RTI law mutilated – ARVIND KEJRIWAL
Posted by rtiact2005 on July 24, 2006
Let’s put aside for now the fact that ‘certain’ file notings have been kept out of the purview of Right to Information Act, 2005. A look at the orders passed by the Central Information Commission (CIC) would make one believe that the RTI law was amended, rather mutilated, quite sometime back.
A few examples serve to provide a disturbing insight into the workings of our new information law. Petrol pump allotments are mired in corruption. Manish Dyaneshwar applied for a petrol pump. He did not get it.
Under RTI Act, he asked for copies of all applications and marks given by interview board to each applicant. CIC ruled that such information could not be provided, as it would violate the applicants’ privacy.
Tapas Dutta wanted a copy of the minutes of a meeting of a departmental promotion committee in a government department. CIC ruled that the minutes could not be made public, as that would violate the privacy of candidates.
A government officer faced corruption charges. Ravi Kumar wanted to know whether the government proposed to take any action against that officer. CIC denied him this information. A government officer was found medically unfit for a job.
He was nevertheless issued an appointment letter. Someone asked for a copy of the medical report. CIC turned down the plea, saying this would violate his privacy.
I applied for inspection of files through which AIIMS decided to introduce user charges, thus making treatment so expensive that it became out of bounds for the poor. CIC disposed of my case without providing this information.
I was not even provided an opportunity to present my case. In a bizarre judgment, CIC ruled that one could not ask for information which can be replied in the form of a yes or no.
In another case, the commission ruled that you cannot ask any questions which started with why, when, whether. One does not find such provisions in the RTI Act.
In one case, CIC said that the expected benefits from disclosure of information should invariably outweigh the costs of providing it. This is not written anywhere in the Act. Besides, on what machinery or expertise does CIC have to do a cost-benefit analysis?
These judgments are in violation of the RTI Act. Those who have attended hearings at the CIC would vouch that while hearing any case, it desperately hunts for a clause under which it can deny information.
Interestingly, people were obtaining all this information under state RTI laws. Nine state governments have their respective state information laws under which people obtain such information.
CIC is not empowered to change the concept and definition of information. If appointments and promotions cannot become transparent, one wonders what RTI is meant for. The problem does not lie with the Act.
The Indian law is said to be among the more progressive RTI laws enacted by more than 65 countries. The problem lies with its interpretation.
When former bureaucrats were appointed to the posts of information commissioners, doubts were raised about whether they would have the will and strength to make governance transparent. Our worst fears have been confirmed.
Information commissioners flout the basic principles of natural justice. Cases are disposed of without hearing the parties. A bank employee was witness to bogus building repair bills claimed by his headquarters.
He applied under RTI Act for a soft copy of the list of all repairs shown in the accounts. The commission called for the bank’s version and without hearing the applicant disposed of the case, denying information.
CIC did not give the applicant a chance to present his case. CIC disposes of half the cases without hearing the applicants. RTI rules clearly lay down that every applicant has to be heard before deciding his case.
CIC argues that since it is a quasi-judicial body, it is not bound by the principles of natural justice and, hence, need not hear applicants.
The problem is that the information commissioners, being former babus, were never in the habit of hearing out people before taking decisions. CIC, therefore, needs to be tamed.
The writer is with Parivartan, an NGO working on RTI issues.