Best kept secret

The Delhi Right to Information Bill 2001 is not without loopholes

Published: Tuesday 15 May 2001

the Delhi assembly passed the Right to Information Bill 2001, which proposes to bring about more transparency in governance, on April 9. "The bill seeks to provide each citizen the right to information," said Sheila Dixit, Delhi's chief minister. But this right is subjected to certain conditions -- information threatening public interest will not be disclosed.

As per the provisions of the bill, Delhi's residents can now get access to certain information after paying a prescribed fee to the authority concerned. The fee will not exceed the cost of processing. The bill states that the officers concerned should either provide information within 30 days of the date of the receipt of the application or give reasons for not doing so. According to the bill, strict disciplinary action will be taken against those officials who fail to do so. People can then appeal to the Public Grievance Commission against such officials.The commission's decision shall be final in this regard. The government proposes to make the officers more responsive and accountable by establishing a state council with the chief minister as its chairperson.

"The bill does not specify the details of punishment in case of non-compliance by the authorities. This is a major lacuna without which the bill fails to address," says Surendra Mohan, a social scientist. The corporate sector should have been also covered under the bill, he added.

Among the states that have passed the right to information bill include Karnataka, Goa and Rajasthan. Experts feel that the experience in these states illustrates the urgent need for strict legislation. "For example, Rajasthan passed the Right to Information Bill in May 2000. But the experience of Janwad panchayat shows that despite sustained efforts, it took one year and a high court directive to obtain the required information," says Aruna Roy, an activist of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, a Rajasthan-based non-governmental organisation. A joint committee of the parliament is now examining the Union government's bill on the right to information.

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