Centre lists its grouses with the right to information

The proposal to amend RTI law includes 11 sections that would need to be changed, says a DoPT reply to an information request

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Danish Raza | May 3, 2010


The office of the Central Information Commission in Delhi
The office of the Central Information Commission in Delhi

For the first time, the Centre has listed the sections of the RTI Act 2005 -- 11 in number -- that it finds problematic and the amendments that it deems desirable, mentioning its unease over disclosure of Cabinet papers, "sensitivity" of the office of the CJI, and the need to give "partial exemption to organizations possessing sensitive information".

"Government is examining a proposal regarding amendment to the Act which, in brief, covers... " says Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) in its April 30, 2010 reply to an RTI request from Subhash Chandra Agrawal, before listing 11 sections that have been deemed to require amendments.

"Amendment to Section 7 so as to avoid frivolous and vexatious requests; amendment to Section 8 so as to slightly modify the provision about disclosure of Cabinet papers, to ensure smooth functioning of the government and to take care of the sensitivity of the office of the CJI," says number 3 of the list of areas that, according to the government, need amendment.

It can be recalled that in November last year, outgoing chief justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan wrote a letter to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh requesting that his office should not come under the transparency law. Later, a communication between Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi also revealed the latter's intention to take CJI's office out of the purview of the RTI Act.
The DoPT reply also lists "amendment to Section 24 so as to incorporate a provision about partial exemption of organization possessing sensitive information," which appears to be a proposal to add more agencies to the list of 22 organisations that are exempted from the Act.

To remove the ambiguity as to "whether a particular NGO be treated as a public authority or not", the government is considering amending Section 2 which defines a public authority that are required by the law to respond to requests for information, says the DoPT reply. Amendment to Section 4 "so as to enlarge the scope of suo motu disclosure" is also under consideration.
Other proposals listed in the DoPT reply are amendments to Sections 12 and 15 to make a provision about "giving the current charge of the post of the chief information commissioner to any information commissioner."

The DoPT reply came on an RTI application that Agrawal filed in March. Agrawal had sought a copy of the proposed changes in the RTI Act. 
It's well known that citizen groups and RTI advocates have been vehemently opposing any proposal to amend the RTI Act.

“We have repeatedly told the government that there is an urgent need for proper implementation of the Act rather than introducing any amendments,” Shekhar Singh, member, National campaign for people’s right to information (NCPRI), told Governance Now.

According to Manish Sisodia, another RTI activist and founder, Kabir, the amendments will result in weakening of the Act. “In the recent past, important information has come out in public domain because of the RTI Act. The government cannot see this happening and want to curb the information flow by introducing amendments. It will be great if they can first fully implement the sections that they want to amend,” said he.
 

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