New Delhi, April 30: The Lok Sabha wants to reserve the right to decide if it should reveal information about House proceedings under the transparency law.
The Lok Sabha privileges committee has asked the government to amend the Right to Information Act to make it mandatory for those seeking information to explain why they want it.
It cited the constitutional provision that the proceedings of Parliament or any of its committees cannot be called in question in any court.
The committee added that the right to decide whether or not to part with any sensitive information should be vested with the Speaker, who would act after consulting it.
In its latest report tabled today, the committee headed by V. Kishore Chandra S. Deo also recommended that the 30-day deadline within which information has to be provided under the transparency law be scrapped in such cases.
If the Speaker feels that the information or documents sought have the “potential” to call in question the proceedings of the House or any of its committees, he may recommend it to the privileges committee for examination.
It would then take its time to review the request and the information would be revealed only if cleared by it and agreed to by the House, the report said.
“(The) Decision taken by the House/Speaker may not be open to review by the chief information commissioner,” the committee said.
The recommendations have once again highlighted the uneasy relationship between the higher judiciary and Parliament.
Speaker Somnath Chatterjee and other MPs have frequently asserted that under the Constitution, Parliament has been accorded a pre-eminent position making it supreme in its allotted sphere, and the law courts must not interfere with its functioning.
On condition of anonymity, a member of the privileges committee said most MPs fear the RTI Act might be “misused” by their opponents or others to “settle scores” or for political gain.
Requests for information or documents from courts or investigative agencies earlier had to specify the purpose for which these were required.
But after the RTI Act came into force from June 15, 2005, the situation has substantially changed, the committee noted in its report.
According to Section 6 of the law, “an applicant making request for information shall not be required to give any reason for requesting the information or any other personal details except those that may be necessary for contacting him”.
Parliamentary panel disfavours uncontrolled access under RTI
A Parliamentary panel, disfavouring uncontrolled access under RTI to information relating to proceedings of the House, has said that many legislatures across the world have no such provision.
The Lok Sabha Committee for Privileges, headed by senior Congress leader V Kishore Chandra Deo, wrote to the Parliaments of 35 countries out of which 22 replied.
The House of Lords, UK, has no recent record of a court or investigating agency requesting for a parliamentary document and such documents are mostly protected by Parliamentary privilege from use in court.
In the Sri Lankan Parliament, if any document is requested, it can be obtained on written approval of the Speaker.
According to the Sri Lankan Constitution, "no member or officer of Parliament shall give evidence elsewhere in respect of the contents of such evidence or of the contents of any documents laid before Parliament".
In the National Assembly of South Africa, any request from a court or an investigating agency requires the express permission of the presiding officer for the execution or service of any summon or subpoena.
In Canada, the law of Parliamentary privileges is operational in the Senate. It rules that no proceeding in Parliament shall be questioned in any court or placed outside Parliament.
In its report to the Speaker yesterday, the Committee had disfavoured uncontrolled access under RTI to information related to proceedings in the House and advocated amendments in the RTI Act.
It said the amendment of the RTI Act was necessary to make an applicant declare why any particular information was being sought.
Noting that the Parliamentary proceedings involve "sensitivity and confidentiality of the information", it said Parliament needs to know the reasons for which an information is sought.
The Privileges Committee said that "notwithstanding the overriding effect" with regard to applicability of the Right to Information Act, 2005 vis-a-vis other laws, the right to information accruing to a citizen under the RTI "cannot abrogate privileges conferred under Constitutional provisions".
It said that irrespective of the fact as to what the citizens ask for under the RTI Act vis-a-vis matters under the jurisdiction of Parliament, it should be made mandatory for them to state the reasons for which the information or documents are being sought so that the Speaker of the House concerned can take a decision in the matter.
"If the Speaker, is of the view that the document sought for has the potential to call in question proceedings of the House, its committees, etc, he may refer the matter to the Committee of Privileges of the House for examination and report," the panel said.