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More to RTI Amendment Bill than just file notings: Kejriwal

Written by: Staff

New Delhi, Sept 14 (UNI) The proposed amendments to the Right to Information Act (RTI) do not merely pertain to file notings as has been projected in the media, but there is much more to it, warns Magsaysay Award winner Arvind Kejriwal.

''If the Amendments come through, then the government will be able to keep the entire country out of decision-making process and the role of citizens will only be reduced to post-mortem of the decision.

''This is because the amendments provide that the departments will not give information on any issue till such time the matter is completed,'' said Mr Kejriwal, CEO of 'Parivartan', an NGO.

He was speaking at an interactive session on Right to Information (RTI) Amendment Bill, 2006 organised by CUTS International.

Another important lacuna pointed out by this year's Magsaysay award winner was that even after the decision was made, the entire information would not be provided and only substantive file notings related to social and development work would be available.

Elaborating, he said if a citizen wanted to know about the status of his ration card or passport, he would not get any information because this did not pertain to any social or developmental work.

''This will defeat the very purpose of RTI and is anti-democratic,'' he argued.

Also, all matters related to personnel will be out of the purview of the RTI Act. Any information related to the examination process will also not be shown.

''Given the various Public Service Commission scams in Punjab and Maharashtra, the Amendments would help cover many such hidden malpractices,'' Mr Kejriwal pointed out.

Terming the RTI Act as ''a historic legislation'', he, however said that in less than 11 months, the government had brought in amendments to the Act also.

If the amendments had come through, the RTI would have been almost repealed, Mr Kejriwal said.

He said it could not be denied that the RTI would actually strengthen the hands of honest officials and protect them. ''Also, file notings will bring to light the good jobs of bureaucrats. Only the corrupt politicians and bureaucrats can have the fear of the Act,'' he added.

Addressing the session, Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) Wajahat Habibullah said, "The Act marks a paradigm shift in the working of the government. It aims to reverse the Official Secrets Act because in a democracy, the government need not be protected from the public. It is actually a part of public".

Earlier, the mindset of government officials was not to delve any information unless compelled to do so, but today there was a complete turnaround, he said, pointing out that the largest single section of users of RTI were the government servants.

The CIC informed that all government departments had been directed to make a comprehensive Compliance Report of the Section 4 of the Act dealing with maintaining data and information catalogue of information related to the department and submit to CIC.

The Report will be submitted to Parliament in the forthcoming winter session, he said.

''Public interest in RTI is highly encouraging. If the government decides to bring the Bill in the winter session, it will only be after debate with all sections of the society. The civil society and the government are the decision makers on the Act. The Central Information Commission's job is only to implement the Act,'' Mr Habibullah said.

Earlier, in his welcome remarks, Mr Pradeep S Mehta, Secretary General, CUTS International said that what was now required was not the use of law but a change in the mindset.

''RTI will help expose corrupt bureaucrats and politicians and bring in transparency in government dealings. Given the extremely low public awareness on the usage of the Act, the CIC should also take up the role of advocacy,'' he suggested.


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