Right2Information

Right to Information – Master key to good governance

Comments by P. K. Aditya, Chandigarh on RTI Act 2005 Proposed Amendment

Posted by rtiact2005 on July 23, 2006

P.K. Aditya, Chandigarh | premaditya@gmail.com | Jul 23, 6:27 PM

“Cabinet OKs, Sonia not happy”


Shrimati Gandhi is rightly concerned because of her direct association with this matter when deliberated by the National Advisory Council, under her Chairmanship. As Congress President she could not be happy to see one of the prominent achievements of her party, to see the Act through, as lost. The statement that “coalition compulsions” have any role in this turning-back, would not be correct. It is merely the executive overpowering the legislature, through its mouth-piece, the Department of Personnel and Training (DOPT), which had even before the RTI Act came into full force on October 12, 2005, announced on the website of the Personnel Ministry that ‘information’ as defined under sec.2(f) of the RTI Act “does not include file notings”. It is for any one to see that the Prime Minister had instructed the DOPT, as mentioned in the December 1, 2005 press-release, to “incorporate certain changes in the Rules under the Right to Information Act, 2005 in consultation with the Ministry of Justice”. The changes were said to pertain to disclosure of file notings under the Right to Information Act, whereby “substantive file notings on plans, schemes, programmes and projects of the Government, that relate to development and social issues may be disclosed, except those protected by the exemption clauses u/s 8(1) (a) to (j) of the Act.


What the DOPT did was to stick to its own interpolation/ interpretation and let remain the blanket ban on all type of file notings, from disclosure, even going to the length of issuing Office Memos to other Ministries and Departments that: “any request for inspection/ copies of file notings may not be acceded to”. Going much further, the DOPT chose to ignore even the decision taken by the legally empowered Central Information Commission, in the well known Satyapaul vs. TCIL case, dated January 31, 2006, clearly known to be at variance with the interpretation of the DOPT, and also duly communicated by the Commission to the DOPT. It is for the Prime Minister and the Government to see how a Department envisaged to implement the Act can be disobedient to proper instructions on the matter, as well as ignore the legal sanctity of the prescribed authority under the RTI Act. It is time that the Government does some damage control and order immediate removal of the obnoxious interpolatrion/ interpretaion done by the DOPT. If this is not done, the Government might face fait accompalie, by asking Parliament to do what has already been done on the official websites of the Department of Personnel, Government of India.

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P.K. Aditya, Chandigarh | premaditya@gmail.com | Jul 23, 6:13 PM

“Sonia unhappy with blow to RTI ?”

Shrimati Gandhi is rightly concerned because of her direct association with matters of RTI, duly deliberated by the National Advisory Council, under her Chairmanship. As Congress President she could not be happy to see one of the prominent achievements of her party, to see the Act through, as lost. The statement that “coalition compulsions” have any role in this turning-back, would not be correct. It is merely the executive overpowering the legislature, through its mouth-piece, the Department of Personnel and Training (DOPT), which had even before the RTI Act came into full force on October 12, 2005, announced on the website of the Personnel Ministry that ‘information’ as defined under sec.2(f) of the RTI Act “does not include file notings”. Not only this. It is for any one to see that the Prime Minister had instructed the DOPT, as mentioned in the December 1, 2005 press-release, to “incorporate certain changes in the Rules under the Right to Information Act, 2005 in consultation with the Ministry of Justice”. The changes clearly pertain to disclosure of file notings under the Right to Information Act, whereby “substantive file notings on plans, schemes, programmes and projects of the Government, that relate to development and social issues may be disclosed, except those protected by the exemption clauses u/s 8(1) (a) to (j) of the Act. That the PM wanted discloure in certain cases does not at all mean that he intended en masse exclusion of all type of notings to continue, as done by the DOPT.

That heart and soul of the Act remains preserved is fartest from truth. File-noting by the very nature of it is heart of a file. Without it the file itself is dead. No head or tail can be made of documents in the file.

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P.K. Aditya, Chandigarh | premaditya@gmail.com |

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 .,Jul 23, 5:44 PM

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P.K. Aditya, Chandigarh | premaditya@gmail.com |

“ The RTI Cauldron

The heading on the front page of your esteemed paper, on July 21, 2006: “No right to know govt file notings”, seems no more than reiteration by the Union Cabinet, of a press-release issued by the Prime Minister’s Office, on December 1, 2005, entitled: “PM initiates change in RTI Rules to enable disclosure of notings”. That the title of the said press-release indicated intention of the PM “to enable disclosure of notings”, rather than debar it, and that the decision now of the cabinet is meant to “exclude notings made by officials on files related to a few areas”, may not be read to mean, at their face value, that all type of file notings are being barred from disclosure. The real culprit is the Department of Personnel which surreptitiously amended the RTI Act to the extent of excluding all type of file notings from the definition of ‘information’. In fact ‘file notings’, by themselves, are not such a ‘category’ as other constituents in the definition of ‘information’ in section 2(f) of the RTI Act. As long as the said “few areas” entail primarily the sensitive matters already exempted under section 8 of the RTI Act, or may be a clarification regarding ‘some more’, from disclosure, it should not matter if ‘file notings’ related to all these are exempted from disclosure.

If the Government does propose to the Parliament to make an amendment in the Act to debar disclosure of all type of ‘file notings’, irrespective of sensitivity of the subject matter, apart from those defined under section 8 of the RTI Act, 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”, as Aruna Roy jointly with Nikhil Dey has concluded in her article published in the Indian Express on July 22, 2006.

P.K. Aditya, Chandigarh.” ., Jul 23, 4:41 PM

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P.K. Aditya, Chandigarh | premaditya@gmail.com |

There seems to be a little misunderstanding regarding Cabinet having approved amendment of the RTI Act. An Act does not get amended if the Cabinet decides that it should be amended. What it implies is that the Government proposes to initiate due process of amendment, namely present the proposed amended version before both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, in the form of a Bill. It may alternatively introduce the amendment by way of an Ordinance, under prescribed procedure.

There is yet another aspect of the ‘amendment’. It deserves to be noted that under the proposed amendment file notings would be excluded in case of files related to “few areas”. What these areas are has not yet been clarified. It would worth while to get a list of these ‘areas’ from the CPIO of the Ministry of Parliamentry Affairs. For instance, if these areas are more or less identical to sensitive areas listed in section 8 of the Act, this would hardly mean any amendment at all. If uncalled for areas are included, these can be questioned when the Bill is introduced in Parliament.

The main matter of concern should be not this decision of the Cabinet, to exclude ‘few areas’, but that the Department of Personnel and Training had blatantly altered the definition of ‘information’ by excluding all sort of file notings from the purview of the RTI Act, and not made any correction in spite of the CIC having decided to the contrary in the well known Satyapaul vs. TCIL case, dated January 31, 2006, and relied upon in two morw cases in May 2006. DOPT should be made the target and all possible efforts made to force DOPT to revert to the original definition of ‘information’ till such time that the Act is modified in a legal manner.

I would even suggest that a special button should be named “DOPT” on this website and viewers encouraged to give their views with regard to the highhandedness of the DOPT.

P.K. Aditya, Chandigarh .,, Jul 23, 4:24 PM

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