Right to Information – Master key to good governance

Archive for the ‘RTI info in News Papers’ Category

RTI and IBNLive

Posted by rtiact2005 on October 15, 2006

RTI and IBNLive











IBNLive : CVC rapped for non-compliance of RTI

Central Vigilance Commission has been rapped for its.
http://www.ibnlive.com/news/cvc-rapped-for-noncompliance-of-rti/14423-3.html – Supplemental Result – Similar pages

IBNLive : Man uses RTI to see what PMO hides

Most comprehensive coverage of news, videos, information on India, Bollywood, music, politics, cricket and more.
http://www.ibnlive.com/news/man-uses-rti-to-see-what-pmo-hides/14426/read_comments.html – Supplemental Result –

Similar pages


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RTI Act 2005 Anniversary :: The Journey :: Implementation :: Effectiveness ::

Posted by rtiact2005 on October 15, 2006

RTI Act 2005 Anniversary :: The Journey :: Implementation :: Effectiveness ::

  • Prez says make RTI a virtual success

    Kalam asked the Government to expedite National E-Governance Grid Programme to make RTI a real success.

  • RTI anniversary marred by protests   http://www.ibnlive.com/videos/23948/rti-anniversary-marred-by-protests.html

    Protestors demanded sacking of CIC Commissioner for going soft on officials denying information to citizens.

    Devil’s Advocate: Wajahat Habibullah

    Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah talks about RTI’s effectiveness.

    RTI: The journey so far

    The Right to Information Act empowers you to question the Government.

  • Has RTI worked? | Journey | Share   http://www.ibnlive.com/videos/23861/has-rti-worked--journey--share.html

    But has it served the purpose it intended to? The answer is yes and no.

  • States report card on RTI all red

    A report published CCS has found on an average the state provides less than a third of the information required.

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    RTI anniversary marred by protests

    Posted by rtiact2005 on October 15, 2006

    RTI anniversary marred by protests


    Enlarge Photo

    By IBNlive.com

    Saturday October 14, 08:29 AM

    New Delhi: On the first day of the National convention on one year of Right to Information Act (RTI), immediately after the President’s address, what was in store were banners and pleas from dissatisfied RTI users.

    The sight was rather dramatic with the President watching from the dias but he, however, asked the complainants to write to him and seek an appointment.

    But the Central Information Commission (CIC) officials though were not impressed.

    “To me it was a big surprise. I wondered who these people were and what their concerns were. They have never met the Commission or indicated their grievances. If they had come to us we would have listened to them,” said Information Commisioner, M M Ansari.

    Various NGOs and RTI activists have been quite vocal against the CIC, accusing them of being slow and not realising its true potential, saying that the Commission needs to get its act together.

    “The Commission has tried but failed to start a participatory process. They need to learn,” said RTI activist, Aruna Roy.

    However, the CIC has rubbished the veracity of these charges.

    “The charges that the Commission has not been participatory is baseless. I really don’t know what is expected of it,” says Ansari.

    This debate helps to generate positives which can later be incorporated in the functioning of the Information Commission.

    After all, the Commission is just one-year-old, a toddler and there are several lessons to be learnt along the way.

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    When RTI brought culprits to book

    Posted by rtiact2005 on October 2, 2006

    • When RTI brought culprits to book

    Puneet Nicholas Yadav

    Monday, October 02, 2006 00:25 IST


    The RTI Act can be tapped not only to get justice for oneself, but also to nail the guilty, as Samudra Devi Passi, 64, a slum dweller from Andheri (E), found.

    Passi spent 12 days in prison without knowing why and without being produced in court. When several missives to the MIDC police and the Andheri civil court went unanswered, Passi, with the help of RTI activist Sheeba Nair, filed an application enquiring about her arrest.

    Within 20 days, Passi received a reply from the police saying her son had borrowed Rs1.56 lakh from a certain PK Chaudhary and had disappeared soon after. It was for this misdemeanour that she had been taken in for interrogation. This revelation stumped Passi as neither of her two children have ever come to Mumbai, but lived in a village in Uttar Pradesh. Moreover, the description that the police gave her of the person who had taken money from Chaudhary did not match her son’s description.

    Nair, therefore, pressed the police to find the actual culprit and explain why Passi had been kept in custody. “After a lot of pressure, the police got to work and within a week, arrested the actual culprits. It was later found out that those involved in the forgery were criminals who had earlier been framed under MCOCA and were absconding. The police made six arrests in just one week,” Nair told DNA.

