Govt decision to amend RTI Act not complete:CIC rules out info
Noting that Centre's decision to bring in amendments to the Right to Information Act was yet to be effected, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has ruled out disclosure of any related information till such amendments were actually adopted.
"... A decision on a Cabinet note cannot be treated as complete unless the matter of the decision has been completed, which in this case would mean moving an amendment to the RTI Act as per the Cabinet decision.
"Decisions of the Council of Ministers, the reasons thereof and the materials on the basis of which decisions were taken can not be disclosed under the RTI Act unless the decision has been taken and the matter is complete or over," Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah said.
The order came after the Commission, in response to a RTI plea seeking details on Cabinet's decision over proposed amendments to the two-year-old legislation, had called upon Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) to bring in all relevant documents for its perusal.
The application filed by Magsaysay awardee Aruna Roy and RTI activist Shekhar Singh had asked for information on reasons and materials taken into account by the Cabinet to amend the transparency law, while relying upon press reports and statements of ministers to assert that such a decision had already been taken.
Taking into consideration the government's position that the proposed amendment bill was yet to be considered by the Parliament, the Commission in its order of October 18 had asked DoPT to produce all relevant records for its perusal.
The Commission, which went through the government records as presented before it in a sealed cover on November five, however, observed that from the available documents and files it was clear that the Council of Ministers had approved of the government's action to move an amendment to the RTI Act.
In its order, the CIC referred to provisions of the RTI law to claim that disclosure of information pertaining to decisions of Council of Ministers could be allowed only when the matter concerned was completed.
Earlier, in their submissions in support of their RTI request, the applicants, represented through senior counsel Prashant Bhushan, had contended that once a government decision was taken, information on the same could not be restricted.
Where the government, for reasons extraneous to the Cabinet decision, decides not to table the amendment or is prevented from tabling the amendment, that is a subsequent and distinct matter, and cannot be taken as a ground for refusing access to information, the activists' had argued in their applications.
Re: Govt decision to amend RTI Act not complete:CIC rules out info
File notings may still go out of RTI purview
NEW DELHI: Though it backed off last year in the face of public outrage, the government has technically still not abandoned its controversial attempt to amend the RTI Act and put file notings by ministers and bureaucrats beyond the reach of citizens.
Since it has not formally dropped the proposal of introducing such a Bill, the government has been exempted from disclosing the file notings on the subject.
In a far-reaching order, the Central Information Commission (CIC) ruled on Monday that there were two pre-conditions to be fulfilled if the files related to any Cabinet decision were to be disclosed under the RTI Act. The Cabinet should have not only taken the decision but the matter should also be, as stipulated by Section 8, "complete or over."
CIC chief Wajahat Habibullah held that the abortive proposal of amending the RTI Act cannot be treated as "complete or over" since the government has neither moved an amendment nor has it taken any decision that "no such amendment will be moved."
Habibullah, accordingly, upheld the refusal of the department of personnel and training to disclose the files connected with the proposed amendment to Magsaysay awardee Aruna Roy and RTI activist Shekhar Singh.
The implication of this verdict is, the Manmohan Singh government's secrets related to the whole amendment fiasco are safe for at least 20 years. This is because the exemptions granted by Section 8 of the RTI Act on specified categories of information will no longer be applicable if the information relates to anything that happened 20 years before the date on which an application had been made.
Habibullah's decision has in effect created a loophole for the government. If it wants to keep some information outside the ambit of the RTI Act, all it needs to do is to find some way of making out that that the matter concerned is still pending before the Cabinet.
By adopting such a ploy, the government can put off disclosure of inconvenient issues by as long as 20 years.