Right to Information – Master key to good governance

Archive for the ‘RTI Comments’ Category

Amendment will weaken RTI Act-The Shillong Times, aug 17, 2006

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 18, 2006

Amendment will weaken RTI Act By Our Reporter

SHILLONG: The Meghalaya Right to Information Movement (MRIM), in tune with the All India Right to Information Movement, will continue its protest against the proposed move by the UPA government to amend the Right to Information Act. The Left parties are also backing the Movement in their opposition to the amendment.

Addressing a press conference after attending the a protest rally in New Delhi in protest against the RTI amendment move on Thursday, MRIM member, Tarun Bharatiya said though the Cabinet had passed a resolution in favour of RTI amendment, no Bill had yet been tabled in the Parliament in this regard. The protest will continue until September 24.

He also wondered as to why the same government, under which tenure the Act was passed in 2005, was trying to amend the Act. “In the past, an Act passed under any government’s term was amended only after a change in power; but in this case, the same government wanted to amend the Act,” he said.

The clause mentioning “file notings”, which the UPA government wanted to exempt from the Act except in some social development issues, is against the people’s interest and it would weaken the Act, he warned. “File notings” are the list of facts based on which any particular decision is made by an office or a department.

“If an RTI mover is denied information on the ‘file notings’ then he would be in dark about the background of any official decision,” Mr Bharatiya said adding that by going through the “file notings” corruption by an official could be unearthed.

Giving an example as what may happen if “file notings” is exempted from the RTI Act, he said in case of the amendment, an examinee applying for a recheck of the copies of either academic or competitive examinations would be denied access to the answer scripts.

Besides, the proposed amendment would dilute the power of the Central and State Information Commission, he said. “Decision of the government will be final to impose fine upon any officer failing to provide information sought by an individual and neither the Central nor the State Information Commission would have any say on the matter,” he said.

Alleging that corrupt bureaucrats exposed through use of the Act are behind the proposal for amendment, he said, “Honest bureaucrats, on the other hand, do not want the amendment as they can defend themselves through the ‘file notings'”.

Mr. Bharatiya also urged the MPs of the region not to support the amendment move.


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Addressing the digital underside :: There is enormous ignorance about the dangers from misuse of digitised data and we need privacy polices and statutes to protect citizens

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 14, 2006

Addressing the digital underside


Sucheta Dalal

 A happy discovery of Indian business and industry is the speed with which customers are willing to adapt to technology. KV Kamath, CEO of India’s second largest bank says that Internet usage among its customers has shown a dramatic rise from 4% in the year 2000 to nearly 20% in 2006.While the increase in Internet usage has several positive benefits, including speed of transaction and reduction in costs, there is a price to be paid in terms of increased security threat. The underworld of Net-savvy criminals love to target financial institutions that have a large customer base in order to maximise the chance of a successful hit. So ICICI Bank, like all large financial organisations, has an entire team working round the clock on Internet security and to catch e-crime early enough to avoid serious damage. From hacking to phishing to cloning ICICI’s website, it has faced it all. Today, its call centre executives are trained to sound an alert as soon as they get three calls with an ‘unusual’ complaint or query. A corollary to such high Internet usage is growing concern about privacy issues and protection from identity theft.

Financial institutions, including banks, credit card companies and insurers, as well as government agencies such as depositories, tax authorities, hospitals, telephone companies and employers now sit on a vast amount of ‘personal identifiable information (PII)’ in digitised form. This information can be easily stolen by hackers, sold and forwarded by delinquent employees or misused by companies as part of their sales strategy. Similarly, databases such as the Credit Information Bureau of India Ltd (Cibil) store credit histories of individuals, which are freely shared among their institutional subscribers. But the individual cannot access, challenge or update the contents. With biometric information beginning to be stored digitally for PAN cards, voter identity cards or for trading on stock exchanges, the danger of identity theft becomes chillingly real and has nightmarish consequences.

