<TABLE class=TableClas cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 border=0><TBODY><TR><TD>Naveen Jindal, Congress MP and industrialist, who used the Right to Information (RTI) Act to access Railway Ministry files, was perhaps the first high-profile instance of a company leveraging the legislation for business that came to the light. Jindal’s lead has been picked up by others. </TD></TR><TR><TD height=5></TD></TR><TR><TD>Data from the Central Information Commission, the apex body that hears complaints regarding denial of information under RTI, shows that corporate houses are increasingly using RTI to extract information from public authorities who are covered under its ambit. </TD></TR><TR><TD height=5></TD></TR><TR><TD>While this has meant greater disclosure, the data also shows that a number of requests are being turned down. For instance, the Finance Ministry and its defence counterpart, the recipients of highest number of applications among government offices, turned down as many as 3,387 applications, nearly 14 per cent of the 24,436 requests made during 2005-06. The rate of rejections was the highest at the Ministry of Defence (48 per cent), followed by the Ministry of Finance (37 per cent). </TD></TR><TR><TD height=5></TD></TR><TR><TD>Given the way RTI works – only an individual can file a request – it is impossible to know exactly how many of the rejected requests were from corporates or motivated by their concerns. </TD></TR><TR><TD height=5></TD></TR><TR><TD>However, sources in the Central Information Commission (CIC), the apex body that hears complaints regarding denial of information, say the rejections in the Finance Ministry were mostly among applications seeking information ‘of corporate interest’. They attributed the high rate of rejections in the Defence Ministry to the sensitive nature of the ministry’s operations. CIC records show the information sought from various ministries include the status of various clearances, tender evaluation procedures, fund allocation and utilization and policy directives among others. </TD></TR><TR><TD height=5></TD></TR><TR><TD>For instance, Samsung India Electronic Ltd (whose representative filed the RTI request) had sought details related to export of cathode ray tubes display monitors from 2001-2004 and the actual calculation sheets of Duty Entitlement Pass Book rates available with Directorate General of Foreign Trade for the period. </TD></TR><TR><TD height=5></TD></TR><TR><TD>Another applicant wanted to know the rationale behind the Ministry of Finance according exemption on excise duty to states like Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal, He also sought all file notes and reports that led to the decision. Another request sought clarity on the policy that led to approval of Foreign Direct Investment in the retail sector. Other applications sought information on the decision making process that led to the environment impact assessment rules notified in 2005, the environmental clearance records relating to the Maheshwar Hydro Electric Project, Madhya Pradesh and that of Subansiri Lower Project, Arunachal Pradesh. </TD></TR><TR><TD height=5></TD></TR><TR><TD>Says H L Attri, president, CAPF, an NGO that works to popularise the RTI Act, “As of now, the corporate world is making maximum use of the provisions. The advantage is that they can obtain authentic information on any decision taken by the government departments or public authorities”. </TD></TR><TR><TD height=5></TD></TR><TR><TD>According to the CIC, public authorities under the Ministry of Finance received almost 20 per cent of the total RTI requests of which 51.6 per cent were rejected. “This disproportionately high ratio of rejection calls for introspection and training of the staff of public authorities under this ministry in disposing of the RTI requests. Perhaps there is a case for looking at their proactive disclosures under Section 4 of the Act.” a CIC official said. </TD></TR><TR><TD height=5></TD></TR><TR><TD>The data submitted by the ministries also revealed that the total number of requests rejected by some public authorities exceed the sum total of requests rejected under various exemption clauses. “This implies that in the residual number of cases, some public authorities rejected the application without invoking any of the exemption clauses the RTI Act provides”, official added. </TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE>
As a citizen, everybody has rights to use RTI. Then how can we curb the RTI queries from corporates giants with business intensions? Just looking into their applications and later rejecting them itself amounts to huge work load, with the CIC team having lesser officers in place. This in a way i think is an additional burden to the officers there. Thats why many other applications which are really of public interests are pending.
Probably RTI petitions by business houses might have prompted the CJI to make a remark like that. Since we are in the beginning stage of a new law, such teething problems are bound to be witnessed. Even though the RTI is meant for the common man, some of the business houses have taken recourse to it as a cheap and effective solution to get their problems resolved. The pioneers of RTI in our country would have already taken due note of these incidents, and in course of time, a suitable solution will also be evolved to curb such misuses. But until then, let us dedicate ourselves to keep spreading the word among the common masses who need this law the most.
( As for as classifying it under a different heading is concerned, the forum administrators should decide whether we really need to have a sub category for reporting misuses of RTI. May be in the long run; but I feel right now we don't require it. As for as giving a different heading, I cannot do it since I have quoted a published news report verbatim. Otherwise it will amount to infringement of copy right laws.)
A thoughtful reply with a deep insight in the matter
Originally Posted by ganpat1956
The pioneers of RTI in our country would have already taken due note of these incidents, and in course of time, a suitable solution will also be evolved to curb such misuses. But until then, let us dedicate ourselves to keep spreading the word among the common masses who need this law the most.
By reading your post, i could feel the difference in the line of thinking between a novice and an experienced officer !!! Yes, i agree with you, right now we got to help the needy making the best use of this Act. Thanks for leading in the right path
RTI is still in nascent stage and it needs to evolve. If a level playing field for corporate and Government has to be provided then either of the two things has to be done:
1. Govt. has to come out of all utility service and leave it to private domain. There can be another RTI application where in Govt owned Telecom major has to dish out details.
2. Include Corporate houses as well in the ambit of RTI
It is very difficult to define the two words economic interest in the section 8 (a)
information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence;