Right to Information – Master key to good governance

PMO’s claims on RTI misleading: Aruna Roy

Posted by rtiact2005 on July 28, 2006

PMO’s claims on RTI misleading: Aruna Roy


Posted online: Friday, July 28, 2006 at 0000 hrs IST

Notings, once more. The controversy over if the RTI Act should incorporate file notings under its ambit or not, refuses to die down.

An Information Commissioner, OP Kejriwal told The Indian Express that removing file notings from the ambit of the Act would ‘‘take away the life of the Act’’, as well as weaken it. He said he was concerned that the government ‘‘did not even find it necessary to consult guardians of the RTI Act, not just in the Centre, but in the states before taking such a step to restrict access’’. Kejriwal said he had written to the PM, even before the decision was taken to exclude most file notings from the Act, and requested him to not go through with it.

On Wednesday, the PMO had issued an elaborate explanation, stating this was not a case of retrogression, but a positive step. But, Aruna Roy, former NAC member and leading activist in the Right to Information crusade, has hit out at the government saying the PMO’s claims were ‘‘deliberately misleading’’. Roy argues that while the government is now saying that allowing access to file notings, even if restricted to those files which have social and developmental plans, is a landmark step, it is actually a curtailment of what the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) of India had interpreted ‘‘information’’ to mean, as early as January 31 this year.

Section 2 of the RTI Act sets out ‘‘information’’ to also include ‘opinions and advice’ and according to the CIC (as stated while ruling in a matter in January) this covers file notings wherever relevant. The ruling by the Commission had then said, ‘‘a combined reading of Section 2(f), (i) and (j) would indicate that a citizen has the right of access to a file of which file notings are an integral part. We are of the view that in terms of the existing provisions of the RTI Act, a citizen has the right to seek information contained in the ‘file notings’ unless the same relates to matters covered under Section 8 of the Act.’’ The section draws the line on areas where the RTI Act would not be operational.

Roy says that while the original Act allows notings to be accessed, the PM’s directive in December last and then the recent Cabinet decision to only bring social or developmental plan related file notings under the RTI is a way of curtailing rights.

Interestingly, the Department of Personnel and Training, said to be the nodal department for the RTI Act, has consistently maintained in the FAQs section of its website that file notings are exempt from the law. This is something that RTI activists are calling illegal.

Roy went on to say that notings were being deliberately held back ‘‘because it is a well known fact that postings and appointments in the government are done mainly on the basis of patronage and influence and the government does not want to give up its privilege to continue functioning arbitrarily and secretively’’.

Meanwhile, bureaucrats argue that government officials, who at present feel confident about writing down their comments on deals and agreements, would lose that liberty if their notings were also to come under the RTI Act. Some bureaucrats have also made the case that a lot of people are misusing the RTI Act for partisan and personal reasons and not in public interest.

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