The fact that technology makes it so easy to misuse personal information and encroach on a person’s privacy has triggered a debate over whether India’s privacy laws are adequate to protect people. One view is that there are provisions under different statutes, such as the Indian Contract Act, the Indian Penal Code, the IT Act, Consumer Protection Act and Special Relief Act, that deal with protection of the privacy guaranteed under Article 21 of our Constitution. The corporate strategy of articulating and publishing privacy policies or seeking customer approval (usually through a general check-box provision) for any future use of personal information is also considered adequate.

Others, including this writer, believe the right to privacy has to be clearly defined, delineated, protected and codified through statute so that affected individuals are not forced to clutch at inadequate provisions under different laws to prove their privacy has been violated and then hope that a judge or consumer court will concur with their claim. This is especially important with respect to government investigation and en-forcement ag- encies, that already tap telephones with impunity and even intercept personal e-mail communication on the slightest suspicion. While on the one hand it is important that these agencies have qu-ick access to information in times of increased terrorist threats, we need legislation to ensure officials are strictly liable if the information is misused or tampered with for harassment or extortion. We also need protection and proper recourse for victims of identity theft to be able to prove their innocence.


Digital privacy has to be clearly defined and codified so that affected individuals can readily find protection and redress

Would companies really want strict privacy laws? After all, neither government agencies nor private companies would be overly interested in legislation that could lead to higher compliance costs and bigger liabilities. Fortunately, Nasscom (National Association of Software and Service Companies) has opted to take the lead in “evolving a road map and creating an eco-system for privacy discussions in India.” It kicked off the process with a small study to check awareness about privacy issues as well as cultural aspects of privacy in India and followed it with an interesting, if inconclusive, discussion last week with IT experts, technology and e-commerce companies and a cross section of interests from various disciplines, including regulators.

At the end of the animated discussion, it seemed clear that a well-defined privacy law was imperative and overdue. More important, Nasscom is best placed to take the discussion forward because the composition of its membership ensures they are most acutely aware of the dangers and consequences of not having privacy protection. Nasscom will also be able to bring on board the experiences of its members in dealing with privacy legislation in other countries and to point out the lacunaa or loopholes that may exist elsewhere.

At the moment, Indians are embracing technology with open arms and low literacy has not been a bar to the use of ATMs or mobile phones in order to communicate or enhance business opportunities. This is evident from the exploding growth in telecom and Internet usage. Unfortunately, it is also accompanied by enormous ignorance and naivete about the dangers of digitised data when it is misused. That is why privacy protection demands from consumers were restricted to the creation of no-call directories. But we need a privacy policy and statute, especially to protect people who will remain unaware about the need for the statute until they become victims themselves.

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Exempting File Notings From RTI

Posted by rtiact2005 on July 28, 2006

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.
What is the proposed controversial ‘amendment’ to the Right to Information Act which has angered all the activists?Under the Right to Information (RTI) Act 2005, an Indian citizen can obtain ‘information’- in any available format- relating to any government decision or policy or activity -except what has been kept outside the purview by the Act itself. Under it, every public authority has the obligation to provide information and maintain records about its operations. On July 20, 2006, the Union Cabinet approved an Amendments Bill to the Right to Information Act, 2005 that would exclude notings made by officials on files related to all areas except social and development sector projects.

What are ‘file notings’?

Under the normal bureaucratic practice, the files/ records/ documents relating any government activity move from one individual government officer to another- both vertically and horizontally in the bureaucratic hierarchy- before a decision is reached or a policy is made. The government officers involved in any normal process can range from Lower Division Clerks to Secretary of a ministry to the Union Minister. Normally, each time a file or document changes hands within the bureaucratic system and hierarchy, the bureaucrat handling that file makes his written remarks/ observations / recommendations and gives his opinion. The final outcome of any government decision is based on and is decided by these observations/ recommendations /opinions or the ‘file notings’ by various government officer/s.

What is the status of the ‘file notings’ in the Right to Information Act?

