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Atul Patankar

As reported by Rashme Sehgal at The Asian Age on 30 July, 2009

 

July 29: The UPA government is planning to bring in a proposed controversial amendment to the Right to Information Act in the current session of Parliament.

The proposed amendment is aimed at deleting "file notings" which many in the government believe were never part of the RTI Act as passed by Parliament.

The ministry of personnel is reported to have readied the amendment and a stronger UPA government is confident it will be able to get it passed.

Senior sources in the law ministry point out that details of the amendment have not reached them. But activists monitoring the RTI assert that past precedent has shown that the government often prefers to hold "informal consultations" around a controversial draft and then introduce it quietly in Parliament.

Minister of state for personnel and public grievances Prithviraj Chavan’s recent statement in Parliament last week that the government does indeed plan to amend the act has further confirmed the misgivings of different civil society organisations.

Mr Chavan had said in a written reply, "It is proposed to review the number of organisations in the second schedule to the RTI Act 2005 and make rules for more disclosures of information by public authorities."

Shekhar Singh of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, who is closely associated with bringing out an independent report monitoring the functioning of RTI along with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the Centre for Studies of Developing Societies, believes the pressure to amend the act has come from both MPs and bureaucrats.

He believes several parliamentarians had during a parliamentary committee meeting expressed dissatisfaction at the functioning of the act.

"While speaking before a parliamentary committee, many MPs claimed they were upset at their inability to access information pertaining to the functioning of state legislatures. Nor, under the act, can Member of Parliament access information pertaining to an individual officer," Mr Singh pointed out.

The bureaucracy has also expressed dissatisfaction on some key aspects of the act. Their point of view was reinforced by the recent findings of the Administrative Reforms Commission report which has complained against increasing numbers of applications being of a "vexatious" and "frivolous" nature.

Mr Singh refutes that the large number of applications have overstretched the public information officers (PIOs).

"The deluge of RTIs is restricted to only a few ministries. On an average, 70 per cent of the 72 PIOs that have been appointed have received only 10 applications in their concerned department," he said.

"Rather than sit down and analyse what are the bottlenecks in each department and ironing those out, a blanket ban on file notings will not resolve the issue," Mr Shekhar Singh added.

A similar exercise was proposed in 2006 but was kept in abeyance when Congress president Sonia Gandhi is believed to have advised the government that there should be wider consultations among the stakeholders to allow the controversy over the file noting provisions to be sorted out.

Sources in the ministry of personnel however maintain that neither the group of ministers nor the parliamentary standing committee had intended to include the words "file notings" in the definition of "information" given in Section 2(f).

Central Information Commissioner O.P. Kejriwal says, "Information minus the notings amounts to taking the life out of the RTI Act."

 

 

Source: The Asian Age - Enjoy the difference

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