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FURTHER INFORMATION REQUIRED FROM PRIME MINISTERS OFFICE, UNDER THE RTI ACT

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 21, 2006

Email: dhirendrakrishna@yahoo.co.uk

C-4, Usha Niketan, Safderjung Development Area, New Delhi-110016.

              21st.  August 2006

To,

Shri Kamal Dayani

Central Public Information Officer

Prime Minister’s Office,

South Block, New Delhi – 110011

 

Dear Sir,

 

1.      It has been reported that Dr. Man Mohan Singh, Prime Minister of India has made following comments in his letter to Shri Anna Hazare on July 27, 2006, to dissuade him from launching mass protest against the proposed changes in the Right To Information Act 2005:

 “File notings were never covered in the definition of ‘information’ in the RTI Act passed by Parliament. In fact, the amendments being currently proposed expand the scope of the Act to specifically include file notings relating to development and social issues. The overall effort is to promote even greater transparency and accountability in our decision making process.”

  1. Definition of  “information” is according to Section 2 (f) of the Right To Information Act 2005, reproduced below for ready reference:

 

“Information” means any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, log books, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data, material held in electronic form, and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any law for the time being in force.”

 

3.      Aforesaid definition is very comprehensive and does not exclude “file notings”. Notings in files are also public records, of opinion and advise rendered in decision-making process. These are subject to audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India and also available to CVC / CBI / Vigilance Departments. Prime Minister has committed a grave impropriety by communicating incorrect legal position in the aforesaid letter, to dissuade Shri Anna Hazare from protesting against the decision reportedly taken by the Cabinet.

 

4.      Distorted interpretation of the Right To Information Act 2005 by the Prime Minister of India is a totally unacceptable I will like to invoke the Right To Information Act 2005, to peruse following public records from the Prime Ministers office and take copy of papers, according to the prescribed procedure:

 

a)     Public records, which has led to aforesaid distortion of the legal position in the official communication, signed by the Prime Minister of India.

 

b)     File regarding representations received by the Prime Minister against the proposed changes in the Right To Information Act and the notings in the file regarding internal scrutiny of these representations.

 

c)     Department of Personnel and Training has misrepresented the legal position in their web site: file notings have been excluded from the definition of “information”, even without the approval of amendment to RTI Act by the Parliament. In my humble opinion, DOPT is not doing enough to ensure the implementation of RTI Act. I am requesting the Department of Personnel and Training, for further information under the Right To Information Act; copy  enclosed. In this context, I will like to review following records:

 

Ø      If this error in the official web site of the Government of India has been brought to the notice of the Prime Minister, I will like to peruse the official records.

 

Ø      In case there has been reviews of implementation of RTI Act at the level of Prime Minister, I would like to see the agenda and minutes of the review meetings.

 

5.      Disclosure of aforesaid information is in public interest, as it would enable necessary corrections.  You are requested to kindly intimate the date, time and place for the perusal of aforesaid records.    Postal Order of Rs. 10 is enclosed.

 

                         Thanking you,

 

Yours faithfully,

 

 

         

          Dhirendra Krishna IA&AS (Retired)

Posted in RTI Issues | 1 Comment »

FURTHER INFORMATION REQUESTED FROM DOPT, UNDER RTI ACT

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 21, 2006

FROM: dhirendrakrishna@yahoo.co.uk 

C-4, Usha Niketan, Safderjung Development Area, New Delhi-110016

 

21st. August 2006

 

To,

The Central Public Information Officer

Department of Personnel and Training

Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievance and Pension.

Government of India, New Delhi 1100011

 

Subject: INFORMATION REGARDING IMPLEMENTATION OF RTI ACT 2005

 

Dear Sir,

 

1.      Information is defined as under in the web site of the Department of Personnel and Training: –

 

 

What does information mean?

  1. Aforesaid definition is contrary to the definition of  “information” in Section 2 (f) of the Right To Information Act 2005, reproduced below:

 

“Information” means any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, log books, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data, material held in electronic form, and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any law for the time being in force.”

 

3.      Definition of “information” in the RTI Act is very comprehensive and  “File Notings” are not excluded.  Notings in files are the public records of opinion and advise rendered by various officers; therefore it is covered by aforesaid definition of “information.” Entire files including the notings are    subject to audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India and many audit issues emerge from the notings in the file.  CVC / CBI / Vigilance Departments also looks into file notings to pinpoint the responsibility of officers for various decisions.  RTI Act enables the citizens to access public records, to preserve the “ paramountcy of democratic ideal.”

 

 

4.      Factually incorrect and legally untenable definition of “Information” has been depicted in the website of Department of Personnel and Training. This seems to be a deliberate error to abridge the scope of Right To Information Act 2005, without any legal authority.

 

5.      Only the Parliament has authority of modify the RTI Act.  Government is considering amendment to RTI Act, which would remove “File Notings” from the ambit of RTI Act.  This has resulted in countrywide protests and ultimately proposed amendment had to be deferred.  It is doubtful whether Parliament would approve the changes, in view of public protests.  Unless and until such an amendment to RTI Act is approved by the competent authority, Government has no option but to follow the law. Aforesaid mistake in the web site of the Department of Personnel and Training amounts to breach of privilege of the Parliament. Government has abridged the scope of RTI Act, without any authority,

 

 INFORMATION REQUIRED UNDER THE RTI ACT

 

6.      I am empowered by the Right To Information Act 2005 to look into the public records that have led to distorted interpretation of Right To Information Act by the Department of Personnel and Training: I will like to inspect following records and collect photocopy of selected documents. I intend to use this information in training programs for dissemination of information regarding RTI Act:

 

a)     File regarding the interpretation of RTI Act, including legal opinions which led to exclusion of file notings from the definition of “Information”, given in the web site

 

b)     File regarding actions taken by the Department of Personnel and Training on the representations expressing protest against changes in RTI Act.

 

c)     File regarding drafting of the web site, which may pinpoint the responsibility on the concerned officer, for the distortions in definition of information in the web site.

 

d)     In case the Department of Personnel and Training has received complaints/ suggestions from other Government Departments or State Government regarding practical problems faced by them arising from the disclosure of file notings, I will like to review the files.

 

e)     Section 177 of the Indian Penal Code envisages action against officers furnishing false information. Mistake in the web site shows that some officer has deliberately furnished false and misleading information, to obstruct the implementation of the RTI Act. If the responsibility for mistake has been fixed on any officer, I will like to see the records.

 

f)       I will like to examine the review mechanism established by the Government, to ensure the implementation of RTI Act. I will like to see the files regarding progress reports obtained from the public authorities regarding implementation of RTI Act. In particular, I will like to see the files regarding implementation of following provisions of the RTI Act:

 

Ø      Implementation of Section 4(1)(a) regarding changes in record keeping to meet the requirement of RTI Act, including the budget provision made for facilitating access to records by public.

Ø      Instructions issued by the Government of India regarding implementation of Section 4(2) and feed-back obtained from the public authorities regarding suo-moto disclosure of information needed by the public, over and above the mandatory disclosure under Section 4(1)(b).

Ø      File regarding actions on Section 26 of the RTI Act, regarding preparing educational programmes to advance the understanding of RTI Act amongst the Public.

 

7.      Disclosure of aforesaid information is in public interest, as it would enable me to initiate informed public debate regarding the implementation of RTI Act 2005.  Postal Order of Rs. 10 is enclosed. You are requested to kindly intimate the date, time and place for the inspection of aforesaid records.

 

                                                                                                 Yours faithfully,

 

 

         Dhirendra Krishna IA&AS (Retired)

Posted in RTI Issues | 1 Comment »

Activists file RTI on cola row

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 19, 2006

Activists file RTI on cola row

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1906152.cms

NEW DELHI: The recent report of the CSE regarding the use of high levels of pesticides in soft drinks has now prompted a group of well-known names from various fields to go the RTI route.

On Friday, several activists including Prof Yashpal (former chairman UGC), Aruna Roy (RTI activist), Arundhati Roy, Shanti Bhushan, Arvind Kejriwal and Sandeep Pande (both Magsaysay winners) were present at the inauguration of the RTI kiosk in Jantar Mantar.

Prof Yashpal and Aruna Roy proceeded to file requests for information under the RTI Act to several government agencies on the occasion.

The questions addressed to the Central Ground Water Board, Central Pollution Control Board, Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Food Processing, covered a gamut of issues, including how much water is being extracted by the soft drink bottling plants, whether the ministries had knowledge of sludge containing various chemicals in discharge of several soft drinks as well as if the government knew the amount of caffeine and aspartame being used in the colas.

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RTI amendment Bill not to be tabled now

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 18, 2006

RTI amendment Bill not to be tabled now

Friday, August 18, 2006 at 0000 hours IST

http://www.financialexpress.com/about/feedback.html

NEW DELHI, AUG 17: *The Centre has decided not to table the Bill to amend
the Right to Information (RTI) Act in the ongoing monsoon session of
Parliament.

Though the Opposition and NGOs have been opposing the amendment on file
notings, sources said the decision to defer the tabling of the Bill was
taken after the Centre failed to win over the Left parties even on Thursday.
However, parliamentary affairs minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi was cautious
of his words when he said: “We will try to table the Bill in this session if
time permits.”
The Cabinet had earlier decided to amend the Act not to allow the disclosure
of file jottings, except in development and plan-related files. The papers
of Cabinet meetings and examination papers will also be barred from the
purview of the Act.

“Our demand is that the Bill should be sent to a Parliament Standing
Committee before the House considers it,” CPI(M) leader in the Lok Sabha
Basudeb Acharya told FE.

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Corruption rampant: Sorabjee

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 17, 2006

Corruption rampant: Sorabjee
 
From D Ravi Kanth DH News Service Geneva:

http://www.deccanherald.com/deccanherald/aug172006/national1839362006816.asp

Former attorney general Soli Sorabjee told the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights on Tuesday India is experiencing a tidal wave of “corruption” in all walks of life, causing an enormous threat to the fabric of society.

During a debate at the sub-commission on corruption and its debilitating impact on the full enjoyment of human rights, Sorabjee, who works with the UN body as its expert, said corruption is rampant all over India, particularly at the lower level where nothing passed unless somebody’s palm was greased. He said corruption is institutionalised even at the higher levels because of the failure on the part of the State and the courts to enforce stringent anti-corruption laws.

Sorabjee said trails involving corrupt officials took long time to be decided, arguing that even when they are jailed a corrupt official repeated his corruption within the jail.

Corruption universal

In her report, a sub-commission expert and Special Rapporteur Christy Ezim-Mbonu said she established the universality of corruption because the phenomenon is present almost everywhere, irrespective of the country and the level of development or its ideological leanings.

She said corruption is a “cancer” that is destroying the vials of society, and thereby, denying the fundamental human rights.

In the reports, the special rapporteur had variously discussed corruption in the judiciary, among law enforcement agents, in political parties, among parliamentarians, in the private sector and in procurement procedures.

Although many countries joined the UN convention against corruption, only France ratified the instrument.

She said if countries don’t tackle this universal problem, people are bound to face large-scale violation of basic human rights, particularly economic, social, and cultural rights.

Sorabjee concurred with the special rapporteur’s report arguing that the only way to mitigate the problem is to freeze the assets of corrupt officials, a step that required resolute political will.

Political will

Unfortunately, no political party in India is prepared to include such serious measures in their political agenda.

He said a corrupt official not only increases his or her bank balance, but is a violator of human rights.

A society must learn to ostracise corrupt of officials, said Sorabjee.

Former Pakistan’s foreign minister Abdul Sattar, who also serves the sub-commission as an expert, also lamented corruption.

He said it spread rapidly and there is no immediate treatment to tackle this problem.

Developing nations

Mr Sattar said developing countries which were victims of the disease were too often dominated by elites who were often already corrupt.

Sattar said while some countries applied technology to identifying terrorists, most of them did not use such methods for identifying and impeding the transfer of funds derived from corruption.

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CJI faces dissent over promotion of HC judge

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 11, 2006

CJI faces dissent over promotion of HC judge
Manoj Mitta
[ 10 Aug, 2006 0025hrs ISTTIMES NEWS NETWORK ]

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1879292.cms

NEW DELHI: If PM Manmohan Singh was embroiled in the file notings controversy, Chief Justice of India Y K Sabharwal is not without his share of problems with the Right to Information Act.

At three consecutive meetings of the Supreme Court collegium held to select high court chief justices, Justice Sabharwal faced dissent triggered by an RTI application related to a complaint of “misconduct” against acting chief justice of the Delhi High Court, Vijender Jain.

It all began three months ago when Justice Sabharwal proposed to the collegium, comprising himself and the two senior-most judges of the Supreme Court, that Justice Jain be promoted as chief justice of the Bombay High Court.

But Justice Sabharwal was forced to change his proposal for the Bombay High Court as one of the collegium members questioned his candidate’s credentials citing a report in The Times of India, which disclosed in April that the RTI regulator, Central Information Commission, had sought information from the Supreme Court registry on the complaint against Justice Jain.

Since the dissenting member subsequently retired during the summer vacation, Justice Sabharwal revived the proposal to promote Justice Jain, this time to head the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

In the event, the collegium meeting held immediately after the apex court re-opened on July 3 threw up another dissenting voice from the reconstituted collegium.

The new member too asserted that Justice Jain could not be considered for promotion in view of the complaint alleging that, in violation of the judicial code of conduct, he had decided a suit filed by somebody who had performed his granddaughter’s wedding in Justice Jain’s official residence.

A fortnight later, the CJI made his third attempt to push Justice Jain at the collegium meeting held on July 17. The difference this time was that instead of calling just the two senior- most judges, Justice Sabharwal convened a five-member collegium, which is normally used for appointments to the Supreme Court.

At the instance of the dissenting member, the CJI also consulted other SC judges who happened to be former chief justices of the Delhi High Court. At least two of them are learnt to have expressed reservations about the move to promote Justice Jain.

Despite such discordant notes, Justice Sabharwal recommended Justice Jain’s promotion on the strength of majority opinion in the collegium.

The matter is now being proc-essed by the government before it is due to be placed before the President for him to sign the warrant of appointment.

The CJI’s support for Justice Jain is consistent with his administrative “order” in the RTI case on April 21 saying that he had “examined” the complaint against Justice Jain and found “no merit” in it. Justice Sabharwal, however, did not give any reasons for holding that the complaint lacked merit.

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Jurists: no justification for not disclosing file notings

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 10, 2006

Jurists: no justification for not disclosing file notings

Legal Correspondent

http://www.hindu.com/2006/08/10/stories/2006081004291300.htm

Amendments restrict people’s right to know what public servants are doing

 

 


  • Right to information is untrammelled constitutional guarantee
  • Disclosure of all `file notings’ will not deter honest persons

     

    NEW DELHI: Jurists V.R. Krishna Iyer, J.S. Verma and P.B. Sawant have strongly opposed the Centre’s move to introduce amendments not to disclose `file notings’ under the Right to Information Act (RIA), 2005.

    No justification

    In a statement, Mr. Justice Verma, former Chief Justice of India; Mr. Justice Krishna Iyer and Mr. Justice Sawant, former Supreme Court judges, said: “There is no justification for such amendments which unreasonably and unconstitutionally seek to restrict the people’s right to know what their public servants are doing on their behalf.”

    The statement referred to the recent Cabinet decision approving far-reaching amendments, which “seek to restrict access to `file notings’ and allow access to only substantial notings relating to social and developmental issues.”

    It said: “File notings are the recording of the views and reasons by various officials for or against any proposed decision. It is settled that the `right to information,’ implicit under Art. 19 (1) (a), is [an] untrammelled constitutional guarantee, subject only to the `reasonable restrictions’ validly imposed by legislation under Article 19 (2).”

    The scheme under Article 19 (2) did not permit an omnibus restriction.

    The jurists said all government decisions must be based on a discernible principle and cogent reasons. A reasoned order/decision was the assurance against nepotism, arbitrariness and corruption. Reasons provided an internal check against arbitrariness in the decision-making process. Mere information of the decision without disclosure of the reasons for it and the decision-making process was not enough to permit scrutiny of the decision made, which even otherwise might become known.

    “The very purpose of the `right to information’ would be frustrated without the knowledge of the `reasons’ for the decision, emerging from the `file notings.’ Except for information, which can, or needs to be withheld in the interests of the specified heads under Art. 19 (2), there is no reason or authority to permit exclusion of the remaining information in the form of `file notings’ or otherwise.”

    The stated apprehension that disclosure of all `file notings’ would deter honest persons involved in the process from expressing their candid opinion was misconceived. “The fact is the opposite.”

    The assurance of public scrutiny or transparency in government business would motivate the honest to be frank in the expression of their views in writing.

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    Misplaced emphasis

    Posted by rtiact2005 on August 9, 2006

    Misplaced emphasis
    H J Gantzer

    http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1868951.cms

    The ruckus over access to file notings, under the Right to Information Act, 2005, is quite unnecessary, and it could be counterproductive. File notings are only advice; they are not decisions.

    Under the bureaucratic Whitehall System, inherited from the British, when a file is opened, it has two parts. Letters are filed on the right, in the sequence of their receipt or dispatch.

    On the left are note-sheets. These note sheets hold the file notings. When a letter is received it is filed and numbered on the right, and an entry is made on the note-sheet on the left.

    The file is then circulated through the complex network that is the bureaucracy so that everyone, who is expected to know anything about the subject, can offer comments. Let’s take a hypothetical example.