    It is still not clear why the police kept Passi in custody and why it did not file an FIR, said Nair. But the fact that they were instrumental in bringing the culprits to book by merely asking for information is of some consolation, she says.

    RTI Act: Salient points

    • You can seek material in any form, including records, memos, e-mails and logbooks, and information relating to a private body accessible by a public authority
    • You cannot seek information relating to national security or information which infringes on the country’s relations with other countries
    • In case the data pertains to a third party, it will be intimated. Its objection to disclosure of information may not be considered
    • You can inspect documents, take notes and ask for copies. If the information is electronically stored, you may ask for it on CDs or floppies
    • The information should be sought in a format prescribed by the act
    • You should get response on your application within a month. If you are not satisfied with the PIO’s reply, you may appeal to a higher authority

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    Indiatogether : RTI : THE MAKING OF A NEW LAW

    Posted by rtiact2005 on September 18, 2006

    Indiatogether on Right To Information

    Say no to the new iron curtains
    The central government has proposed to exempt file notings and cabinet papers from the RTI law. The government’s idea that it can ‘reveal the decision but not the reason for it’ is anti-democratic. In democracy, people need reasoned decisions, reasons for decisions and not mere decisions without reasons, says Madabhushi Sridhar.
    Guest opinions | Laws

    RTI: An enormous power with the people
    In conversation with Vinita Deshmukh, Magsaysay award winner Arvind Kejriwal talks about India’s RTI movement, and worries that a formidable tool of empowerment might slip out of the hands of citizens if amendments proposed are enacted.
    Interviews | Delhi

    RTI law turned on its head
    A combination of intimidation and mindless application of the letter of the law threatens to dissuade citizens from putting the RTI Act to use. And politicians are only happy to offer solutions that further dilute the law’s purpose. Suman Sahai and Swati Gola note examples from Chhatisgarh that point to the need for a program for rights literacy.
    June 2006

    Biotech Policy: secretive and hasty
    The government’s stance towards biotechnology shows such disregard for the public interest that even its own Expert Committee is not privy to the proposed new policy. Suman Sahai protests the reckless endorsement of vested interests while many other stakeholders are kept in the dark.
    GM Crops | Agri. Policies
    April 2006

    Pune’s draft plan under a cloud
    A Standard & Poor-controlled firm is appointed to draft Pune’s city development plan (CDP) in secrecy. An iron curtain of “don’t ask us questions” appears when information about the contract is asked for. And then, the plan itself is botched up, violating the 74th Constitutional Amendment. Sheela Barse investigates.
    Cities | Right to Info | Maharashtra

    Can I have my answer papers, please?
    In two recent rulings, the Central Information Commission rejected candidates’ requests asking to see their own assessed answer sheets. One of the CIC’s arguments was that the examining authority and the evaluator had a fiduciary relationship and thereby qualified for exemption. Prakash Kardaley wonders if the CIC went too far.
    Guest column
    February 2006

    Not appointed, despite selection
    31 and belonging to a scheduled caste, Chandrakant Sasane has been denied a lecturer position at Mumbai’s N G Acharya and D K Marathe College of Arts and Science. Documents obtained using the Right to Information law point show that the Bombay University selected Sasane for the position over a year ago, says Shailesh Gandhi.
    RTI exposes | Education | Caste | Maharashtra
    February 2006

    Gearing villages up for entitlements
    The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) is to be implemented in 200 districts around the country in the first phase. One of the main challenges will be to ward off corruption. Surekha Sule was recently involved in conducting a training programme, and notes how some villages in Andhra Pradesh are gearing up.
    Poverty | A.P.
    January 2006

    Transparency demanded on demolitions
    Member of the National Advisory Council Aruna Roy and transparency activist Shekhar Singh have asked the Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit to publicise the names of all the officers responsible for allowing building code violations, in addition to the list of buildings itself. They have also asked for the criteria used to identify violating structures.
    Law enforcement | Right to Information | Delhi
    January 2006

    Absurdly low rents, illegal occupation
    The Maharashtra state government is not collecting crores of rupees per year in dues on public lands leased out to private interests. On one occasion, the state’s Chief Secretary R N Premkumar referred to legal impediments, and more recently on 19 December, he said that “the problem of arbitrary lease rents arises because the state does not have a policy on the same.”
    RTI Exposes | Cities
    December 2005

