Right to Information
A secret cabinet note reveals desperation of Netas to hide from RTI Act

For the first time ever, a cabinet note, otherwise deemed `secret document’ is uploaded in the public domain to facilitate public consultations; thanks to public outcry

A handbook issued by the Cabinet Secretariat, on guiding Parliamentarians on how to write cabinet notes states importance of such notes, as, “the decisions taken by the Cabinet and Cabinet Committees are fundamental to the governance of the country and form the basis of policy formulation as also for evaluating the impact of programs, policies, plans, projects and schemes of the Government.”

Cabinet notes are deemed as secret documents and seeking copies of the same under the Right to Information (RTI) Act can be rejected under Section 8. However, thanks to the hue and cry by RTI activists and citizens all over the country, the RTI Amendment Bill, 2013, has been sent to the Parliamentary Standing Committee, making it open for public consultations too. When RTI activists questioned as to how can credible public suggestions/ objections be made without being informed about the arguments made in favour of keeping political parties out of the RTI Act, the Ministry of Personnel uploaded the secret cabinet note on its website.

This public disclosure is indeed historic and it gives a peek into the enthusiasm of the cabinet committee to keep political parties outside the purview of the RTI Act, out of which was born the RTI Amendment Bill, 2013.

Some points which highlight the unusual speed and desperate arguments with which the Cabinet operated to slip out of the RTI Act:

  1. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh approved the placing of the RTI Amendment Ordinance, 2013 and the Cabinet Note before the Cabinet on 9 July 2013. However, the secret cabinet note of 23rd July turns the Ordinance into an amendment bill, reflecting the hurry with which members of parliament (MPs) wanted to get out of the ambit of RTI Act. The note states, that after the PM’s nod, ``It is now proposed that instead of bringing an Ordinance, an Amendment Bill may be introduced in Parliament… Accordingly, a draft Bill namely, the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2013 has been prepared and a copy of the same is placed below for the approval, before it is sent to the Administrative Department.’’
  2. Observing that the Central Information Commission (CIC) has made “liberal interpretation of Section 2 (h) of the RTI Act in its 3 June 2013 order, the Cabinet Note curiously states, in fact confesses, that political parties were not considered to be public authorities even when the National RTI Act was enacted. Excerpts from the Cabinet Note: “…Moreover, during the process of enactment of the RTI Act, it was never visualised or considered to bring the political parties within the ambit of the said Act. If the political parties are held to be public authorities under the RTI Act, it would hamper their smooth internal working. Further, it is apprehended that political rivals might file RTI applications with malicious intentions to the Central Public Information Officers (CPIOs) of the political parties, thereby adversely affecting their political functioning.’’
  1. The Cabinet Note demands the complete exclusion of political party as public authority. Excerpt: “It is proposed to bring a Bill to amend the RTI Act so as to explicitly provide in the definition of public authority that public authority shall not include any political party registered under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951…The Right to Information Act, 2005 shall be amended as below:..the following Explanation shall be inserted, namely:- Explanation — The expression ‘authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted’ by any law made by Parliament shall not include any association or body of individuals registered or recognised as political party under the Representation of the People Act, 1951.”
  2. The Cabinet Note demands that the Amendment should overrule any court order or any CIC decision. This goes to show how secretive political parties intend to be and at which lengths they want to go to not provide information. Excerpts: “…Notwithstanding anything contained in any judgment, decree or order of any court or commission, the provisions of this Act, as amended by the Right to Information (Amendment) Act, 2013, shall have effect and shall be deemed always to have effect, in the case of any association or body of individuals registered or recognised as political party under the Representation of the People Act, 1951 or any other law for the time being in force and the rules made or notifications issued there under."
  3. The Cabinet Note suggests that the RTI Amendment Bill comes into force on 3 June itself , that is, on the same day as the CIC decision so that no political parties are held responsible for not appointing PIOs and AAs (as ordered by the CIC) during that interim period. Excerpt: “The proposed Act shall be deemed to have come into force on the 3rd day of June, 2013, since the CIC decision holding political parties to be public authority under the RTI Act is dated 3rd of June, 2013. As per the section 19(7) of the RTI Act, the decision of the CIC shall be binding. Thus, to eliminate possibility of any action against the political parties for non compliance of the said CIC decision during the period from 3rd of June, 2013 till date, it would be imperative to bring this Act into force from 3rd of June, 2013.’’
  4. The Cabinet Note argues that transparency prevails even without political parties coming under the RTI Act. Excerpts: “… There are already provisions in the Representation of the People Act, 1951 as well as in the Income Tax Act which lead to necessary transparency regarding the financial aspects of a political party.’’ The note also gives several other aspects of financial transparency (you may refer to the link provided in this article to see details) and then goes on to add: “Declaring a political party as public authority under the RTI would hamper its smooth internal working, which is not the objective of the RTI Act and was not envisaged by the Parliament under the RTI Act. Further, the political rivals may maliciously file a large number of RTI applications with the CPIOs of political parties, thereby adversely affecting the political functioning of the political parties. Thus, it is necessary to annul the adverse effects of the erroneous conclusion by the CIC that political parties are public authorities under the RTI.’’

