Two amendments out of seven proposed by DoPT receive an okay from Information Commissioners
Information commissioners (ICs) across the country have said that that no amendments were necessary to the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
In a bid to strengthen the RTI Act, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) had called a meeting for consultation with around 60 central and state ICs across the country on 14 October 2009. However, the ICs received the minutes of the meeting only after three months.
During the meeting, all ICs pointed out that the decision of what constitutes ‘vexatious’ or ‘frivolous’ would have to be left to the personal information officers (PIOs). This would result in large-scale rejections by PIOs and would go against the present principle that no purpose needs to be given by applicants.
The DoPT outlined seven amendments. The ICs almost unanimously pointed out that the first five points needed no amendments.
Here are the seven proposals, out of which five needed no amendments and two which would dilute the RTI Act and would need an amendment to the Act:
1) Constitution of benches: DoPT held that the present constitution of benches, where cases are heard by a single Information Commissioner is not legal. The Commissioners pointed out that this was not the correct position, and the Central Information Commission had already ruled on this matter. Even if the DoPT’s argument was accepted, only a change of rules would be required. DoPT was proposing that all benches should be two-member benches, which would increase the expenditure per case by nearly 100%, and most Commissions would be overwhelmed by the cases, since they would not be able to cope with the same.
2) Removal of nine exempted public authorities from the list in Schedule (2): There is no need for an amendment, as a few public authorities have already been included and deleted through a notification as per Section 24(2) of the RTI Act.
3) Include Citizens Charter in Section 4 declarations of each public authority: Here again, there is no need to amend, as it can be included under Sec 4(1)(b)(xvii), which says, ‘Such other information as may be prescribed’.
4) Defining what is meant by ‘substantially financed’ under 2(h)(d)(ii): This is already being judicially defined by Information Commissioners.
5) Facilitate Indians abroad to use RTI Act through embassies: This can be done very easily by making appropriate rules.
The two proposals which needed an amendment to the Act proposed by DoPT are as under:
6) Adding ‘frivolous & vexatious requests’ to the list of Section 8 exemptions: Commissioners pointed out that the decision of what constitutes ‘vexatious’ or ‘frivolous’ would have to be left to the PIOs.
This would result in large-scale rejections by PIOs and would go against the present principle that no purpose needs to be given by applicants. Most Commissioners spoke against such an amendment, while two stated that it was necessary.
7) Excluding discussions/consultations that take place before arriving at governmental decisions; in other words, exclusion of file-notings, which would render the working of the government completely opaque to citizens. This would mean that citizens will know the reasons for taking decisions only after the decisions have been taken and never know why certain decisions in their benefit were not taken.
All the ICs gave their verdict that for the first five objectives there was no need to amend the RTI Act. On point (6) two Commissioners spoke in favour of amending the Act to prevent frivolous and vexatious RTI queries, whereas over half a dozen opposed these. On point (7) also the Commissioners expressed a clear view that no amendment was desirable. Some Commissioners pointed out that any change in the RTI Act would lead to unnecessary confusion in implementation and in the minds of citizens and PIOs.