    Another muster roll fraud exposed
    Just five days after the Right to Information Act came into force last month, a public hearing in Chhatisgarh showed how the Act can empower ordinary people and enable them to fight corruption. Nearly 80% of money allocated for a project under the National Food For Work Programme in Surguja district was found embezzled and reported.
    Government | RTI exposes
    December 2005

    Unleashed from the bottle
    When a Pune-based die-hard transparency activist went to a government book depot in the city on 15 October morning to buy a copy of the new Right to Information Act, he was surprised to see that there were already 50 odd citizens in line for copies. True, bureaucrats have also planted landmines, but the citizens may yet win, says Prakash Kardeley.
    Guest column
    October 2005

    Sunshine law arrives, has muddy landing
    The new national Right to Information law came into effect on 12 October as citizens groups nationwide – from Karnataka to Delhi — have virtually been on alert and awaiting the opening of government departments to applications for information. Much remains to be seen and done, reports Subramaniam Vincent.
    RTI law
    October 2005

    Karnataka’s transparency rules opposed
    The state government published the draft rules for the national Right to Information law (prescribing the specifics for citizens’ using the law) in August. But the rules have fallen far short of citizens’ expectations. A top state official also admitted that they were drafted hastily.
    Right to Information law | Karnataka
    September 2005

    Public audit unearths fraud, stayed
    The Solapur (Maharashtra) District Collector Manisha Verma discovered a fraud of over Rs 9 crores through public readings of the state’s Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS) muster rolls. However, since the discovery the state government stayed the audits and attempted to transfer the collector.
    RTI exposes | Maharashtra
    September 2005

    RTI law: the long road ahead
    By 12 October 2005, the Right to Information Act must be ‘fully functional’ in every city, township and village. At a national conference held soon after the law was passed, government officials, civil society groups and national and international experts had met to chalk out an agenda to make this happen. Mandakini Devasher takes stock.
    August 2005

    Karnataka preparing for national RTI
    The uncertainty over whether Karnataka would repeal the state’s right to information (RTI) law ended recently. Earlier in July, R Suresh, the state government’s point man for RTI admitted that the law had failed and that it would be replaced with the new Central Act. Activists in Karnataka are not unhappy.
    Citizen Direct | Right to information | Karnataka
    July 2005

    RTI diary: Checking police transfers
    It is now emerging that the Mahrashtra Right to Information (MRTI) law will be repealed in October 2005 to make way for the new national sunshine law that applies to all States. This article records one successful case where the MRTI law was used to bring change, notes Shailesh Gandhi.
    Citizen Direct | Law enforcement
    July 2005

    Maharashtra sunshine law to go?
    The Maharashtra Chief Secretary has reportedly declared that the Maharashtra Right to Information (MRTI) Act will be repealed in the current session of the state legislature or an ordinance will be issued to repeal it. Shailesh Gandhi says no need to hurry.
    Citizen Direct
    July 2005

    A hundred days and counting
    Of the 120 days left for the implementation of the national Right to Information Act, a hundred remain. What is the status? The ministry is said to have framed rules, but it is not circulating them. Prakash Kardaley takes stock.
    Citizen Direct
    July 2005

    Karnataka’s RTI experience for the better
    A citizens forum at Bangalore has been spearheading interventions using the Karnataka Right to Information Act for the past year. The Katte members’ focus has helped expose the law’s weaknesses and make recommendations to better the recently passed Central Right to Information Bill. Kathyayini Chamaraj reports.
    Right to information | Karnataka
    May 2005

    More teeth in new RTI legislation
    Lawmakers at New Delhi recently passed the Right to Information Bill. The legislation provides for an information commission with powers to enforce transparency. An officer who delays disclosure will be liable to pay a penalty of Rs 250 for every day’s delay. Prakash Kardaley is optimistic about the bill about to become law.
    Laws | Guest column
    May 2005

    RTI finding : Cities subsidising the rich
    Property prices have gone up over the decades, but Mumbai leases land to private interests at rates as low as Rs.7 per sq.m. In the last three years alone, revenue authorities have on average lost close to Rs.48 crores, estimates Shailesh Gandhi.
    Cities | Right to info | Maharashtra
    March 2005



    Beginning with a draft prepared by the National Advisory Council, legislation to create and enable a Right to Information Act for the country has made steady progress, with the law eventually becoming operational in October 2005. India Together followed the process of creating this law, and will track its use by citizens for improved self-government. – Law arrives, muddy landing
    RTI law: the long road ahead
    A hundred days and counting
    More teeth in new RTI legislation
    Some shine, still shackled
    RTI ball in Centre’s court
    Officials resisting RTI law
    Draft RTI law needs sharpening
    The current law is unacceptable
    Interact: FOIA 2004 Progress Watch

    JAN-NE KA HAQ Click for In-PIC feature

    EARLIER ARTICLES ‘The second freedom struggle’
    Some shine, still shackled
    Delhi authorities condone vicious attacks
    RTI ball in Centre’s court
    RTI may check Narmada dams
    Officials resisting amending RTI law
    The Right fight
    Draft RTI law needs sharpening
    Assertive citizenship taking root
    This journalist demands his rights
    A tentative beginning
    “The current law is unacceptable”
    One step forward, two steps back
    Another step towards Parivartan
    The pressure for accountability
    Right-to-information or disclosure?
    SC sets Sep 15 deadline : FOI law
    Popularising the right to know
    Parivartan: growth of RTI
    Delhi HC stays release of records
    Testing your municipality’s work
    FOI Bill : battle half won
    More stories of Parivartan
    Elections : Disclosures now Mandatory
    Waiting in the wings
    Twenty first century democracy’s…
    Where did our money go?
    Media, democracy and citizenship
    Delhi’s Parivartan
    The pivotal role of the Press
    Voters must know the candidates
    Is radio going local
    Unlocking the frequencies
    The airwaves are the people’s property
    What you don’t know can hurt you
    Who’s afraid of radio in India
    National recognition, community radio
    Radio, Telephone, Internet and…
    Information is my right

    Delhi (applying rules only)
    – Karnataka

    Parivartan, Delhi
    PROOF, Bangalore

    Posted in RTI info in News Papers | 1 Comment »

    Home ministry refuses Netaji papers to RTI body

    Posted by rtiact2005 on September 17, 2006

    Home ministry refuses Netaji papers to RTI body
    New Delhi,PTI:

    The home ministry has refused to supply the Central Information Commission (CIC) with copies of documents presented before two panels that enquired into the disappearance of Netaji Subash Chandra Bose, saying the records dated back to over 20 years.

    This was reported by a research group — Mission Netaji — which appealed to the CIC, the apex body under the year-old Right to Information Act, to get the ministry to share records produced before the 1956 Shah Nawaz Committee and G D Khosla Inquiry Commission of 1974, which were set up to shed light on the legendary freedom fighter’s fate.

    Both inquiries had arrived at the conclusion that Bose died in an air crash in Taipei on August 18, 1945 — a theory still disputed by many.

    The appeal came after the Central government rejected the findings of the Justice Mukherjee Inquiry Commision in May.

    The Commission’s findings were diametrically opposed to the conclusions made by the 1956 and 1974 inquiry panels.

    Mission Netaji had asked the home ministry for the records on June 23 this year, but this was summarily declined on the ground that the documents were classified. The group then appealed to the CIC for the documents on July 29.

    “The matter happened more than 20 years from the date of request and as such, it is refused,” the group quoted Deputy Secretary to the government of India, M M Chopra, on its website www.Missionnetaji.Org as saying in his reply to the CIC on August 21.

    In his second letter to the CIC four days later, Chopra wrote that final reports of the 1956 and 1974 panels did not contain any list of exhibits unlike the Mukherjee Commission.

    Interestingly, the ministry contradicts its own earlier version in a subsequent paragraph of the letter by offering to look for “such exhibits from available records” within the next two months.

    Chopra has, in the same letter, said that if such exhibits are found, the ministry would only share them if they are seen to be not containing any sensitive data affecting national interests.

    “The documents sought are basic ones, based on which the Shah Nawaz Committee and Khosla inquiry panel had reached their decision about the fate of one of the greatest sons of India,” the group said.

    “By no stretch of the imagination can these documents be labelled as containing information, the disclosure of which would prejudicially affect India’s security, strategic interests,” it said.

