M A I N   N E W S

PM seeks RTI Act relook, citing policy intrusions
Asserts that government wants to make the Act more effective
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, October 14
Close on the heels of the recent disclosures under the Right to Information (RTI) Act that put the government on the back foot, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today called for a relook at the law to address issues of motivated demands for information and those that could affect policy making processes.

20,000 appeals pending

n PM admits public authorities poor in giving information left un-exempted under RTI
n Calls for increased voluntary disclosures to reduce burden under the Act
n 20,000 appeals pending with Central Information Commission
n Reduction in rejection rate of info: 7.2 pc in 2008 to 6.4 pc in 2009 to 5.2 pc in 2010

‘Whistleblowers protection law soon’

The PM on Friday said the law on the protection of whistleblowers would be enacted in the next few months. He also said the government was committed to a comprehensive agenda of legal, executive and technology initiatives to curb corruption. Admitting that the area of “information housekeeping” was a challenge, the PM said the National e-governance project would go a long way in promoting the use of information and communication to facilitate information access.

Every law should be under RTI: Aruna Roy

In obvious references to new laws including the proposed Lokpal, NAC’s Aruna Roy today said every new law should be under the RTI Act. “No law should be not under RTI. No institution, except security agencies exempted by the RTI, should be left uncovered,” she sought, reiterating her disagreement with Anna Hazare’s Jan Lokpal with absolute powers. “Large institutions like the Jan Lokpal will get afflicted by the same disease they wish to cure. That disease is corruption. Larger institutions have lesser ability to be transparent.”

Inaugurating the sixth annual convention of the Central Information Commission (CIC), the PM, on the one hand, said the government wanted to make the RTI Act even more effective, and on the other sought its critical review.

The Convention is debating critical issues for possible changes in the law -- whether to exclude Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) from its purview as recommended by the Planning Commission and the coverage of the judiciary and the CBI.

On the PM’s mind, the biggest worries were vexatious demands for information; apprehensions of public servants that RTI prevented them from fully expressing their views on policy; and constraints of public authorities in dealing with countless RTI queries.

“Even as we celebrate RTI, we must take a critical look at it. There are concerns that need to be addressed,” the PM said, seeking a balance between the need to disclose information and resources available with public authorities.

“A situation in which a public authority is flooded with requests having no bearing on public interest is indeed not desirable. We must pool our wisdom to come to a conclusion on how to deal with vexatious demands without hindering the flow of information to those whose demands serve genuine public interest,” he said, days after Law Minister Salman Khursheed sought changes to RTI.

Over the day, though, PM’s concerns stood validated as state information commissioners cited evidence of the Act’s misuse. Karnataka Information Commissioner D. Thangaraj referred to a dowry

accused who filed 200 RTI applications against police officers who booked him; another case where a person filed 500 applications in the Bangalore City Corporation. He sought powers to dismiss frivolous complaints and those to issue contempt of court notices.

Kerala CIC Siby Mathews cited a glaring instance of a person asking government press for recruitment data since 1950 and backing off when directed by the CIC to pay costs of generating such data.

The PM was equally vociferous in reflecting the fears of public servants. “Another concern is the Act could end up discouraging honest officers from giving full expression to their views. We need to remember that a point of view brought under public scrutiny and discussion in an isolated manner may present a distorted or incomplete picture of what really happened. The RTI should not adversely affect deliberative processes in the government,” he cautioned in veiled references to the recent Finance Ministry’s note which said questioned former Finance Minister P Chidambaram’s role in the Spectrum scam.

While the PM also sought the convention to debate “grey areas the Act had around privacy issues and exemption clauses to see if they needed changes,” RTI campaigners led by National Advisory Council member Aruna Roy pitched for a stronger RTI Act.





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