Thus, it is imperative that a very large number of citizens send their suggestions/ objections to the Standing Committee by 6th October. The Standing Committee would be submitting its report by mid-December.

Venkatesh Nayak, who has picked up cudgels for the people on this campaign through Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), says, “While the powers that be might be inclined to do a rethink on the Ordinance intended to let convicted MPs and hold on to their seats, the effort to amend the RTI Act to keep political parties out of its ambit goes on without much soul-searching. “

Recent news reports about the Cabinet Note attached to the Bill (accessible on the Dept. of Personnel’s website ) have indicated that the Government intends to exclude all political parties from the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) and not just those six national parties which were declared as public authorities by the CIC in June this year. In fact the text of the RTI Amendment Bill itself makes this intention very clear. The Cabinet Note only provides the reasoning for this retrograde move of the Government.

Nayak adds, “Unfortunately, by claiming that political parties are private bodies, political leaders opposed to transparency have reduced the status and prestige of their parties to the level of ordinary associations and clubs which appear and disappear with time.”

Other stories on this issue: RTI Amendment Bill: Why people can’t file suggestions, objections in languages other than Hindi, English?

Over one lakh signatories request PM for public consultations on RTI amendment

(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”)



Gopalakrishnan T V

3 years ago

This exposure of secret cabinet note is amazing.Law of the land is applicable to all equally and Politicians and political parties cannot expect to have an exemption. If the laws made in this country are made equally applicable and enforceable, The Governance standards would have been very high and the economy would have prospered long back. It is doubtful the Income Tax act and other acts intended to raise revenue are made applicable to all without fear or favor. Had this been made applicable to all with equal force and vigor as is the case with middle class and lower middle class, the fiscal deficit cannot be this high making the economy vulnerable.It is doubtful many of the Crorepatis in the country are having PAN Card even and they quote their PAN Card details for major transactions.


3 years ago

Thank you Vanita for sharing the Cabinet note with us . This just goes to show to what extent the Manmohan Singh Government along with the rest of the Poltical parties will go to protect their self interests . What have the political parties got to hide if they were transparent in their financial transactions and inner party internal working . The Verma Commission in it's report had precisely raised the inner party working in it's questionaire to Election Commission of India . The time has come to seriously consider for framing a new Constitution for India as the entire political class has made a mockery of the existing Constitution .

Govt gives more money to PSU banks for lending during festival season

Government expect state-run banks to lend this additional money to consumers for buying auto, consumer durables at lower rates during the festival season

Ahead of the festival season, the Indian government on Thursday decided to enhance capital infusion into the public sector banks (PSBs) over and above what was provided in the Budget to enable them to extend more credit to auto and consumer durables sectors to stimulate demand and combat slowdown.


The decision to increase the quantum of capital infusion was taken at a meeting between the Finance Minister P Chidambaram, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Raghuram Rajan and Economic Affairs Secretary, Arvind Mayaram.


“This amount (Rs14,000 crore provided for capital infusion in the Budget) will be enhanced sufficiently. The additional amount of capital will be provided to banks to enable them to lend to borrowers in select sectors such as two-wheeler, consumer durables, etc at lower rates in order to stimulate demand,” a finance ministry statement said.


It further said the additional fund infusion would help in combating slowdown and boost output.


“While this will bring relief to consumers, especially the middle class, it is also expected to give a boost to capacity addition, employment and production,” it added.


Consumer durables, a reflection of demand for manufactured products, include TV, fridge, washing machine.


The two-wheeler sales recorded a flat growth of 0.72% in April-August period current fiscal, as against a growth of 6.8% in the corresponding period last year.


Aadhaar ID or internal passport?

PS Deodhar is former advisor to Rajiv Gandhi on electronics, but even his article in 2009, highlighting the problems with Aadhaar, was ignored in a hurry to push through Nandan Nilekani's ambitious and expensive UID scheme

On 1 July 2009, in a Delhi seminar on the subject of national identification (NID) card, I opposed the proposal to get into national ID cards for every citizen in the country. I fully endorsed the need to create “Citizen Data Base” by allocating a unique national identity number (NIN) to every citizen and resident of India as was suggested by our former President, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, sometime ago in context of voter’s list. Let me also first establish my credentials by adding that I am a technologist who had brought smart card technology to India 23 years ago and I have followed ID card technology since, having personally developed India’s own smart card pay phone as well as applications for smart cards in financial and health sectors. Smart Card Forum of India in 2002 named me as “Smart Card Pioneer in India.”  Yet I opposed this move. Here are some of my relevant comments:


Socio-political realities and limitations 


NID card becoming an ‘internal passport’

An ID card, by definition, is a form of internal passport. Virtually all ID cards worldwide develop a broader usage over time, than was originally envisioned for them. This development of new and unintended purposes is becoming known as function creep. Without care, the card becomes an icon. Its use is enforced through mindless regulation or policy, disregarding other means of identification, and in the process causing significant problems for those who are without the card. The card becomes more important than the individual.


Loss or lack of NID card

Virtually, all countries with ID cards report that their loss or damage causes immense problems. Up to 5% of cards are lost, stolen or damaged each year, and the result can be denial of service benefits, and - in the broadest sense - loss of identity. Imagine illiterate Indians in city slums, beggars on the street, farmers in the field, adivasis, illiterate women and shining India NID Smart Card.


Replacement of NID

The replacement of a high security, high integrity card involves significant administrative involvement. Documents must be presented in person to an official. Cards must be processed centrally. This process can take some weeks. However, a low value card can be replaced in a lesser time, but its loss poses security threats because of the risk of fraud and misuse.


People who lose a wallet anywhere or their passport in foreign county will quickly understand the misfortune and inconvenience that can result. A single ID card when lost or stolen can have precisely the same impact in a person’s life


Countries that have opposed National ID cards and their reasons

US: In the United States, successive administrations have refused to propose an ID card for every citizen. Extension of the Social Security Number (SSN) to the status of an ID card has been consistently rejected since 1971 by the Social Security Administration task force as well as by the Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Bush Administrations. In US, issues of individual autonomy and national sovereignty have dominated the Identity card issue, despite a high level of anxiety over fraud, tax evasion and illegal immigrants.

Australia: In 1986 Australian Government planned to introduce NID, after a fierce resistance from citizen that formed the biggest civil campaign, the government abandoned the plan in 1987.


New Zealand, UK And Philipines: All dropped their plans for the reasons of cost and complexity as well as the popular resistance. 


France: France has ID cards but it was stalled for many years because of public and political opposition. Public debate intensified in 1980, with the judiciary expressing concern that an ID card had the potential of limiting the right of free movement. Francois Mitterrand expressed the fear that the creation of computerized identity cards contains a real danger for the liberty of individuals. The plan was re-introduced under a later conservative government.


Canada, Ireland, Nordic Countries and Sweden: All these countries too do not want national ID for one or other of the above reasons.


TN Seshan’s failed voter ID initiative

This task was indeed Herculean and our Election Commission has a first-hand experience of it.  TN Seshan and many others, who followed him, know it well from their experience with the administrative disaster related to Voter’s ID card with a photo. Experience of voters in the recently concluded election will tell us of the reforms we need in this basic task. Like our former President observes, we need at first a reliable Voter’s Digital List and only then we can hope to have Voter’s ID. A Unique National Identity Number for every individual and making it accessible on a public data base is all that we need to derive the desired objective.


Effectiveness of NID Card

Containing terrorism: Of the 25 countries most affected by acts of terrorism 80% have national ID cards. One-third of those include a biometric element. In addition, it is reported that almost two-thirds of known terrorists operate under their own identity, and that most enter countries using tourist visas, which, because of their popularity, are subject to low levels of scrutiny. Since 1986, Pakistan, which also has a national ID card program with a biometric element, has suffered thousands of terrorist attacks, killing several thousand citizens. During the same time frame, India, which has no national ID card program at all, suffered fewer attacks, killing less than 1,500 people. National ID cards are not new in Britain. During both World War I and World War II, citizens were required to carry a national ID card at all times and produce it when demanded by police. In 1951, however, Britain's National Registration Act was repealed and ID cards were no longer issued. It is good to know why.


Assisting law enforcement: Law and Order is a key motivation for the establishment of ID cards in numerous countries but their usefulness to police has been marginal. In the UK, Association of Chief Police Officers observed that instead of NID Card they are in favour of a voluntary system and police would be reluctant to administer a compulsory NID Card possession since it might erode relations with the public. The major problem in combating crime is not lack of identification procedures, but difficulties in the gathering of evidence and the pursuit of a prosecution. Criminologists too have not been able to show any evidence that the existence of a card would actually reduce the incidence of crime, or the success of prosecution. In reality, only a national DNA database as has just been suggested by Dr Kalam or a biometric database now used in Canada might assist the police in linking crimes to perpetrators. In Brazil, all residents are obliged to carry at all times NID Card, of the size of a credit card bearing a photograph, thumb print, full name and parents' names, national status (Brazilian national or alien resident) and a serial number. Is this feasible in India?


Controlling illegal immigration: Although the immigration issue is a principle motivation behind ID card proposals in continental Europe and the United States, the impact of cards on illegal immigration has been patchy. The use of a card for purposes of checking resident status depends on the police and other officials being given very broad powers to check identity. More important from the perspective of civil rights, its success will depend on the exercise of one of two processes: either a vastly increased level of constant checking of the entire population, or, a discriminatory checking procedure which will target minorities. The argument most often put forward to justify the quest to catch illegal immigrants in any country is that these people are taking jobs that should belong to citizens.  The image of the illegal immigrant into Indian cities is a powerful one, and it is used to maximum effect by proponents of ID cards. In India, getting a false ID for a bribe will in any case defeat the purpose.


Increasing police powers: A Privacy International survey of ID cards found police abusing NID cards in virtually all countries. Most involved people being arbitrarily detained after failure to produce their card. Others involved beatings of juveniles or minorities. There were even instances of wholesale discrimination on the basis of data set out on the cards. Cards are often alleged to be the vehicle for discriminatory practices. Police who are given powers to demand ID invariably have consequent powers to detain people who do not have the card, or who cannot prove their identity. Even in such advanced countries as Germany, the power to hold such people for up to 24 hours is enshrined in law. The question of who is targeted for ID checks is left largely to the discretion of police. The wartime ID card used in the UK outlived the war, and found its way into general use until the early 1950s. Police became used to the idea of routinely demanding the card, until in 1953 the High Court ruled that the practice was unlawful and that led to the repealing of the National Registration Act, and the abandonment of the ID card. The Chief Justice remarked, “ although the police may have powers, it does not follow that they should exercise them on all occasions...it is obvious that the police now, as a matter of routine, demand the production of national registration identity cards whenever they stop or interrogate a motorist for any cause. In this country we have always prided ourselves on the good feeling that exists between the police and the public, and such action tends to make the public resentful of the acts of police and inclines them to obstruct them rather than assist them”.


