No need to amend RTI Act, says Sonia; PM thinks otherwise

No need to amend RTI Act, says Sonia; PM thinks otherwise

“The RTI Act is now four years old. Much has been achieved in these initial years and while there are still problems of proper implementation, the RTI has begun to change the lives of our people and the ways of governance in our country,” wrote Sonia Gandhi in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Nov 10 last year.

“It will, of course, take time before the momentum generated by the act makes for greater transparency and accountability in the structures of the government. But the process has begun and must be strengthened,” she added. Sonia Gandhi stated that in her opinion the RTI Act does not need any amendments.
“It is important, therefore, that we adhere strictly to its original aims and refrain from accepting or introducing changes in the legislation or the way it is implemented that would dilute its purpose. In my opinion, there is no need for changes or amendments. The only exceptions permitted, such as national security, are already well taken care of in the legislation,” she said.
Sonia Gandhi said the problem with the RTI Act is about “public lack of awareness of the RTI and the harassment of applicants” and “these problems need to be addressed.”

Replying to Sonia Gandhi's letter, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he agrees with her on the RTI's effectiveness and how it is changing the way of governance, but there are some issues that cannot be resolved without amending the act. A copy of the letters were given to RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal in reply to a query.   

“However, as the implementation of the act is still in its infancy, we are all learning as we go along. While we are taking steps to improve dissemination of information and training of personnel, there are some issues that cannot be dealt with except by amending the act,” said Manmohan Singh in his reply Dec 24.

“Just to cite a few, the act does not provide for the constitution of benches of the Central Information Commission though this is how the business of the commission is being conducted. There is no provision about alternate arrangements in the event of a sudden vacancy in the office of the Chief Information Commissioner,” he said.
“The Chief Justice of India has pointed out that the independence of the higher judiciary needs to be safeguarded in the implementation of the act. There are some issues relating to cabinet papers and internal discussions,” Manmohan Singh added.
The prime minister said that a decision will be taken after consultations with all stakeholders without diluting the spirit of the act.  However, RTI activists across the country fear that amendments may affect the original spirit of the act.