    The secretary of a club, one of whose members is the local admiral, wants to know if the club can use the grounds of a naval air station as a golf course, when aircraft are not flying.

    He writes a letter to the admiral who calls for the comments of his staff officers. This letter, in accordance with the teachings of the Staff College, Wellington, is inserted into a new file titled ‘Airfield…Golf Club: Use by Members as…’ The letter is minuted on the noting sheet under 1 followed by the admiral’s query ‘Can this be done?’ The file begins to circulate.

    ‘I see no harm in it’, notes the chief staff officer, but then adds as a matter of abundant caution, ‘What are the legal and other implications?’ The judge-advocate opines, ‘There are no legal impediments, per se, since civilians can join the officers’ institute.

    But the commander (air) must clear it from the aviation point of view’. The commander (air) notes, ‘No objection if all players are off the grounds and all flags and other markers are removed an hour before and after take-offs and landings and within five minutes of all emergencies.

    But I would like security to have their say’. The provost marshal is cautious, ‘All civilian club members will have to undergo security clearance, and carry temporary identity cards to be renewed every month.

    These will require personal validation by the admiral every time, under the provisions of the current command security memos’. The file goes back to the admiral who bellows, ‘Who made these security memos?’

    His secretary coughs politely and says, ‘You did, sir; a year ago, after the false alarm over the pen drive case’.

    The admiral sends a polite letter back to the secretary of his golf club saying that ‘Most regrettably, under the present circumstances, the use of the grounds of the naval air station by your club cannot be permitted’.

    Let us presume that such notings can be accessed by a common citizen. Who can he hold responsible for that decision? Clearly not the admiral’s staff officers for expressing their points of view.

    The only one who can be held accountable for this decision is the admiral. And under the RTI he is the only one who can be compelled to provide an answer.

    Similarly, the head of department in any government organisation is also the only one who can be held accountable for any delays in his organisation, whether it is in the issuing of ration cards, certificates, and answering queries from the public or anything else.

    Strictly enforced accountability is also the only way to combat corruption because no corrupt person will make a file noting expressing his desire to take a bribe.

    If file notings are made available as a matter of legal right, it will open an escape hatch for devious administrators. It will encourage them to argue: ‘I made that decision because I was advised to’.

    That, in fact, is exactly why the Whitehall System requires such advisers to express their opinions in writing on file notings. You have been given file notings legally.

    ‘Why don’t you charge those officials for giving me wrong advice? Why hold me responsible?’ the top boss would argue. RTI should not be diluted to expose a welter of conflicting opinions. It should be used to enforce strict, and personal, accountability.

    The writer was judge-advocate in the Indian Navy.

    Posted in RTI Issues | 7 Comments »

    LEADER ARTICLE: OUT WITH FILES

    Posted by rtiact2005 on August 9, 2006

    LEADER ARTICLE: OUT WITH FILES
    By: J S Verma (former Chief Justice, Supreme Court

    Move to excluse notings from RTI ACt unconstitutional
    http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1874341.cms

    The cabinet has reportedly approved far-reaching amendments to the Right to Information Act, 2005, which among other things seeks to restrict access to “file notings” and allow access to only “substantial notings relating to social and developmental issues”.

    File notings are recordings of the views and reasons given by various officials for or against any proposed decision. Access to ‘file notings’ under the RTI Act has to be viewed in the context of the constitutional guarantee of the ‘right to know’ or the ‘right to information’ available under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India.

    It is settled that the ‘right to information’, implicit under Article 19(1) (a) is an untrammelled constitutional guarantee, subject only to the ‘reasonable restrictions’ validly imposed by legislation under Article 19(2), which allows on the right in the interest of “the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation and incitement to an offence”.

    Any restriction imposed on the people’s ‘right to information’ by the RTI Act must fall within the ambit of Article 19(2). Section 8 of the RTI Act already allows restriction of the right to information in the interest of all the factors mentioned in Article 19(2).

    As held by the Supreme Court, unreasonableness of the restriction imposed on this right is to be determined by the courts. RTI Act is intended to operationalise this existing right and to impose only the permissible ‘reasonable restrictions’ under Article 19(2).

    The proposed amendment must be tested in this jurisprudential context. The scheme in Article 19(2) is clear. It specifies the heads in the interests of which alone ‘reasonable restriction’ can be imposed by law.

    It does not permit an omnibus restriction permitting the right to information only under a few specified heads. It is the permissible exclusion, and not permission which needs valid legislation.

    Permission or the right is guaranteed unless restricted by a valid law. This is the first infirmity in the proposed amendment. There is a greater infirmity in the restriction proposed on disclosure of file notings.

    It is well settled that all state actions must conform to the rule of non-arbitrariness to satisfy the requirement of Article 14. All decisions must be based on a discernible principle, and cogent reasons.

    A reasoned order or decision is assurance against nepotism, arbitrariness and corruption. Reasons provide an internal check against arbitrariness in decision-making.

    Mere information of the decision without disclosure of the reasons for it and the decision-making process is not enough to permit scrutiny of the decision made.

    The very purpose of the ‘right to information’ would be frustrated without the knowledge of the ‘reasons’ for the decision, emerging from the file notings.

    Except for information which can, or needs to be withheld in the interests of the specified heads under Article 19(2), there is no authority to permit exclusion of the remaining information in the form of ‘file notings’ or otherwise.

    The stated apprehension that disclosure of all file notings would deter honest persons involved in the process from expressing their candid opinion is misconceived. The fact is the opposite.

    Assurance of public scrutiny or transparency in government business will motivate the honest to be candid in the _expression of their views in writing, and it will deter others from not acting honestly for fear of exposure.

    Transparency or openness is an accepted principle of democracy and good governance. American judge Louis Brandeis had said: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and electricity is the best policeman”.

    The ‘Seven Principles of Public Life’ indicated in the Lord Nolan Committee’s Report on Standards in Public Life, include objectivity, accountability and openness which have been set out in the following terms: Objectivity: In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.

    Accountability: Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.

    Openness: Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all their decisions and actions. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands the same.

    After all, public power is derived from ‘We the People of India…’ Its exercise must be subject to legitimate scrutiny by the people, who are the source of that power.

    The people have a participatory role in a republican democracy as they are “the keepers of the Constitution” (to borrow the _expression from Joseph Storey’s exhortation to the American people).

    The only reasonable restrictions on the people’s plenary power of right to information can be those imposed by a valid law relating to the limited heads specified in Article 19(2).

    Omnibus exclusion of file notings relating to all heads except ‘development and social issues’ is impermissible under the Constitution.

    The writer is former chief justice of India.

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    Exam script ‘cover-up’

    Posted by rtiact2005 on August 6, 2006

    Exam script ‘cover-up’

    CHARU SUDAN KASTURI

    http://www.telegraphindia.com/1060807/asp/frontpage/story_6578290.asp

    New Delhi, Aug. 6: A crucial amendment to the Right to Information Act could deny students an opportunity to ensure that their answer scripts in public examinations have been evaluated properly.

    The draft of the amendments, cleared by the cabinet and set to be tabled in Parliament, seeks to exclude from scrutiny “information pertaining to a process of any examination conducted by any public authority, or assessment or evaluation made by it”.

    In a highly competitive atmosphere, where a decimal difference in percentage often makes the difference between success and “failure”, the law as it exists now gives students a “means of self-defence”.

    Ask Subhojit Ghosh. A regular topper at Delhi Public School, R.K. Puram, Subhojit was stumped when he found that he had been awarded only 61 per cent in the math paper in the senior secondary examinations last year.

    But the Right to Information Act, which kicked in last year after the Freedom of Information Act was modified, came to his rescue.

    Under the information law, he sought a copy of his answer script after the re-evaluation failed to convince him. Subhojit’s doubts were confirmed and a damning mix-up came to light: someone else’s paper had been evaluated as his.

    Later, his marks were revised — to 96 per cent.

    “My entire life would have changed, had I not managed to see the answer script myself,” Subhojit, now a student of St. Stephen’s College, said.

    If the proposed amendment is passed, such an option will no longer be available.

    The cabinet, as explained in a press note, believes that teachers evaluating answer scripts would come under severe pressure if students are allowed to continue to take a peek at their corrected papers.

    Lawyers point out that the amendment to Section 8 — which covers information not to be disclosed — will affect examinations ranging from a government school test to an IIT or IAS entrance exam.

    According to an information officer who did not want his name disclosed, the act has been used widely by students in the past year.

    “Particularly in Delhi and Pondicherry, but elsewhere too, several hundreds of students have managed to see their answer scripts following an appeal to the information commission,” he said.

    In many cases, he added, the students eventually managed to get more marks. “One girl who had been failed in a paper actually got 80 per cent.”

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    Posted in RTI Issues | 3 Comments »