Right to Information – Master key to good governance

Official file notings to be exempted from RTI Act

Posted by rtiact2005 on July 22, 2006

Official file notings to be exempted from RTI Act
New Delhi | July 20, 2006 6:47:30 PM IST




The Union Cabinet today approved introducing in the Monsoon Session of Parliament an amendment exempting file notings of officials from the Right to Information Act, a step described as retrograde by the right to information campaigners.

The government’s decision comes just days after a countrywide campaign to popularise the RTI ended.

The Act, if amended, will allow the public access to only file notings in developmental and social issues through the right to information.

Aruna Roy, the prime mover of the right to information campaign, said the decision was a setback.

”This is completely unreasonable and unwarranted. The Act has been in force for six months now and every single appeal has been judiciously dealt with. There could be no problems in Section 8.” She said the government would take advantage of the Amendment to hide all the necessary notings critical in forming policy and taking decisions.

The basis for transparency and disclosure, which was corruption in government, will now be eroded, she added.

Earlier, announcing the decision after the Cabinet meeting, Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, however, said the amendments, to be introduced in the Act, would remove the ambiguities and make the provisions of the Act effective and progressive.



One Response to “Official file notings to be exempted from RTI Act”

  1. P.K. Aditya, Chandigarh said

    Proposed Amendment of the RTI Act.

    The Union Government has said in connection with a decision of the Cabinet, on July 20, 2006, to amend the RTI Act, that it would introduce proposed amendment in the coming monsoon session, to exempt file noting of officials from the purview of the RTI Act. There is elsewhere mention of exempting file notings only in “few areas”. Unless the said “few areas” are carefully decided and announced, it might not be fair to comment in a general manner. One thing is certain, that if all type of notings are debarred from disclosure, it would be highly retrograde and against spirit of the Right to Information, of citizens, a problem which is not something new but has been a perpetual see-saw between bureaucracy and citizens, for several decades. The Government would not have a smooth sail in the face of established position of law as enunciated by the Supreme Court from time to time.

    There are abundant rulings on the matter of Government claiming privilege to not disclose such information as it perceives, that would injure public interest. Premier among these is the very well known Judges Transfer Case, namely S.P.Gupta vs.UOI of 1982, running into hundreds of pages in law journals. In this case documents for disclosure of which the government claimed privilege were studied in the chamber by the Court, but claim of privilege was rejected. Among many gems of words, quoted therein are statements of Justice Bhagwati, such as that: “In a democracy, citizens ought to know what their government is doing”; and that: “disclosure of information in regard to functioning of the government must be the rule and secrecy an exception, justified only where the strictest requirement of public interest so demands”. The Learned Judge further observed that: “whatever may be nature of the document, it must stand the scrutiny of the Court with reference to one and only one test, namely what does public interest require . . . disclosure or non-disclosure . . . . and this exercise has to be performed in the context of democratic ideal of an open agreement. This was over two decades ago. Is the position of the citizen any better, or worse, after introduction of the highly articulated RTI Act, 2005.

    Undoubtedly there are such affairs of State as involve sovereignty, integrity and security of the nation, or relationship with foreign States, or strategic/ scientific/ economic interests of the State as well as commercial-interests, trade-secrets or intellectual property-rights affecting competitive position of third parties, etc., where public interest would obviously require that disclosure should not be the norm. The RTI Act contains in its section 8(1) (a) to (j), exemptions from disclosure of information, clearly specifying various categories of information, regarding which there is no obligation to give information to the citizen, except when under sec.8(2), the public authority may decide otherwise, even in said cases. For instance, sec.8(1)(i) deals with the highest level official matter, such as “Cabinet Papers, including deliberations of the Council of Ministers, Secretaries and other Officers”, which have been ordained to be not disclosed, BUT, with proviso, that: “the decisions of the Council of Ministers, the reasons thereof, and the material on the basis of which the decisions were taken shall be made public, after the decision has been taken, and the matter is complete or over”. These lines are known to have resulted partly from the Doypack vs UOI decision of the Apex Court of 1988 and partly from the RKJain Vs. UOI of 1993 observations. The one thing that the Government can safely do is to carefully, and sincerely, enlist such matters as are given in section 8 of RTI Act, and make necessary tinkering, either way, here and there, to define areas in which ‘file notings’ by high level bureaucrats can be exempted. There should be no question of excluding routine notings by clerks/ assistants/ and the like, going up and down through various officers, dealing with mundane official files, concerning non-sensitive, non-strategic matters unlike those mentioned in section 8 of the RTI. Before doing so the Government must undo the grave injustice done by the DOPT through en masse exclusion of all type of ‘file notings’, through surreptitious alteration done on the official websites of the Government, in the definition of ‘information’ without any force of law and without adopting procedure laid down under the RTI Act.

    As Aruna Roy, the force and spirit behind the RTI movement along with NCPRI and NAC, has concluded in a very well written article published in the Indian Express on July 22, 2006, there can be no doubt that: “The powers that be can be sure that they will face a relentless battle and this time the people will be stronger than before”.

    P.K. Aditya, Chandigarh

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: