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Indian PM to Review RTI Act
Source: southasia.oneworld.net
Source Date: Friday, October 14, 2011
Country: India
Created: Oct 18, 2011

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has ensured a critical review of Right to Information Act to streamline corruption and unaccountability in the government.

 

Asserting that there will be no dilution of the RTI Act, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday said Government wishes to make Right to Information an “even more effective instrument” for ensuring transparency but wanted a “critical look” at it to address certain concerns.

 

Karnataka State RTI Activists Forum members staging a protest in Bangalore. Demands for amending the RTI Act from various sections galore, for completely different reasons/ Photo credit: K. Gopinathan/ The Hindu Dr. Singh said the transparency law should not adversely affect deliberative processes in the Government and discourage honest, well meaning public servants from voicing their views.

 

Addressing the two-day annual convention of the Central Information Commission here, Dr. Singh said “we wish to make the Right to Information an even more effective instrument for ensuring transparency and accountability in administration.”

 

He said there was a need to strike a balance between disclosure of information in the limited time and resources available with public authorities.

 

More discussion needed

Addressing the demands by certain sections of government who feel it is “transgressing” into their functioning, the Prime Minister said, “The Right to Information should not adversly affect the deliberative processes in the Government,” and added, “We must take a critical look at it. There are concerns that need to be discussed and addressed.”

 

There have been demands for amending the transparency law by Amendments to the RTI Act and exemptions given to security agencies from making disclosures under it are expected to be debated at the conference being attended by information commissioners.

 

“Another concern that has been raised is that the Right to Information could end up discouraging honest, well meaning public servants from giving full expression to their views.

 

“I think we need to remember here that a point of view brought under public scrutiny and discussion in an isolated manner may sometimes present a distorted or incomplete picture of what really happened in the processes of making the final decisions,” he said.

 

Dr. Singh said that the legislation for protection of whistleblowers would be enacted in the next few months to help prevention of violence against those who seek to expose wrongdoings in the public administration.

 

Government, he said, stands committed to a comprehensive agenda of legal, executive and technology initiatives to curb corruption and improve governance and considered the Right to Information to be a powerful tool to enable it to move in that direction.

 

“I think we need to remember here that a point of view brought under public scrutiny and discussion in an isolated manner may sometimes present a distorted or incomplete picture of what really happened in the processes of making the final decisions,” he said.

 

He asked the participating Information Commissioners to come up with concrete suggestions in the area of exemption clauses in the RTI Act.

 

“We must also take a critical look at the exemption clauses in the Right to Information Act to determine whether they serve the larger good and whether a change is needed in them,” Dr. Singh said.

 

The Prime Minister said there are “issues of privacy” which need to be deliberated upon.

 

“[The] Act does have provisions to deal with privacy issues but there are certain grey areas that require further debate,” he said.

 

He asked the Information Commissioners and other participants of the convention to make recommendations for dealing with vexatious RTI applications.

 

“A situation in which a public authority is flooded with requests for information having no bearing on public interest is something not desirable.

 

“We must, therefore, pool all our wisdom, our knowledge, and our experience to come to a conclusion on how to deal with vexatious demands for information, without at the same time hindering the flow of information to those whose demands genuinely serve public interest,” he said.

 

Seek information from private bodies

The Prime Minister said under the RTI Act, people can seek information from private bodies which come under the regulatory framework.

 

“This assumes an added significance in the context of an increasing number of projects being taken up in the Public Private Partnership mode...I hope the discussions would also cover the commitment and responsibility of private sector companies for dissemination of certain basic information relating to their operations,” he said.

 

Earlier, speaking at the inauguration, Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra raised the demand for Commission’s own building. He also sought to make the panel a Constitutional body on the lines of the Central Election Commission.

 

The Prime Minister said, “The Chief Information Commissioner has raised certain issues, and I hope that my colleague Mr V Narayanasamy has taken note of that. I sincerely hope that we can respond constructively to the various suggestions that have been voiced.”

 

He also asked the public authorities to place information which does not come under exemption clauses in public domain to reduce the number of RTI applications.

 

“They must endeavour to voluntarily put information in the public domain without waiting for applications from information seekers. If this is done, a lot of time will be saved both for public authorities as well as for citizens,” he said.

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