Chapter 1 Section 2 para. (f) of the Right to Information Act defines ‘information’ as “any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, 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”. Though the Act makes no express provision on ‘file notings’, the RTI regulator, the Central Information Commission, ruled in January 2006 that, “a citizen has the right to seek information contained in file notings and no file (or information) would be complete without note-sheets having file notings” In short, ‘file notings’ are considered integral part of ‘information’ and, as the CIC stated, “file notings are not, as a matter of law, exempt from disclosure”.

What will be the impact on Right to Information Act if ‘file notings’ are exempted from disclosure?

If the ‘file noting’ are kept out of the reach of the citizens, then people will still be able to seek information about the government decisions, but will not be able to know how that decision was reached. It will mean that the information provided to the citizens by the government will be heavily ‘censored’ and will not contain the details of the various remarks/ opinions and logic or rationale or lack thereof employed by government officers and the process that was followed while taking a decision.

What is the reaction to this proposed amendment?

This is what people who have been closely associated with the campaign to enact and implement this law have to say:

Anna Hazare: People have the right to know about the decisions the government is taking, and every citizen has the
right to know, just as any student has the right to know what marks he has scored …

we are living in a democracy and people have every right to know what the bureaucrats and politicians are doing with our money….RTI has had a good effect in controlling corruption and by exempting file notings, there would be a disastrous effect on information on cabinet decisions …the Central government will damage the very soul of the right to information act if the proposal to change it gets the sanction… if the government does not take back its decision on file notings I will return my Padma Bushan. I expressed my wish to this effect to the President APJ Kalam but he has persuaded me not to do so for the time being. I am sending a memorandum to the prime minister and if there is no progress, I will return my award on Aug 9 near Rajghat.

Aruna Roy: Though a bit late, unfortunately they (the government) have understood the importance of the law and the way a common man can use it to get information and that is the reason they want to amend it. The government is so opaque that in spite of our appeals we have not been told about the exact decision taken by the cabinet last week. We are entitled to know the deliberations taking place before any decision is taken. Many a times, as a former civil servant, I have observed lack of logic while arriving at a particular decision.

The government has not furnished any reason on why they want to amend the RTI Act. It looks like a deliberate attempt to take away the teeth from its provisions. People have the right know why these amendments have been passed. The RTI Act is a widely used law. The government has understood what the RTI law means, and is frightened that all that happens behind the scenes will now be revealed. During the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament, we are going to stage a number of protests, dharnas, cyber campaigns and our signature campaign has already started in several states across the country. People have to lead the campaign.

Wajahat Habibullah, Chief Information Commissioner: “It is not our job to decide whether a law is good or not, our job is to implement the law. It is the job of Parliament to decide the merits of the law. Yes, in our deliberations, we had
come to the conclusion that file notings should not be exempt”.

OP Kejriwal, Central Information Commissioner: “Removing file notings will take the life out of the law. I hope that the
government steps in or Sonia Gandhi steps in to stop such a move”

What reasons has the government given for amending the RTI Act?

According to the Parliamentary Affairs Minister Priyaranjan Dasmunsi , the Union Cabinet has decided to amend the RTI Act to correct “certain ambiguities” and it is based of the objections raised by some government organisations such as UPSC who had objected that while decisions taken could be conveyed, the details and the process as to how the decisions were arrived at could not be: “Decisions can be conveyed, not in terms of details about what the Under Secretary or Joint Secretary wrote or what the Secretary disapproved.” The minister had also claimed that such exemptions also exist in the systems followed by the US, UK and Australia as well.

Incidentally, while giving his approval to the RTI Act in June 2005, President APJ Abdul Kalam, had emphasised that notings by bureaucrats on files should be privileged, otherwise it could affect the decision-making process. The logic being that the senior bureaucrats would be more interested in covering their backs rather than being forthright. In a communication to the Prime Minister, he had also suggested that the Act should not have a purview over communications between the Head of State and the Head of Government and that the documents emanating from the President’s secretariat were not not brought within the ambit of the Act.