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    The RTI Act amendment: Untenable and illegitimate

    Posted by rtiact2005 on September 10, 2006

    SUNDAY-SOUTHASIAN: The RTI Act amendment: Untenable and illegitimate
    K S Subramanian
    -The writer is a former member of the IPS and former Director of the 
    Research and Policy Division of the Union Home Ministry
    Published in Mainstream July 30 2006    
    It was Charles Bettelheim who once said that the Indian bourgeoisie 
    is the cleverest bourgeoisie in the world. The recent amendment 
    proposed by the central government to keep out of the purview of the 
    Right To Information Act, 2005, the so called `secretary-level' (even 
    an `under secretary' is a secretary to the government) notes on 
    files, is a good example of this inbuilt cleverness of the Indian 
    bourgeoisie. This is over and beyond the provision for exemptions 
    under section 8 of the Act, which relate to national security and 
    other issues. Thus, while on the one hand an Act on the Right to 
    Information is enacted to please the public, on the other hand 
    efforts are mounted to clip its wings to cover up the secret and ugly 
    underbelly of the State.   
    Large areas of democratic political activity get treated as `secret' 
    and `top secret' since `national security' is a catchall concept.  In 
    the 1980's, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) conducted surveillance on 
    President Zail Singh, who was alleged to have links with elements in 
    the Sikh movement in Punjab. Similar surveillance was conducted over 
    a leader of the ruling Congress party as he was felt to have become a 
    political threat to its then supreme leader. The former Defence 
    Minister Jagjivan Ram was placed under watch since he displayed prime 
    ministerial ambitions. These are routine political activities in a 
    raucous and fractious democracy. Why should not such political 
    surveillance by the Intelligence Bureau (IB), which is different from 
    its legitimate tasks in dealing with the subjects of counter-
    Intelligence, espionage, sabotage and terrorism, be brought under the 
    purview of the RTI Act? 
    Secretary level notes on files are dime a dozen in the government of 
    India. Why should protection be afforded to them under the RT I Act?  
    An amendment of the Act to that end is a betrayal of the democratic 
    pretensions of the Indian State. From the 1960's to the 1980s' the 
    Union Home Ministry's Research and Policy (R&P) Division produced 
    several reports on agrarian tensions, communal violence, student 
    unrest, Naxalite activities and so on. Many of these reports were 
    classified for no legitimate reason and were thus not available to 
    the public.   
    The IB is the main reporting agency of the Union Home Ministry and it 
    has a Pavlovian reflex about anything remotely connected with the 
    communist movement although the communist movement can no longer be 
    perceived to be a security threat to the Indian State even if such a 
    threat might be said to have existed during the survival of the 
    Soviet union. Naxalite violence is a particular bugbear. The 
    Naxalites in many states are mainly demanding enforcement of minimum 
    wages, protection of civil rights and the dignity of women and the 
    proper implementation of rural development policies and programs for 
    the scheduled castes and tribes.  The classification of the reports 
    on Naxalite activities only help protect the police who often indulge 
    in gross abuse of human rights of the poor and give false reports on 
    the number of deaths in police `encounters'. In a series of violent 
    incidents in the central districts of Bihar in 1981, both the state 
    police agencies and the Central IB reported the number persons killed 
    in police actions against Naxalites to be 12 persons, all of whom 
    were reported to be `Naxalites'. However, the chief secretary of the 
    state, who attended a meeting later in the Union Home Ministry, 
    admitted that the numbers of persons killed in police `encounters' 
    was nearly 60 and not just 12 as reported by the local police and the 
    IB in league with each other to protect the police. Not one of them, 
    he stated, was a `Naxalite'! The minutes of the meeting at which this 
    admission was made were classified as `top secret'! To what purpose?  
    To protect the morale of the state police and protect the DM and SP 
    of the district from suspension and prosecution? Such instances can 
    be multiplied. 
    There is no earthly justification for protecting the ugly facts about 
    administrative and police behaviour at the cutting edge level from 
    public scrutiny and action. The only conceivable reason for doing so 
    would perhaps be the fact that the administration is unable to 
    successfully implement development programmes and schemes for the 
    poor in a fair and legal manner to meet the increasing political 
    awareness and consciousness of the people over their human, legal and 
    social rights under the Constitution and general and special laws of 
    the land.          
    The post-colonial Indian State must reform itself if it wants to 
    retain a degree of legitimacy and credibility in the eyes of the 
    Indian public. Politicians in power have a special responsibility to 
    bring far reaching administrative and police reforms. The recent 
    government move in setting up the Police Act Drafting Committee 
    (PADC) to revise the Police Act of 1861 is cold comfort in the face 
    of the massive human rights violations by the police during the 
    genocide in Gujarat 2002, the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, 
    the Bombay killings of 1992-93 and the anti-Sikh carnage of 1984, 
    which underline the need for fundamental police reforms. Further, the 
    PADC does not include a single woman in the context of the increasing 
    violence against women reported by official agencies themselves. Why 
    cannot the proceedings of the PADC be made available to the public 
    under the RTI Act? 
    (The writer is a former member of the IPS and former Director of the 
    Research and Policy Division of the Union Home Ministry) 
    Email: kadayam39@hotmail.com

