M A I N   N E W S

Nod to Right to Information Bill
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 4
The Union Cabinet tonight approved 11 Bills including the much awaited Right to Information Bill, the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Bill and a law on disaster management for coordinated response during a crisis situation.

The Cabinet also approved amendments to three major Bills — the RBI Act, 1934, Banking Regulation Act, 1949 and the Credit Information Companies (Regulation) Bill ---to hasten the pace of banking reforms.

The Cabinet also approved the abolition of cess on export of agricultural products to make them more competitive. It also approved a Bill to prevent weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and their delivery systems from falling into the hands of non-state actors.

The Right to Information Bill once enacted will provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for people to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, “in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority”. It will also provide for setting up a Central Information Commission and also state information commissions in states and union territories.

“We will endeavour to get this Bill passed in the current session itself”, Mr Reddy said. The Right to Information Bill was introduced in Parliament in December 2004 and later sent to the Parliamentary Standing Committee and a Group of Ministers, which had made certain recommendations.

State Chief Information Commissioner would head the Commissions and would be assisted by state information commissioners, whose strength would not exceed 10, Information and Broadcasting Minister Jaipal Reddy told newspersons here after the Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The creation of these posts and commissions will involve a total cost of Rs 65 crore.

After enactment, the Bill would confer statutory rights to citizens for seeking information.

The new Bill will replace the Freedom of Information Act, 2002. The National Advisory Council deliberated on the issue and suggested certain important changes to be incorporated in the existing Act to ensure smoother and greater access to information. The Government examined the suggestions made by the National Advisory Council and others and decided to make a number of changes in the law.

The important changes proposed to be incorporated, inter alia, include establishment of an appellate machinery with investigating powers to review decisions of the Public Information Officers; penal provisions for failure to provide information as per law; provisions to ensure maximum disclosure and minimum exemptions, consistent with the constitutional provisions, and effective mechanism for access to information and disclosure by authorities, etc.

The amendments in the Banking Regulation Act and RBI Act will provide for operational flexibility to RBI for revising the limits on statutory liquidity ratio and Cash reserve ratio (CRR). The RBI will also be able to supersede the Board of a bank.

The Disaster Management Bill, 2005, which will be introduced in the current session of Parliament, will provide for setting up of a National Disaster Management Authority under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister.

The Cabinet also approved the proposal to revise the rate of sumptuary allowance for judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts with effect from April one last year. Under the new norms, the Chief Justice of India would receive a sum of Rs 10,000 per month. Judges of Supreme Court and Chief Justices of High Courts would receive Rs 7,000 per month and Judges of High Court would receive Rs 5,000 per month.

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) tonight approved the proposal to set up an Apex Trauma Centre at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). The Centre will be set up within a period of six months at Rs 138.53 crore.

On the abolition of cess on export of agri products, Mr Reddy said the Cabinet decision authorises repeal and amendment to several acts including the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority Cess Act, 1985, Spices Cess Act, 1986, Coffee Act 1942, Tobacco Cess Act, 1975 and Marine Products Export Development Authority Act.

The Cabinet also decided to confer central university status to Allahabad University.

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