Right in

The UPA government’s move to introduce some amendments to the Right to Information (RTI) Act is meant to reduce the scope and effectiveness of the legislation. In the last five years of its working, the Act has done much to undo the culture of secrecy that marks the functioning of government and public authorities and to empower the citizen. Some of the proposed amendments will directly go against the spirit of the law. One of them is to give immunity to the office of the chief justice of India from any queries under the RTI. This issue has been debated at length in the country. The Delhi High Court, in two rulings, has declared that the CJI is a public authority coming under the purview of the RTI Act. The supreme court has refused to accept this. The proposed amendment will validate its unfair position. It is ironical that the apex court which did much to promote and expand the right to information wants to erect a wall around itself, and it is unfortunate that the government is facilitating it.

Another amendment, which has been proposed, is more restrictive. It provides for the rejection of ‘frivolous and vexatious’ requests for information. This will lead to rejection of inconvenient  queries because the office from where the information is sought will only be happy to withhold it by relying on this exemption. No one would give away information which shows itself in poor light. Even if there are frivolous and vexatious queries that is no reason to deny information. The words will be interpreted by bureaucrats according to their convenience and to suit their interests. In any case there have not been many complaints about frivolous queries in the past. So why should such an exemption be introduced? It is also proposed to bring Cabinet decisions within the ambit of exemptions. Already cabinet papers under process are in the exempted list. If even the final Cabinet decisions are not open to the public, one important area will be removed from public scrutiny.

It is the success of the RTI Act in opening up the government that has prompted the authorities to put more shackles on the Act. An overwhelming majority of the information commissioners have opposed these amendments. There should be concerted pressure on the government to drop the idea of tinkering with the Act. Its scope should actually be widened further.

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