    Posted in RTI info in News Papers | 2 Comments »

    No right to information, says UPSC

    Posted by rtiact2005 on September 10, 2006

    No right to information, says UPSC

    Marya Shakil


    Posted Saturday , September 09, 2006 at 22:21

    Updated Saturday , September 09, 2006 at 22:39





    SHATTERED DREAMS: UPSC aspirants want to know the basis on which 99 pc of the candidates are rejected every year by UPSC.






    New Delhi: Information sought under the Right to Information (RTI) Act 2005 has been rejected by the Union Public Services Commission (UPSC).

    The chief body governing recruitment and examination schedules for civil services has showed objection to disclose the reasons behind rejecting a candidature in the civil services examination.

    However, this has left the civil services aspirant an unhappy lot.

    Twenty-seven year Sharad Kumar has been burning the midnight oil studying for the past four years with an aspiration to clear the civil services examination.

    But with just one attempt left he is now losing interest.

    “I have given my two attempts and this is the last one left but I doubt whether it’s worth giving another year to UPSC,” he says.

    A letter from the UPSC authorities declares that information sought by UPSC candidates under the RTI Act cannot be disclosed as it would harm protected interests.

    However, students are asking as to whose interest does it really cater when the Government refuses to disclose the basis on which the copies are being marked.

    “Who are the protected interests? They have left us in a lurch. Over four lakh students take the UPSC exam every year. Only one per cent of these clear prelims and 99 per cent of them are rejected,” says Sunil, an aspirant.

    Another UPSC aspirant Sunil, who just attempted the examination says, “Authorities claim that disclosing the information on the basis of which copies are marked is not in the larger public interest. But the very fact that over 2,000 civil services aspirants filed an RTI application speaks the volumes of the interest. Why do they not see this huge amount of public interest?”

    Only a few days back the Central Information Commission had ruled that the candidates have the right to know the procedure followed in determining of cut-off marks.

    They can also seek information about total marks scored by them both in the written examination and in the interview. Candidates will also have access to standard answers to the written exams and this was with immediate effect.

    However UPSC is not willing to reveal details sought under the RTI Act. This comes as a blow for students hoping to get their scores.

    “Except for the answer sheet every aspect of the examination has to be disclosed,” Information Commissioner M M Ansari says. “The only thing that will not be revealed is the answer sheets,” he adds.





    Posted in RTI info in News Papers | 2 Comments »

    Chamber Of Secrets: is Sonia wavering, or will she stay the course?

    Posted by rtiact2005 on August 31, 2006

    Jitender Gupta
    Chamber Of Secrets
    Truce over, officials who want to cover their track strike back


    The Right to Information (RTI) controversy is far from dead. Underlying the apparent truce brokered by Sonia Gandhi between hunger-striking protesters and the government is an alive-and-kicking campaign by the political and bureaucratic elite—to limit the ‘damage’ from a ten-month-old act once hailed for being radical, now increasingly mistrusted for being so.The fightback began barely within a day of Sonia’s intervention, which had last week led the government to defer its controversial move to amend the RTI act. First, unattributed government briefings in the media, described by activists as recycled anti-RTI arguments.
      “We can’t have a whole bureaucratic structure dealing with frivolous questions,” says Congress’ Kapil Sibal.  
    Then, fresh hostilities in an extraordinary battle around the disclosure of ‘file notings’ between two actors responsible for implementing the act—the Department of Personnel and Training (DOPT), the nodal government department, and the Central Information Commission (CIC), the

    independent RTI regulator. On August 21, the DOPT, armed with a legal missive from the additional solicitor general focusing on technicalities, essentially told the statutory body, whose members have the legal status of Supreme Court judges: back off.

