Right troubles

Why RTI stings Chhattisgarh

By Alok Prakash Putul
Published: Friday 31 March 2006

the Chhattisgarh government has declined to make public the memorandum of understanding (mou) it had signed with Tata Steel and Essar Steel to set up steel plants in the predominantly tribal district of Bastar. A Raipur-based businessman had sought details of the mou under the Right to Information (rti) Act, 2005. But the deputy secretary of the state commerce and industry ministry refused his request saying the mou has a clause against disclosing its details to a third person without the signatories' consent.

But legal experts say the rti Act overrides any such conditions. In case the information is treated as 'confidential' by the other signatories of the mou, the public information officer can give a written notice to the parties and seek a submission to make this information public, says Shekhar Singh, convener of the National Campaign for People's Right to Information (ncpri).

The rti Act gives every Indian citizen the right to any information from any government office, other than those related to defence and personnel matters, for a charge of Rs 2 per page. Photocopies of requested documents are to be given free to those with incomes below the poverty line (bpl).
Providing information under the rti Act has become a bother for the Chhattisgarh government. Officials say that the state is incurring costs to the tune of lakhs because of rti requests and hundreds of officials are getting held up in the process of compiling information. Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh wants the Centre to decide on the extent of information to be made public and to determine why a person needs a particular information. But, this would invariably be used to withhold important information, says Shekhar Singh. It is not correct to lament over resources, for the process would check corruption. Moreover, as the state makes information available, it would streamline the information, thereby leading to significantly lower involvement of time and cost factors.

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