Right to Information – Master key to good governance

Nodal Implementing Agency for RTI Act 2005 “DOPT” is going against Central Information Commission

Posted by rtiact2005 on July 25, 2006

DOPT needs to set an egamplle for others in all the departmenst to follow the Implementation of RTI Act 2005.

DOPT itself is going against the Implementation of RTI Act 2005.

DOPT is not following the orders of CIC. This does not set good egample for other departments.

DOPT has not done what it needs to do to Implement RTI Act 2005. Just issuing circulars to departments is not going to help. DOPT needs to make sure that all departments are following DOPT’s guidelines on RTI Act 2005.

 READ what ARUNA ROY has written about DOPT:

DOPT Derailing the RTI Act 2005 ? 

The Act defines information under Section 2(f) as “any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinion, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force.” This is conclusive and the law should have dictated official action. However, the Department of Personnel (DoPT) decided to use the FAQ (frequently asked questions) section on its web site to override the law. In response to the question, “What does information mean?” the web site quotes the whole of section 2(f) and then arbitrarily adds the words: “but does not include `file notings’ [S.2(f)].”

This could have been considered a misdemeanour of some junior official while drafting an FAQ — had it not been repeated in the manuals and FAQs issued by most State Governments. These FAQs and manuals have become the binding guide (at least in the matter of file notings) for officials responsible for providing information. Citizens across the country found their access to file notings allowed by law but overruled because of a departmental FAQ. Objections and reminders from citizens groups to the DoPT fell on deaf ears, and the matter was brought before the Central Information Commission in the form of an appeal. In its decision of January 31, 2006 in Satyapal vs. TCIL (ICPB/A1/2006), the Commission looked at “whether file notings fall within the exempted class”:

It held: “no file would be complete without note sheets having `file notings.’ In other words, note sheets containing `file notings’ are an integral part of a file. Sometimes, notings are made on the main file also, which obviously would be a part of the file itself. In terms of Section 2(i), a record includes a file and in terms of Section 2(j) right to information extends to accessibility to a record. Thus, a combined reading of Sections 2(f), (i) & (j) would indicate that a citizen has the right of access to a file of which the file notings are an integral part.”

And further: “Therefore, we are of the firm view that, in terms of the existing provisions of the RTI Act, a citizen has the right to seek information contained in `file notings’ unless the same relates to matters covered under Section 8 of the Act. Thus, the reliance of the CPIO, TCILO on the web site clarification of the Department of Personnel to deny the information on the basis that `file notings’ are exempted is misplaced.”

This should have settled the matter. The Information Commission is, by law, the final arbiter on matters of information. However, the Department of Personnel continued consistently to ignore the orders of the Central Information Commission. This startling sequence of events becomes clear from the July 13, 2006 order of the Commission in Pyare Lal vs. the Ministry of Railway:

“The Commission noted with serious concern that some public authorities were denying request for inspection of file notings and supply copies thereof to the applicants despite the fact that the RTI Act, 2005 does not exempt file notings from disclosure. The reason they were citing for non-disclosure of `file notings’ was the information posted on the DOPT website [www.righttoinformation.gov.in] to the effect that `information’ did not include file notings. Thus the DOPT website was creating a lot of unnecessary and avoidable confusion in the minds of the public authorities. The Commission had written to the Department of Personnel on 26th February, 27th March, 8th May and 26th May, 2006 for removing the restriction on `file notings’ from their website. The DOPT regrettably had not acted on the issue so far. The Commission hereby directs the Secretary, Ministry of Personnel & Public Grievances, in exercise of powers conferred on it under Section 19(8) of the Right to Information Act, 2005, to remove the instruction relating to non-disclosure of file notings from the website within 5 days of the issue of this order failing which the Commission shall be constrained to proceed against the Ministry of Personnel.”

The DoPT has not complied with this order passed by the Central Information Commission ten days ago to remove the file notings from the website. Could the order of July 13 have been the trigger of a sudden Cabinet decision? Section 8 caters to the often exaggerated concern about security, secrecy, and misuse of information for blackmail that has blocked and threatened the demand for transparency. It serves as an excuse for not being accountable. Even what is permissible under the law after the amendments will be under constant threat of denial. The recent campaign carried out by media and citizens groups in the `Drive against Bribe through the use of RTI’ offered many insights into the working of the Act. One revealing aspect is how the slightest ambiguity is used by the system to deny information.

2 Responses to “Nodal Implementing Agency for RTI Act 2005 “DOPT” is going against Central Information Commission”

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