    And on August 22, the Union ministry of personnel, public grievances and pensions went to the high court to challenge the CIC’s directive to show it correspondence between A.B. Vajpayee and K.R. Narayanan, prime minister and president respectively, during the Gujarat riots. The CIC wanted to judge whether an appellant’s plea that the correspondence be disclosed in the public interest was valid. “After having been forced to defer the amendments, the government is now trying to sabotage the act by paralysing the functioning of the CIC,” said Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan. “It is also trying to make the CIC toothless, by saying: if the government thinks a particular piece of information is privileged, the CIC cannot even look at it—leave alone disclose it,” charged Bhushan.

    So, who is the ‘government’? Clearly, not just Suresh Pachauri, the powerful minister for personnel, and public face of the campaign to defang the act. The prime minister, who once said he wanted everyone “particularly our civil servants…(to) see the Bill in a positive spirit” appears to have come around to the view that the act needs taming. The July 20 Cabinet decision to amend it was pushed through in minutes, with barely any discussion.

    And, even as Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh defended the act, several Cabinet ministers were signalling otherwise. Digvijay told Outlook, “The Congress president does not want the act to be diluted. Personally, I don’t understand why there is talk of amendments when the act is still taking off…. The resistance to the act, is more an effort by babus to protect their own turf.”

    But Union minister Kapil Sibal—described in party circles as the PM’s troubleshooter—bluntly said: “We can’t have a whole bureaucratic structure dealing with frivolous questions. It will slow down the decision-making process…and lead to more secrecy rather than less. As we move forward, the act will serve the larger public interest. But as it stands today, it is being misused by vested interests.”

    Meanwhile, bureaucrats are busy warning that an act that enables “anyone with Rs 10” to access important files will open the door for nitpicking, hairsplitting, excessive caution, and mischief-making—questions like why did X official go abroad so often, why did he opt for Y tender, why did he deny Z promotion? “Check out the origins of the word ‘secretary’,” said one senior official, indicating that laws may have changed, but mindsets hadn’t. “It means keeper of secrets…”

    And it became public this week that even the Supreme Court has suggested its own set of controversial amendments to limit the CIC’s jurisdiction over the apex court.

    How did the accolades heralding the upa government’s showpiece legislation dry up so fast on official lips? Resistance from the bureaucratic establishment to a liberal information disclosure regime has been around since the mid-’90s, when the RTI movement first gained ground. But the reformist Sonia-led National Advisory Council (NAC) seemed to have carried the day on the present act, pushing through, despite excisions, a strong law.

    Three developments appear to have provided critics the ammunition to strike again. One, the decline of the NAC, with its social reforms agenda. Two, the alacrity with which large numbers of well-informed government servants are—no, not opposing the act—but using it to batter at an opaque regime of government promotions, transfers and postings. Finally, decisions by the CIC that have driven home to a reluctant official machinery the penetrative power of the act.

    Foremost, of course, was the CIC’s January decision allowing access to file notings, which contradicted the government’s stubbornly-held position that the act did not cover file notings. (The Central Administrative Reforms Commission has also contradicted the government’s position.) The confusion dates back to the final stages of haggling over the bill, between the government and the NAC. While the government thought it had prevented ‘file notings’ being accessed by throwing out those two words from the definition of a document accessible under the act, it actually did not. The definition of ‘information’ under the act, which contains such words as ‘opinions, advices’, is broad enough to support an interpretation that the public has the right to see file notings (which are basically the opinions of officials).

    The CIC has also allowed access to reports of government departmental promotion committees, and in one case, an annual confidential report, and rejected government arguments on the Narayanan-Vajpayee correspondence issue.

    A striking feature of the RTI controversy is that the leading voices, both for and against, are of those who have served time in sarkari offices. Just as all critics of the act are not necessarily corrupt officials, not all supporters of a liberal RTI regime are starry-eyed crusaders. Among those who have come up with pragmatic pro-RTI arguments during the month-long campaign to ‘save’ the act, are ex-bureaucrats such as Madhav Godbole, E.A.S. Sarma, P.S. Appu, P.C. Alexander, B.N. Yugandhar and J.M. Lyngdoh, and sundry former judges.

