After losing an earlier attempt to exempt file notings from the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the Union government on Wednesday began a fresh effort. It is now referring to “file notings,” in a different incarnation, as “discussions/consultations that take place before arriving at a decision.”
Suggesting “some procedural and legislative” changes in the Act, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) has said “discussions and consultations that go into the decision-making process are of no relevance to the general public and should be exempted from disclosure under RTI.”
This proposal was put forth by the DoPT, at a day-long meeting here, before the Information Commissioners, who, however, immediately turned it down. They found no merit in the Department’s contention that disclosure of such discussions/consultations hampered free flow of thought within the government.
“Knowing full well that any attempt to exempt file notings would meet with stout resistance from civil society, the government is packaging it differently to push through an agenda that is as old as the Act itself,” said one Information Commissioner.
Leading the charge against any move to amend the law was Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) Wajahat Habibullah, who said RTI Act had not yet been tested to its fullest and made out a strong case for better implementation and greater financial autonomy to the commissions.
"Just tweak rules, no amendment"
Further, it was pointed out, most of the changes being suggested by the Department could be made by tweaking the rules and did not require an amendment. The only change that found some support pertained to frivolous and vexatious requests.
The Department has suggested that if the Public Information Officer is convinced that a certain request is frivolous or vexatious — the processing of which would unreasonably divert resources of the public authority — then he/she can refuse information after furnishing reasons.
Though some Commissioners welcomed this proposal — given that frivolous/vexatious requests make for a sizable number of RTI applications — most were of the view that this is subjective and could lead to arbitrariness.
Further, such a provision would be against the spirit of the Act.
Other changes mooted by the DoPT include disclosure of Cabinet papers 60 days after a decision is taken, greater clarity on which non-government bodies come under the Act, fine-tuning application procedures to facilitate applications by NRIs, and removing certain security agencies from the exempted category.