New Delhi, (PTI): The Central Information Commission that has blazed a new trail in ensuring transparency in governance favours greater financial and administrative autonomy so that it is not dependent on government for its functioning.
However, the apex body itself is not clamouring for amendment of the RTI Act to vest itself with more powers, since it would like to test the limits of the existing law before doing that.
"What is really required is administrative and financial autonomy. At present, we are totally dependent upon the government both for administrative structure and for our finances," Chief Information Commissioner (CIC), Wajahat Habibullah, said.
He said Parliament should make a direct grant to the Commission instead of routing fund allocation through the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT).
Stating that the Commission being a quasi-judicial body cannot function like any other government department which has deputy secretaries and joint secretaries, he said, what we need is "court masters and people with judicial background."
Habibullah also made a case for freedom to recruit staff as opposed to the current practice of deputing personnels to the Commission from the government. "For this, first we will have to frame our own recruitment rules," he said.
"We have placed a restructured kind of a proposal," he said, adding the Finance ministry was favourably disposed towards it.
On amending the RTI law, Habibullah said he did not favour more teeth for the Commission "as the RTI Act is still to be tested for all its limits."
To a question on changing the law to provide for a contempt clause to deal with officials who fail to comply with the Commission's decisions, he said that in his view, it was not necessary at the moment.
Acknowledging that such powers would make the implementation of the Commission's orders easier, Habibullah said "we must not necessarily seek the easiest way out because the RTI Act (in its present form) has a great deal of potential."
He said the general consensus amongst Information Commissioners from other states was to add contempt provisions to the RTI Act so as to deal with the problems of non-compliance of orders by the Public Information Officers.
The Information Commissioners at a conference last month recommended that contempt provisions should be included in the RTI Act to ensure greater enforcement of the orders. The recommendations will be examined by a Parliamentary Standing Committee.
Habibullah further pointed out that "the RTI Act is potentially a very powerful legislation...we are probably the most advanced in the whole world in terms of the Act, but not necessarily in terms of its implementation."
Replying to a question on bureaucratic resistance to part with information, he said "contrary to the common impression within the bureaucracy, there are a lot of people who have welcomed the Act...many have said it gives them a better way of monitoring their own departments."
The CIC chief said he backed extending the RTI's purview to include inquiry into judicial misconducts as proposed under the Judges (Inquiry) Bill 2006. "I don't see why the judiciary should be treated differently," he said.
To a question on institutions not covered under the RTI Act, Habibullah said the Cabinet Secretariat was mulling changes in the list of exempted organisations, as the list appeared to have been made "hurriedly."
Reading out names of organisations from the list (termed as schedule II under the RTI Act), he said that some of these seemed to have been wrongfully granted exemption under the Act.
Asked if the Commission had suggested changes in the list, he said, "We cannot seek any changes. It is for the government to do that and the government has sought the changes. The Commission has no role to play in this at all nor is our view taken as to which organisation is to be included or not."
While the list of organisations excluded from the purview of the RTI Act includes Intelligence Bureau and Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) amongst others, the central investigative agency CBI is also known to have sought exemptions under the Act, as stated in the Commission's First Annual Report.
Asked about opposition among officials to share file notings with RTI applicants, Habibullah said that access to file notings was essential for the success of the legislation. "File notings are no longer an issue and they are very much a part of the RTI Act," he clarified.
Who does not want power ? Why can't the CIC and SICs confine their duties and responsibilities to the existing provisions of the RTI Act. ? All that the Commission is expected to do is,
(a) to see whether the information sought fall under the defenition of information given in Section 2(f) of the act,
(b) to see that it does not fall under any of the exemptions given in the Act,
(c) the information sought is held by the public authorities,
(d) does not disproproportionately divert the resources of the PA,
(e) not detrimental to the safety or preservation of the record in question and
(f) the appellant has paid the prescribed fees and additional charges if any as deemanded by the PIO.
The Commissions who have been bidding for everything under the moon conveniently forget the unique Section 19(5) of the Act and try to resort to everthing that can increase the degree of dificulty to the appellant in obtaining information. He has made the most user-friendly Act to an object of controversy defeating the very aim of the Act. It is worth noticing that the none of the amendements sought by the Commission is to satisfy the cityzen but for the personal glory of the Commiission equiping with more powers to harass the information seekers or deny the information. If the Commissions could cause so much damages to the information seekers even with the existing provisions what could the fate if they ae given more powers ?