Not enough, Mr Moily – RTI needs more vigorous defence
Posted by rtiact2005 on August 20, 2006
|Not enough, Mr Moily|
The cautious balancing attempted by the Moily committee on administrative reforms is far behind public sentiment. The reference is to the Union Cabinet’s decision to exempt official file notings from the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. A sequel to the unease in governments at the rising use by citizens of the access given by RTI to this vital aspect of decision-making, the move appears blocked for the time being. Entirely due to the political class hurrying to come to terms with the mobilisation of public opinion against the retrograde decision. Till campaigners in this regard such as Anna Hazare and Aruna Roy knit the public feeling into a visible sentiment that shamed some of the less cynical of our political figures—none of whom had spoken up till this development—the change seemed a given. Now, with first the Left parties and then the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, advising a retreat, there is hope.
The Moily panel has now asked the government to replace the disclose-nothing provision of the Union government’s manual on office procedure, as it flatly contradicts the RTI. Good, if obvious; rules have to conform to law, not the reverse. It has also said that files and file notings should be barred from access only if so covered under Section 8(1) of the RTI. This is no reform: the section is already a page long, listing all the provisions on which to deny information. Their catch-all nature gives legal cover to deny almost anything controversial; it is partly due to more liberal appellate authorities, as with the Central Information Commission, that this has happened only partly. The Cabinet decision was to explicitly add file notings, with some exceptions, to this section, so the Moily suggestion doesn’t take us much ahead. We have a long way to go before the notion that citizens have a right to access the record for themselves isn’t regarded as quaint: compelling one variety of school textbooks is a variant of this attitude. The UPA government took a big step in enacting RTI; that process needs movement forward, not backwards or sideways. Momentum is important in reform.