Accordingly, in December 2005 (only a month after the RTI Act came into force), Prime Minister Manmohan Singh instructed the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) that ‘file notings’ relating to identifiable individuals, group of individuals, organizations, appointments, matters relating to inquiries and departmental proceedings, should not be disclosed. The current controversy does not cover any of these notings already exempt for reasons of national security and defence etc.The critics of the proposed amendment have accused the government for not furnishing any satisfactory reason as to why they want to amend the RTI Act – and they rightly demand the information under the Act itself! Coming under fire, the Prime Minister’s Office has come up with its own spin on the controversy (vide their release dated July 26, 2006 – please see The PMO Spin)

The PMO Spin [NOTINGS and RTI Act 2005]


Do other countries really follow the systems as the minister had claimed?

In a word, no. Under the US information law, there is an exemption for internal government communications from being disclosed, but the exemption is only for the period while decisions are in the process. Once a decision has been taken, all communications (equivalent to ‘file notings’) are available for public scrutiny as to the how and why of it. Likewise, in the UK, the Freedom of Information Act contains exemptions to the right of access in order to protect ” legitimate interests and sensitivities”. But not all of these exemptions are absolute, as some of them are ‘qualified’ in so far as they are subject to determination whether or not the said disclosure would be in public interest. In Australia, the abridgement to the right to information is allowed only when it can be established that non-disclosure is necessary for protection of essential public interest and private and business affairs of a person about whom information is sought. It should be noted that those exemptions are already covered in the Act itself and are not the subject of the current amendment.

What about the government’s specific claim: “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.”?

There are numerous cases hanging on in courts, Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) where bureaucrats and army officers are asking why there services were terminated or why they were transferred or why they were denied promotions. Proper information about such matters would be helpful not only for the public at large, but also those who are serving the government and possibly make the government machinery more transparent.

What about the government’s claim that “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”?

Much of the government work is still done through files on paper rather email communication between bureaucrats. Normally, ‘file notings’ are handwritten and are part of the related documents or records. Usually, the photocopies of original documents are provided to the person requesting them. So, even if there is a thrust to make the Information Commissions more IT savvy, how can absence of documents without copies of handwritten ‘file notings’ assure more transparency?

What are the other problems with the government spin?

(a) It acknowledges that the government has bowed to the pressure from businessmen-bureaucrat-ministers nexus lobby.

(b) Congress party spokesperson Jayanti Natarajan has tried arguing in the government’s defence that since notings related to ‘development and social issues’ are the predominat issues that concern the citizens and since these have not been exempted, there should not be any criticism as the aam-aadmi is not affected. Observers point out that (i) ‘development and social issues’ is an amorphous and vague term liable to be misused and more importantly (ii) all issues, for example, of corruption in defence deals concern the aam-aadmi because it is after all the tax-payer’s money that is at stake.

(c) Congress party spokespersons also quote from the release to say that since “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” there should not be any need for any hue and cry. Critics point out that the common person should have the right to know on what grounds people are promoted or not promoted and whether the assessments and evaluations are mala fide or not.

(d) Observers point out that it was only by using the information available from ‘file notings’ that the controversy relating to privatisation of water in Delhi had come to light. By denying such notings from being available, the government is clearly trying to protect vested interests.

When was the Right to Information implemented? What are its objectives?

The Right to Information was promised in the Common Minimum Programme of the UPA government and much of the related work was done the National Advisory Council (NAC), which was headed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi till March 2006. The Right to Information Act, 2005 was passed by the Parliament on 15 June 2006 and was given Presidential assent ten days later. The Act came into force on 12th October, 2005, except in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and some provisions like designation of Public Information Officers, constitution of Central and State Information Commissions, non-applicability of the Act to Intelligence and Security Organizations and power to make rules to carry out the provisions of the Act came into force with immediate effect .

The objectives of the Act is to set out a practical regime for the citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities and promote openness, transparency and accountability in the working of the government.