Facilitating discrimination: The success of ID cards as a means of fighting crime or illegal immigration will depend on a discriminatory checking procedure which could indeed target the poor and minorities. The irony of the ID card option is that it invites discrimination by definition. Discriminatory practices are an inherent part of the function of an ID card. Without this discrimination, police would be required to conduct random checks, which in turn, would be politically unacceptable. All discrimination is based on one of two conditions: situational or sectional; Situational discrimination targets people in unusual circumstances. i.e. walking at night, visiting certain areas, attending certain functions or activities, or behaving in an abnormal fashion. Sectional discrimination targets people of certain section i.e. poor, women, youths, illiterate or the homeless. ID cards containing religious or ethnic information make it possible to carry this discrimination a step further. Several developed nations have been accused of conducting discriminatory practices using ID cards. Ironically, the Parliaments of several European nations, including France and Holland, have accepted a law introducing the obligation to identify oneself in numerous situations including, for instance, at work, at football stadiums, on public transport an in banks. While the card is voluntary in name, it is in effect a compulsory instrument that will be carried at all times by Dutch citizens. Moreover, foreigners can always be asked to identify themselves to authorities at any moment and in any circumstance. French police have been accused of overzealous use of the ID card against blacks, and particularly against Algerians. Greek authorities have been accused of using data on religious affiliation on its national card to discriminate against people who are not Greek Orthodox. In India, what could be in store?

Please let’s not rush. There are things to do before we invest and squander thousands of crores of much needed resource.


(PS Deodhar is founder and former chairman of the Aplab Group of companies. He is also the former chairman of the Electronics Commission of the Government of India and was an advisor to late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on electronics. He also was the chairman of the Broadcast Council in 1992-93 that set in motion the privatisation of the electronic media with metro channels.)




3 years ago

I fully agree and endorse the views and objections for "Aadhaar"card as elaborated by shri Deodhar .


3 years ago

There is a basic confusion about treating Aadhaar as an Identity Card; which is wrong. Aadhaar is similar to the social security number of the US and is certainly not an ID Card. Aadhaar is an identity system based on biometrics which is verifiable online.
Primary aim of Aadhaar is to empower the citizens and prevent misuse of identity. For example it is highly possible that ration is being consumed in one person name without one knowing about it. How else is it possible to have more ration cards than the number of families? Similarly, impersonation is rampant in other identity system like passport, voter id card, license etc.
A smart card as the writer mentions is waste of money. No card can substitute an online id system.
Aadhaar is the only online identity system in the world which is not only accurate, efficient and reliable but also acting as a financial address. It is not only harmless but empowers and protect the common man like a Raksha Kavach.
There are some critics of Aadhaar. The reasons are easy to guess. Nation is waking up to accuracy and transparency… there is bound to be some opposition from the people who benefited from impersonation.

Mukesh kamath

3 years ago

@Joseph Korah: NPR is a terrible scheme and mysteriously critics have let it run and concentrated all their efforts in stonewalling aadhaar. Probably no one wants to attack a weak scheme. That aside aadhaar card once lost it should be possible to retrive it by submitting the biometrics of a person. I suggest all permanent enrollment stations have a procedure to scan biometrics of a person who lost his card. Then run a 1:n match in the database and pull up his record and issue him a duplicate card then and there. For a person who has lost his aadhaar card to the police it should be possible for him to live with just the print of the e-aadhaar and the number alone.


3 years ago

In chennai the Aadhaar Card enrollment is based ONLY on the Census taken in 2010. If a resident does not have this census slip of 2010 then he will have to get his name included in the NPR Schedule form which has to be submitted to the Zonal Office of the Corporation,After which the officials will come for checking and then a new census slip will be issued after which enrollment under AAdhaar can be done. So no other documents like Passport or PAN Card or Driving License is valid proof for enrollment for Aadhaar.

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