The PMO Spin [NOTINGS and RTI Act 2005]
Posted by rtiact2005 on July 28, 2006
The recent decision of the Union Cabinet to bring about some changes in the Right to Information Act has evoked sharp criticism from some sections of the Press and civil society, particularly with respect to the issue of “file notings”. This criticism is largely misplaced since it is based on an incomplete knowledge of facts. The facts are as below:
While it is true that the RTI Act did not include any provision for full disclosure of “file notings” by officials, and inspite of a view expressed against such disclosure by various experts and officials, the UPA Government has remained committed to the principles of greater transparency and accountability in the public decision-making process. In view of this firm belief, the Union Cabinet had in fact approved last week an amendment to section 2 (i) (a) of the Act that specifically provides that file notings of all plans, schemes and programmes of the Government that relate to development and social issues shall be disclosed.
The disclosure of file notings on the most important and vast bulk of Government activities has now become possible for the first time. This was not possible before. It is thus not a case of retrogression. This is a positive step forward.
It may be clarified that only a small portion of file notings now remain exempted from disclosure. This is related to subjects that are already exempted under sub-Section (1) of Section 8 of the Act and to personnel-related matters like examination, assessment and evaluation for recruitment, disciplinary proceedings, etc.
The amendment recently approved by the Union Cabinet also vastly increases the role and responsibility of the Central and State Information Commissions which are independent authorities. So far, under the existing Right to Information Act, the main role of the Central and State Information Commissions has been to hear appeals. The amendments now approved will help to enhance the independence, autonomy and authority of the Commissions. These amendments include :
a) powers to the Commissions to take all necessary measures to promote the use of electronic record keeping and to facilitate effective disclosure of information as well as information management;
b) powers to make recommendations regarding effective implementation and monitoring mechanisms;
c) powers to make recommendations regarding systems and tools that need to be developed and deployed;
d) powers to make recommendations for development of guidelines, minimum requirements, proactive disclosure of information, methods of publication, etc.
It is thus clear that the implementation of the amendments approved by the Union Cabinet will make the Right to Information Act a more powerful tool for more transparent and just governance where the public will have increased access to information relating to not only the decisions taken but also how and why they are taken.
FAQ: Exempting File Notings From RTI
The activists are understandably angry and raging against the government move to exempt file notings from the Right to Information Act. Backgrounder.