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Much ado about noting

Posted by rtiact2005 on July 28, 2006

Much ado about noting


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


In what would make screenplay writers of the BBC tele-serial Yes Minister (or Yes Prime Minister, in this case) envious, the government of India has scripted a magnificent episode as it went about this file notings business. It started with announcements in winter ‘allowing file notings to be accessed by the public’. Subsequently this monsoon it was seen to be disallowing it, and then on Thursday, it again attempted to get back some of its credibility on this by announcing that the cabinet had actually ’eased the access to notings’ in the latest decision taken before Parliament kicked off this week.

The tragedy — or the hilarity — of it all is that all of the government’s statements since December 1, 2005 on this notings business have been accurate, only, not in plain English, but babu-speak. It all began on December 1, 2005 with the Prime Minister’s office saying that the PM had issued “instructions” to the department of personnel and training to allow those file notings which relate to social and developmental plans to be public, ie to come under the RTI Act. Even then, the PM did add the expected caveats on restricting those notings that came under matters that were not to be covered under the RTI Act. Hosannas were received from civil society, activists and others whom the UPA has been very keen to please. The final attack on the steel frame had been mounted, it was thought.

But just as civil society and a hundred NGOs were partying and rubbing their hands in glee the babus in Lutyen’s North Block had different ideas. They kept their hands firmly on files, notings and all. They reasoned that the PM’s instructions actually meant an amending of the rules of the RTI Act, and that was not possible. After all, how could the sacrosanct RTI be fiddled about by mere bureaucrats? It had to ‘go to the people’; the act needed to be amended to clarify that certain notings would now be public. So began the attempts at making a cabinet note, and as the scriptwriters of Yes Prime Minister would testify, that would take at least eight months, would it not? So by the third week of July, that is, exactly seven months and three weeks after the top man in government had “instructed” the babus to do so, they finally had a note in place that was then approved by the cabinet.

The amendment proposed was exactly what the Doctor had ordered in December. It excluded certain areas (which the RTI Act itself tucks away in Section 8) and said access to notings would be on those matters which had social and developmental implications. But perhaps rattled by the number of queries under the RTI, and a hint that during the Gujarat riots, the correspondence between the then PM Vajpayee and the then President Narayanan could be on live TV, the way the government chose to phrase the decision that day was to say that the right to access notings was being restricted! But given the nature of the beast — civil society, lawyers, leading Gandhians, one and all who cared about free flow of information were up in arms. The cabinet barely eight months after the PM’s landmark ruling was taking away their rights.

Press conferences were held, and the government was strongly denounced for taking away the ‘soul’ and all that was right from the Right to Know. But when former member of the NAC the astute Aruna Roy pointed out that the DoPT website was very strange, “as they kept maintaining that the access to file notings was never there at all,” one had some discussions with bureaucrats on the absurdity of the time gone by, how on earth does it take eight months to convert a publicly stated PM directive into policy? Questions like these met with tedious attempts to explain the intricacies of law, notification, and finally the difficulties in the preparation of the Cabinet Note. This is the price of consultation required in a modern-day government in a democracy. How could we have taken the RTI Act and simply changed the rules sans the consultative process?

I forgot to add the bit about the two-pager the PMO put out to ‘explain’ all this on Thursday after some Gandhi-topi clad activists threatened to return their Padma Bhushans in protest against the government ‘stifling’ the Right to Know. The latest note from the PMO was obviously another example of fine bureaucratic noting, with one national daily headlining its story, ‘Crippled RTI still good’ and another, ‘PMO Sugarcoats bitter RTI pill’ — the exact opposite of what was the PMO’s intention. Perhaps bureaucratic notes should not be revealed at all, in public interest. At least for public peace of mind.