    The perspective, on this side of the divide, is very different: that a strong act’s potential to reform a corrupt and inefficient machinery far outweighs its uses to mischief-makers. The plethora of service-related RTI applications are of public relevance, argues Yugandhar, a Planning Commission member, because, they often flow from resentments built up over years over arbitrary, motivated and corrupt appointments. “Once principles are known, criteria become clear, and reasons for exemptions are known, such applications will reduce, and morale will greatly improve,” he said.

    RTI activists argue that examples of misuse are being deliberately overstressed to drown out the good RTI can do, and has already done. Using RTI to expose huge corruption scandals may still be more aspiration than reality, but there are many significant achievements: fake muster rolls detected, siphoning of foodgrains from the public distribution system nailed, and passports, voter ID cards, ration cards, pension arrears reaching frustrated applicants within days of RTI applications being filed.

    Two questions asked in RTI applications have struck sufficient fear in the hearts of public authorities for them to act on complaints, just to avoid supplying embarrassing information: what is the daily progress report on my application? What are the names of the officials handling my application? But that fear may now be on the wane, thanks to the current controversy, says ex-bureaucrat and RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal. Some authorities are now refusing such information, on the grounds that file notings are likely to be excluded from the act.

    Ultimately, the fate of a law that has made waves around the world, for being, in the words of Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, “the most powerful RTI law in the world”, will not hang on deeds or arguments. It will hang on political will. The key question, therefore, is: is Sonia wavering, or will she stay the course?


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    This round to the RTI

    Posted by rtiact2005 on August 25, 2006

    This round to the RTI




    In what constitutes a significant victory for the people of India, the Government has been forced to withdraw the illiberal amendments to the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005 that it had decided to table in the current session of Parliament. Ever since it became law, the RTI Act has proved to be a progressive instrument of democracy, empowering citizens to obtain official documents (such as ration cards, electricity bills, and passports) with ease, and to have access to government records without having to pay bribes or use undue influence. Pre-RTI, secrecy often shrouded corruption, and the arbitrary exercise of power by administrators and bureaucrats could not be countered in an informed way. There is the apocryphal story of a former Union Minister who would write “not approved” on lucrative files and add the letter “e” to convert it to “note approved,” after the consideration demanded had been paid. Information is power; and this power suddenly made available to the people sent shivers through the bureaucracy and the political establishment. Now decisions made by the government could be tracked, investigated, and challenged. `File notings’ are comments and notes made on files and reveal the reasons behind decisions great and small. They are often the most interesting parts of official files. They can say much about the straightforwardness, the integrity, and the efficiency of a government. The right to information in a democratic framework certainly implies that citizens should be aware of the reasons behind crucial decisions. From January 2006, thanks to a landmark ruling by the Central Information Commission, file notings have been accessed round the country in a veritable festival of democracy. Unsurprisingly, the establishment struck back sooner than later. In a move initiated at the very top and supported by a chamber orchestra of establishment interests, amendments were approved by the Cabinet to steal `file notings’ (except those relating to social and development issues) and other key empowering features away from the purview of the Act.

    The United Progressive Alliance Government had reckoned without the groundswell of opposition its illiberal move would provoke. Rejecting the idea that disclosure of file notings can be abused, social activist and Magsaysay award winner Aruna Roy says: “You can only blackmail those who have something to hide.” Section 8 of the RTI Act already has a comprehensive list of exemptions relating to issues of national security, privacy, certain judicial matters, and other sensitive information that might endanger lives and affect the larger public interest. In the face of nationwide protest by human rights activists, lawyers, retired judges, students, intellectuals, retired civil servants, and ordinary citizens and confronted with political opposition ranging from the Left to the BJP, the Government has decided not to go ahead with the retrograde tentative draft Bill and has instead called for a discussion with all stakeholders. In addition to denying access to the dreaded file notings, the amendments seek to stop disclosure of material on decisions in process; to remove access to “material” on the basis of which Cabinet decisions are taken; to withdraw access to the identities of those who have recorded notings and opinions specifically on development and social matters; and to exempt all information related to “a process of any examination” conducted by a public authority or “assessments or evaluation” for the purpose of official postings, transfers, and promotions. It must be understood that the Government’s retreat on the RTI amendments is for the time being. It is vital for the citizens of India to be prepared to stage uncompromising resistance against the UPA Government’s move to enfeeble one of the world’s most progressive right to information laws.

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