Prez puts one more hurdle before RTI queries

Last Updated 17 October 2010, 05:07 IST

The Personnel and Training Department after receiving a three-page communication from President's Secretary Christy Fernandez in March, that is made public in an RTI reply now, issued directions to all government departments to disclose records of another department only after taking their consent.

The case relates to the complaint of Gopalaswami against the then sitting Election Commissioner Navin Chawla, filed before the President, a copy of which was denied to RTI applicant S C Agrawal by the President's secretariat that considered the information to be "confidential".

Meanwhile, the Law Ministry which had a copy of the letter had disclosed the entire 93-page letter to Rajasthan-based S S Ranawat and BJP leader Arun Jaitley.
Fernandez had said in his letter that confidential papers are, at times, sent to different departments for examination although the said authority may not be the original custodian of the document.

"For any such authority to disclose confidential documents which are being denied by the original custodian can lead to a peculiar situation putting the Government in an embarrassing position as has been witnessed in the case," the letter provided to Agrawal in an RTI reply said.

"Since DOPT is the nodal Ministry dealing with the RTI Act, you are requested to issue suitable procedural guidelines in this regard and, if necessary, make requisite amendments in the Act so that such instances are not repeated in future," he said in the letter.

Fernandez said media reports have tried to project that the President's Secretariat had "unnecessarily withheld" information which has been parted by another ministry and has alleged that "one department of the Government is not aware of what the other department is doing".

He said the letter was addressed to the President who forwarded it to the PMO which in turn sent it to Law Ministry for examination. "The first custodian of this information is the President's Secretariat... therefore, disclosure of information by another department would be violative of section 6(3) of the Act," the letter said.

DOPT Secretary Shantanu Consul, in his reply to Fernandez, said the matter was "examined" and suitable guidelines have been issued.

(Published 17 October 2010, 04:48 IST)

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