejected by Canada's parliamentary representatives,” he said. globeandmail.com: Ontario secrecy provision nixed
  9. News I read from The Cronicle Herald.ca about Nosa Scotia Province Freedom of Information implimentation. ======================= Better, but far from perfect Province has gotten better, but N.S. charges highest fees for public info By DARCE FARDY Or as Alasdair Roberts, an expert in Canadian freedom of information legislation, and professor at Syracuse University, puts it: "Politicians and bureaucrats are not going to give up power easily. Given the opportunity they will try to reclaim it." Outgoing federal information commissioner John Reid was upset by a decision of the new Conservative government to stall on an election promise to introduce a much stronger Access to Information Act. He wonders whether the government’s plans were "simply hijacked by bureaucrats who saw their culture of secrecy threatened for the first time in decades." I have concluded, after 11 years as Nova Scotia’s independent review officer under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and after nine months as the president of the Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia, that things will not change as long as citizens give no indication they care. The evidence is that they don’t, at least not in significant numbers. Let me make it clear this is not a partisan issue. Information commissioners across the country do not expect, nor do they see, any improvement in access when a government changes, even when members of the new government, while in opposition, stood four-square in support of access to information legislation and often criticized the party in power for its lack of transparency. I also want to say that the situation in this province does not match the one faced by the federal information commissioner. Nova Scotia has one of the best freedom of information acts in the country. It is the only legislation that requires governments and other public bodies to be "fully accountable" to the public; the act covers all government departments and agencies with rare exception; cabinet records are subject to requests and the records are made available to the review officer in their entirety during a review of a government decision; all municipalities, universities, colleges, school boards and hospitals in the province are subject to freedom of information legislation. Recently a provincial cabinet minister appeared at a public forum to discuss transparency and accountability in government and to face a critical public. Mark Parent, minister of the Environment and Labour, accepted my invitation to join a panel with other politicians. He answered questions, replied to criticism and stayed until the forum was over. I suspect there was no lineup of ministers wanting to appear in his stead. For some years now, the deputy minister of Justice, whose department is responsible to the legislature for the Freedom of Information Act, has appeared publicly to explain and defend the legislation. To my knowledge, no other minister has done what Mr. Parent did and no senior bureaucrat has followed deputy minister Doug Keefe’s example. Many of the employees who handle applications under the act for government departments have improved their approach significantly. I said in public recently that some of them are now "advocates of access to information" though I suspect many of them would like more support from their bosses. A recent audit by the Canadian Newspaper Association placed Nova Scotia fourth among the 10 provinces for its willingness to provide information on selected applications. Nova Scotia scored 89 per cent. Eight out of nine applications to different public bodies were met. The provinces ahead of Nova Scotia scored 100 per cent compliance. In a similar audit last year, Nova Scotia placed last in the country. Applicants for information from public bodies can now look for support in some 28 Nova Scotia court rulings brought down since the existing legislation was passed in 1995. All but one came down firmly on the side of providing the information or most of the information requested. So much for the good news. Nova Scotia has the highest freedom of information "user fees" in the country, inhibiting access to information from public bodies. I heard no good explanation for the substantial increase in fees five years ago from $5 for an application and no charge for a request for review by the Review Officer, to $25 for each step. I did not buy into the reason made public: that it would stop frivolous applications. In my experience frivolous requests were rare, and these fees do stop genuine applications. Revenue gathered from these fees is negligible. The government estimates that the act costs $1 million a year but this is likely a rough estimate. However, we can’t expect that this important program, like any other, can be done at no cost. It is money well spent. Whatever the true cost of administering this act, the government has been slow to give its administrators the resources to allow them to get out among the public to explain to people how and why they should take advantage of their fundamental rights to information from public bodies. As far as I know no government in Canada has claimed, as Sweden has, that its freedom of information legislation has made government more efficient. Freedom-of-information legislation no doubt has promoted efficiency because public bodies would require proper records-keeping in order to meet their obligations under the act. The establishment of the Review Office reveals that the government at the time appeared to have no idea what resources would be required. Hence no budget was provided. The government believed that a "part-time" review officer working a few days a month could handle "rare" appeals from the public. In my first year in the job I received 54 appeals, increasing in significant numbers each year until the fees were increased. Working alone at the time I found myself coming to the office six and sometimes seven days a week. It took government several years to admit that the job required a full-time review officer and changed the legislation to confirm this. Only then was a budget applied to allow me to hire two staffers. Nova Scotia’s Review Office had a staff of three before I retired. The freedom of information review office in Manitoba, a province of comparable population, had a staff of 15. While the budget for the Review Office was increased over the years, this increase was hardly commensurate with the amount of work required by the office and left precious little to allow for public education. The government’s lack of attention to the Review Office is further reflected in its failure to appoint a new review officer. An acting review officer has been filling in for 10 months. As far as other public bodies are concerned, many municipalities have not yet embraced their obligation to be open and transparent in their decision making. Some are unfamiliar with the legislation. Few feel obliged to share their deliberations with the people who put them in office. Apparently these municipal councils believe they work more efficiently if they don’t involve the public. It no doubt hasn’t occurred to them that citizens might have some good ideas worth considering. Nova Scotia’s school boards have refused the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies student information that was provided by the other three Atlantic Provinces. The Halifax Regional School Board has warranted public scrutiny several times recently and, one would hope, would be anxious to demonstrate its openness and accountability. School boards’ decisions, after all, have a tremendous impact on children, parents and, probably, grandparents. We need to know more about the reasons behind information supporting the decisions made by these boards. The committee organizing the Commonwealth Games may be losing public support by its reluctance or inability to provide enough information to assuage the concerns of those who fear the Games are going to lay too heavy a financial burden on the taxpayer. Even though I’m a supporter of the Games, I believe the organizers may have been receiving poor advice. In too many municipalities, universities, hospitals and school boards, the culture of secrecy still prevails. Let me return to a point I made earlier: politicians and governments are unlikely to improve the legislation, including reducing user fees, if the public demonstrates no interest. A campaigning politician once told me that not a single constituent he met on hundreds of doorsteps ever mentioned freedom of information, transparency or accountability. There’s evidence that thousands of Nova Scotians are unaware of their rights under the Freedom of Information Act and few of those who are aware take the time to exercise these rights. Although the annual audit by the Canadian Newspaper Association is welcome to all advocates of "open government," journalists themselves, at least in this province, are not frequent users of the act. In some cases their editors and producers do not give journalists who are inclined to use it the time to do so. The public deserves better from the media. The rewards for an enterprising reporter can be significant and the results useful to all of us. Reporter Jeffrey Simpson’s recent articles on restaurant inspections in The Chronicle Herald attest to this. Enter the Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia. Our mission as a non-profit agency is to educate the public about their rights to information and to advocate transparency in public bodies. The deplorable voter turnouts in recent elections make it clear that not enough Nova Scotians are engaged in the political process. This can’t be in anyone’s best interest. The coalition believes the Freedom of Information Act is an important avenue to take to create a better informed electorate. The members of the board of the coalition were encouraged by the turnout and vigorous debate at a recent forum at King’s College. We intend to continue our efforts and expand on them when we acquire the necessary funding.
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