No right to interfere

<table border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" width="450"><tbody><tr><td class="news">The right to information is a fundamental right; so should be the freedom to pursue legitimate activities without interference. But when the former is given primacy over the latter, it can lead to unwarranted interference and short-circuiting of systems

Undisputedly the right to information is a fundamental right. But so should be the freedom to pursue legitimate activities without interference, if they abide by the rule of law prescribed for that profession. When the two rights are interpreted in a way that the right to information is given primacy, it can lead to an unwarranted interference and short-circuiting of systems. This stems from an incorrect interpretation of what a "public authority" means.
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</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="news">Under the Right to Information Act, a public authority is defined as "an institution of self-Government established or constituted, by, or under the Constitution, or by a law made by Parliament or the state legislature, or by a notification issued by the appropriate Government". It includes a body that is "controlled" by the Government. This is now being interpreted to include organisations that have to be registered or licenced by a statutory regulatory authority under specific laws.
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</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="news">In my opinion while the public had every right to be informed about the decisions taken by the Government by those organisations which work from Government funds, this cannot be stretched to include organisations which work independently, but which nonetheless require approval for accreditation, affiliation and the license to operate. Often these two functions are confused in the name of "control" and need to be distinguished.
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</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="news">Three examples come to mind. The Delhi Right to Information Act 2001 was under implementation for four years before the central Right to Information Act 2005 came into force. Under the Delhi Act, persons who were discontented with the functioning of their cooperative housing societies filed numerous applications. They demanded copies of documents relating to the internal functioning of the society - a purely private body - by using the provisions of RTI.
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</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="news">Just because cooperative societies function under a Cooperative Act - it was wrongly presumed that the Registrar of Cooperative Societies had the authority to demand every kind of information from a cooperative society and to supply it to the applicants under the Act. Once the Registrar's office acquiesced and began procuring documents from hundreds of societies to satisfy individual applicants, it further emboldened applicants to demand more documentation.
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</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="news">Smelling success, the applicants demanded that the Registrar authenticate the documents, which was never contemplated under the Act. This created insurmountable paperwork for an already overburdened office- (not known either for its efficiency or honesty) and resulted in disputes about the veracity and authenticity of the documents. The appellate authority had to clarify that the intention of law was not that Registrar use his statutory authority to demand information pertaining to the day-to-day internal working of a housing society, simply because the societies were "controlled" by the RCS in respect of specific responsibilities that had to be fulfilled under law.
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</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="news">Another example was the manner in which information was sought on free treatment provided to the poor by private hospitals. All details of the patient, his disease, his residential address and the name of the treating doctor was demanded under RTI. While it was legitimate to demand that the registering authority of private hospitals, the Director of Health Services collect and provide the names and addresses of beneficiaries, (to assess whether they were indigent enough to qualify for free treatment) seeking details of treatment and names of the treating doctors was a case of overreach. Here is a case where the DHS could (and should) have used his regulatory powers to monitor the claims of free service, but not a matter where individuals could seek a patient's medical details under RTI.
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</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="news">We now have a reported decision of the CIC where a stock exchange has been deemed to be a public authority because a Bourse "being a quasi-Government body working under the statute and exercising statutory powers has to be held to be a 'public authority' within the meaning of the RTI Act 2005." The question that arises is not that stock exchanges must be answerable but whether, by virtue of coming under RTI the entire gamut of their functioning should be exposed to individual driven scrutiny. Where does one draw the line between transparency and intrusion?
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</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="news">Almost every activity is directly or indirectly controlled and regulated by the government. Private airlines, hospitals, educational institutions, mobile service providers, chartered accountants, architects, hoteliers all serve a public function and require recognition and license to function. That is essential to maintain standards and enforce laws governing the profession, but it is questionable whether individuals should be given authority to call upon regulatory bodies to collect responses on their behalf, ostensibly in the name of seeking information on public service delivery.
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</td> </tr> <tr> <td class="news">Someone just sent me an SMS what the most enterprising and productive sector of this country thinks. "Let us pray to god to give us shakti, yukti, and capacity to pay security transaction tax, income tax, entertainment tax, service tax, excise duty, value-added tax, stamp duty, fringe benefit tax, and also mukti from having to furnish details thereof under RTI to our competitors."
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</td></tr></tbody></table>The Pioneer > Columnists

I love the SMS !