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For Sangh, Right to Know right to know

Posted by rtiact2005 on July 22, 2006

For Sangh, Right to Know right to know

Reshma Patil

Posted online: Saturday, March 25, 2006 at 0000 hrs


Study modules being prepared for RSS and BJP members nationwide

var dc_UnitID = 14; var dc_PublisherID = 2690; var dc_AdLinkColor = ‘blue’; var dc_open_new_win=’yes’; var dc_adprod=’ADL’; var dc_single_line = ‘yes’; MUMBAI, March 23:It’s the UPA’s showpiece legislation but it’s the Sangh Parivar that’s waking up fast to the potential power of the Right to Information Act as a tool to promote transparency and accountability and expose corruption.

The Parivar is training Sangh-affiliated lawyers and preparing study modules to coach RSS and BJP footsoldiers nationwide to learn how to use the RTI.

“We will train members to exercise precautions in using this right to extract only yogya mahiti (suitable information). We don’t want to unnecessarily increase the government burden,’’ senior RSS leader Madan Das Devi told The Indian Express. ‘‘We want them to use RTI for public good, to expose corruption in tenders, public works, etc.’’

Can the Act help the BJP be an effective opposition? The party’s national training cell thinks so and has plans to train cadres through coaching sessions on the Act in Hindi and English.

“We want to do away with the apprehension that using RTI is difficult,’’ says Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, national coordinator of the BJP’s training cell. On April 5, the BJP’s state training coordinators will meet in Delhi for RTI orientation. On March 4 and 5, the first preparatory workshop—with guidance from none other than Maharashtra’s chief information commissioner Suresh Joshi—was held on the outskirts of Mumbai at the Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini (RMP) training school that is ideologically affiliated to the RSS and BJP.

“The invitation I received was from the RMP, it was not from a political outfit,’’ explains Joshi. But he adds that he’s aware the RMP is linked to the BJP.

In attendance for RTI lessons were Devi and members of the RSS national executive including H Dattatrey, senior RSS functionary, and joint in-charge of the Sangh’s baudhik vibhag.Gujarat’s RSS wing will hold an RTI workshop next month at Rajkot


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When babus turn kids into guinea pigs

Posted by rtiact2005 on July 20, 2006

When babus turn kids into guinea pigs

Times of India, Ahmedabad
– Rahul Mangaonkar

Had it not been for the Right to Information (RTI) Act, one might not have known how our babus stumbled upon a formula to decide on the number of school children who can be accommodated in an autorickshaw. Under the RTI, copies of all circulars issued on this crucial issue by the office of the transport commissioner were sought, which not only revealed the absurd directives, but also a bizarre ‘experiment’.

The need for an experiment arose because of a government circular of July 9, 1996 that allowed regional transport offices (RTOs) to decide on the number of school children in an autorickshaw. So, Ahmedabad allowed 10, while Vadodara allowed 12, sparking off representations from auto associations in districts, where fewer number of childrenwere allowed to ply. Further, consumer forums and parents associations had complained about overcrowding of autos.

So, to figure out how many children could actually fit in an auto, an experiment was carried out. Children in the age group of 6 to 12 were called in. In the auto, behind the driver’s seating area, three tyres were fitted and children were asked to fit in. After this, it was decided that if the auto has a carrier on top to carry school bags, 10 children would be allowed. If there was no carrier and if the bags are hung behind the rickshaw or kept inside, nine children could be accommodated. Sounds strange? But the logic behind this experiment was not explained by the babus responding to the queries made under the RTI. Then again, the contents of the circulars issued over the years reveal a tale of absurdity. From 1996 to 2006, various circulars have decided on how children should go to school every day.

From 1996 to the summer of 2000, auto owners seemed to go about their business showing scant respect for norms. For four years, babus allowed children to be packed like sardines, and then the transport department woke up to pass another circular, this time to set a fixed seating capacity for the children. The circular of May 18, 2000, stated that in normal circumstances, a maximum of six children could be carried in an auto. School bags and water bottles could not be hung on either side of the auto and no child would be allowed on the driver’s seat.

