Amendment to the RTI act: Activists & ICs speak in one voice

‘It is too early to talk of any review’

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Danish Raza | October 17, 2011



RTI activists and information commissioners have spoken in one voice against any review of the transparency as it stands today. They believe that the government should give time for the act to stabilize before considering any review or amendment.

The minister, on Friday, said that there was a need for a critical look at the act considering the number of vexatious RTI applications.

A situation in which a public authority is flooded with requests for information having no bearing on public interest is something not desirable. We must, therefore, pool all our wisdom, our knowledge, and our experience to come to a conclusion on how to deal with vexatious demands for information, without at the same time hindering the flow of information to those whose demands genuinely serve public interest.

The prime minister was speaking at the sixth annual convention of central information commission held in the capital on Friday and Saturday.

He added that we must take a critical look at the exemption clauses in the Right to Information Act to determine whether they serve the larger good and whether a change is needed in them.

In the context of the 2G scam issue, union minister M Veerappa Moily said that the RTI act was acting as a detriment to the functioning of the government.

While Dr Manmohan Singh did not speak directly of amendments to the act to diluting it, the civil society believes that he hinted at making changes to the act. According to RTI activists, the government is not comfortable with the kind of information coming out in the public domain due to the RTI and the prime minister, in his speech, expressed the same, indirectly though.

Here are the views of the civil society and the information commissioners about the prime minister said in the convention:

Shailesh Gandhi, information commissioner, central information commission

The PM did not talk of amendments. But it is an open secret that the government is uncomfortable with the act. The PM expressed the same in 2006 and his views continue to be the same. If the government has the political support, it will go ahead and amend the act.

Venkatesh Nayak, commonwealth human rights initiative
Any kind of debate is welcome, but there is no need at all to amend the act. The argument that the bureaucrats will not give honest opinion because of the act is not valid. If this fear factor is the criteria, they should wind up all the military and army operations.
Embarrassment should not be the basis for exemption of the disclosure clauses.

Vijay Kuvalekar, state information commissioner, Maharashtra information commission
The prime minister did not clearly speak about amendments to the RTI act. The civil society and media need not worry, but be vigilant.

Jagdeep Chokar, founder, association for democratic reforms
Prime minister is a former bureaucrat.  It is sad on his part to say that the RTI is disrupting the decision making and hampering the work of bureaucracy.  RTI is a shield and insurance for honest bureaucrats and politicians, if there are any left.

Bhaskar Prabhu, RTI activist, Maharashtra
I totally disagree with the prime minister’s statements on vexatious RTI applications. There is no need to touch the act, forget about amendments. The fact is that the government has not implemented the RTI act in totality. The pendency is increasing an all the departments because of non- compliance of voluntary disclosure clause of the act.

Jagadananda, state information commissioner, Orissa information commission
It is too premature to talk about any debate or review of the act. We need time for the act to stabilize.
AK Chaudhary, state chief information commissioner, Bihar information commission
The prime minister did not talk of amendments. He spoke of a review and there is nothing in that.
I don’t agree with the view that the RTI hinders the functioning of the government. The issue is lack of appreciation of the act from the public information officers with various government departments.

Satyananda Mishra, chief information commissioner, central information commission
The PM has all the right to put forth his views and he did that. In his speech, there is no indication of any kind of amendment to the act. We are just trying to read between the lines. He only raised some concerns which were valid.

D B Deshpande, state information commissioner, Maharashtra information commission
We need to do research and analysis on the working and impact of the act before going ahead with any review. We need research work to find out the flaws if there are any.

M N Gunavardhanan, state information commissioner, Maharashtra information commission
The act is not creating any hindrance in the functioning of the government. We need to take a balanced view on the matter. We need to make the aware the public and the information commissioners about vexatious RTI applications.

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