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on june 4 this year, President Pratibha Patil called for strengthening the right to information law while addressing
Parliament. Four months down the line, the department of personnel and training (dopt) under the ministry of
personnel is doing exactly the opposite.
The department coordinates personnel matters for the Union government and wants information officers of ministries and government agencies
to have the power to reject applications that are vexatious and frivolous. dopt also seeks to exempt
decisions/consultations (read file notings) that take place before arriving at a decision from the purview of Right to Information ( class='UCASE'>rti) act, saying it hampers free flow of thought within the government.The proposed amendments were presented by
dopt on October 14 at a meeting with information commissioners from various states.
The information commissioners did not approve the amendments. rti activists and information commissioners
have shot off separate letters to the Prime Minister urging him to stall any amendment to the rti act.
Activist Arvind Kejriwal said the proposed amendments will kill the rti act. He said the attempt to exclude file
notings once again from the purview of the act shows the government is under pressure from bureaucracy. The Central Information Commission
had, however, settled this issue in 2006 when it said file notings are within the purview of the rti act.
Nikhil Dey of the non-profit Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan in Rajasthan said if these proposals get accepted, information officers would start
rejecting rti applications at their whims and fancies.
State information commissioner Sailesh Gandhi who attended the dopt meeting said the proposed amendments
defeat the very purpose of the act. If an application tries to expose a corrupt officer, it would be termed vexatious. But in a democracy, change
depends on vexation, said Gandhi. Similarly queries raised by an applicant would be important to him but would get rejected as frivolous, he
As of now, the rti act does not say an applicant has to give reasons for seeking information. An amendment would
mean he or she would have to prove the questions in the rti application are neither vexatious nor frivolous.
Gandhi said there is a strong case for not introducing any amendment. The information officers have now begun to understand the act; any
amendments will further confuse them and hamper its implementation, the information commissioner said. There were a few other amendments
proposed by the dopt like making it easy for non-resident Indians to apply for information. These changes can be
effected through notifications and change in rules; amendments are not required, said Gandhi.
Gandhis arguments are backed by two studies. They show that lack of training of government staff is the main constraint in implementing the
rti act. One was a government study and the other was conducted by a peoples forum, National Campaign for
Peoples Right to Information along with rti Assessment and Analysis Group.
Activists alleged that dopt is trying to introduce amendments without discussion or consultations in spite of past
assurances that no changes would be introduced without amendment.
A senior official in the ministry of personnel said the amendments are at a nascent stage and consultations would be held before any amendment
is introduced. He said there is no deadline for introducing amendments.