Finally, on March 3, 2006, Guruprasad Mohapatra, state transport commissioner, ruled in favour of the safety of children. His circular states, “As per Gujarat Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989, children below 12 would be considered ‘half ‘, and therefore if three adults are allowed in a rickshaw, not more than six children should be allowed. Allowing more children would not be considered proper, considering the safety, convenience and comfort aspects. This circular cancels all other circulars made on this subject in the past.” However, with the circular having been issued in March, why they had to wait till June to make a public announcement, is perplexing.

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Plumbing depths

Posted by rtiact2005 on July 14, 2006

Plumbing depths

Posted online: Friday, July 14, 2006 at 0000 hours IST  



It isn’t only the central and state governments who are running scared of the Right to Information Act, 2005, with an increasing number of citizens seeking information earlier kept under a veil of secrecy by public authorities. Even our high commissions abroad are getting a taste of this citizen-empowering law.

Take our mission in London, which recently had to dive into the basement of India House, their mansion-like precincts, in search of an elusive file. The need arose after a gentleman filed an application under the RTI Act, seeking to know why the request for a document he had sought from the mission some four-five years before had been rejected. Upon which, a staffer was charged with the work of hunting out the file. For nearly a fortnight, the employee sifted through dusty files for several hours every day in the basement, before it was finally located. Diplomacy, clearly, is going beyond carefully chosen words, wine evenings and courtesy calls.

Catch the scribe!

PR guys in the IT and telecom sectors are having a tough time in Delhi. With the boom in these sectors, often four-five press conferences fall on the same day. Often, the same journalists are covering both sectors, resulting in a dearth of media at these press meets. So, PR professionals have now started accompanying journalists to other press meets, to keep track of them.

For instance, three IT meets happened on Thursday. Oracle PR arrived at each, to ferry journos, in a chauffeur-driven car, to their event. Some days earlier, at a Reliance press meet, HP guys hung around. With dollars pouring in and new BPOs popping every week, it’s a daily affair.

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OFF THE CUFF – Information availability

Posted by rtiact2005 on July 11, 2006

Information availability OFF THE CUFF by CCS




Posted online: Tuesday, July 11, 2006 at 0000 hours IST  




The basic premise of the Right to Information Act is that citizens must ask and directly pay for every piece of information they want from the government. The citizens of India have a right to all the information about the governments of India—local, state and the Union. This right is circumscribed only by the limitations required for official secrets, on what are actually matters of state and security. All information not restricted by those requirements must be available to the citizens as a matter of course, without having to plead, pray or pay.

A legitimate right of one party imposes a corresponding duty on the other party. In other words, a right cannot be considered to be fully recognised if it entails no duty on the other side. My right to the security of my nose, for example, implies a corresponding obligation on others to stop their hand before it reaches my nose. They must stop where my nose begins, or else, suffer legal consequences. Similarly, a citizen’s right to information, to be fully recognised, imposes a duty on the government to actually provide that information.

The RTI law suggests the government’s duty is to stand ready to accept an exactly worded request for specific information. Then, evaluate the request and furnish the information, or ask for clarifications and then furnish the information, or raise objections and furnish partial information, or refuse altogether.

Let’s go back to the example of my nose and your hand. My right to my body means your hand must stop where my nose begins. Not try to stop, intend to stop or commit to stop. It must actually do so. I don’t even have to ask you to stop; you must stop, period. That makes it a real right.

Apply this commonsense understanding to the right to information. Then, it is obvious that the government’s corresponding duty is not to just stand ready to receive requests for information on a proper format, but to actually provide information. Provide it without my asking.

True, in the real world, there are many constraints in fulfilling real rights. Even when my right to life and body is clearly articulated, it does not mean that my nose never gets punched or touched! But just because it may happen, we do not dilute the real right. We do not say that my right to life means that others should just try to stop their hand.

In sum, the government’s duty under the citizen’s right to information is the duty to publish all information not allowed to be kept secret by law. We need, in sum, a rewording of the law to enjoin a constant endeavour of every public authority to put all information in the public domain that an affected citizen would expect to have ready access.

The writer is president, Centre for Civil Society, Delhi

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