No back door amendments to RTI Act
The Union Minister for Personnel Prithviraj Chavan said that there was no question of bringing in an amendment in the Right to Information Act without consulting the people. Speaking to a delegation of National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI) at his office on Monday, Mr Chavan assured the delegates that a final decision on the nature of amendments has not been taken as yet.
Chavan said that he had an open mind to the civil society’s suggestion of setting up an RTI Advisory Council to provide better interaction between the government and various stake holders. He also indicated that the government was in the process of preparing a position paper on the issue which he hoped would lead to proper consultation.
Mr Chavan did not deny the possibility of an amendment though he clarified that the government was open to exploring other possibilities for incorporating certain changes in the Act as recommended by the Information Commissioners in a recent meeting in the Capital. He claimed that the very idea of changes was to improve the Act. The NCPRI delegation, led by Magasaysay Award winner Aruna Roy and RTI campaigner Shekhar Singh, impressed upon the Minister that the proposed exclusion of the deliberative process, including file notings, was bound to weaken the law. The delegation also told the minister that the denial of information on the basis of the so called “vexatious and frivolous” applications would make a mockery of the Act because it was impossible to define these terms.
Mr Chavan agreed with the members of the delegation that it would be counter productive to bring in an amendment without proper consultation. The members of the NCPRI delegation had earlier suggested that solutions to many of the ‘problems’ as posed by the Information Commissioners were possible without an amendment. It also underlined the need for a proper debate on the issue in wider public interest.
Following is the text of the NCPRI Press Release on the issue:
A team of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) met with the Minister of State for Personnel, Shri PrthiviRaj Chavan, on 16th November 2009 to discuss the proposed amendments to the RTI Act 2005. The team, led by Aruna Roy and Shekhar Singh, impressed upon the Minister that the need to have a public debate on the proposed amendments before any final decision was taken. The team also requested the Minister to put before the public any problems that the government might be having I implementing the RTI Act and give an opportunity to the people to suggest solutions that would not involve any amendment to the law.
Specifically, the team discussed with the Minister the proposed exclusion of the deliberative process, including file notings and suggested to the Minister that the current exemptions in the RTI Act should be adequate to protect public interest. However, it invited the government to bring to public notice any aspects of the deliberative process which was not exempt and whose disclosure might harm public interest.
The team also discussed the proposed exclusion of the so called “vexatious and frivilous” applications and indicated to the Minister that not only were these impossible to define in a way in which they would not be rampantly misused but that they were other more effective ways of ensuring that such applications did not adversely affect government functioning, including the more effective implementation of section 4 (proactive disclosure). The team also stressed the necessity to ensure that private bodies and NGOs receiving substantive funding from the government remained within the purview of the RTI Act.
The Minister appreciated the points made by the NCPRI team and assured the members that the government would not take a final decision on the matter before consulting the people. To that end, he indicated that the government would prepare a position paper, which would remain public and would lead to public consultations.
On another suggestion the Minister favourably reacted to the idea of setting up an RTI advisory council to provide a forum for on- going interaction between the government and the people.
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