But Sonia says there is no need for changes in RTI Act

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has assured Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan that his suggestions on amendments to the Right to Information Act will be looked into by the Law Minister.

Dr. Singh was responding to a letter written by Justice Balakrishnan, in which he had said: “Section 8 [providing for exempting certain information] needs to be suitably amended by inserting another specific clause to the effect that any information, the disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the independence of the judiciary, should be exempted from disclosure under the provisions of the Act.”

Dr. Singh's said: “I have received your letter of September 16, 2009, regarding the RTI Act. I have asked the Minister of Law and Justice to look into the suggestions you have made.”

On a petition filed by RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal, the Central Information Commission, and later the Delhi High Court, directed the office of the CJI to disclose certain information on declaration of assets by judges. The Supreme Court, however, stayed this order.

In the meantime, the CJI wrote to Dr. Singh, highlighting the need for amending the Act. He said that quite frequently, “information of a highly confidential and sensitive nature” in matters handled by the CJI was being sought to be disclosed under the RTI Act by applicant-citizens. “But such information has to be refused, as disclosure in those cases would prejudicially affect the independence of the judiciary.”

Mr. Agrawal, who has got a copy of the CJI's letter and the Prime Minister's reply, also obtained copies of the correspondence between Dr. Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi after Justice Balakrishnan made the suggestions. While Dr. Singh favoured amendments to the Act, Ms. Gandhi firmly said, “There is no need for changes or amendments.”

In her letter, she said: “The RTI Act is now four years old, and has begun to make a significant impact on the relationship between the people and the government at all levels. Much has been achieved in these initial years, and while there are still problems of proper implementation, RTI has begun to change the lives of our people and the ways of governance of our country. It is important, therefore, that we adhere strictly to its original aims and refrain from accepting or introducing changes in the legislation on the way it is implemented that would dilute its purpose.

“In my opinion, there is no need for changes or amendments. The only exceptions permitted, such as national security, are already well taken care of in the legislation.”

In his reply to Ms. Gandhi, Dr. Singh he fully agreed with her that the RTI Act “is one of the most effective pieces of legislation.” “However, as the implementation of the Act is still in its infancy, we are all learning as we go along. While we are taking steps to improve dissemination of information and training of personnel, there are some issues that cannot be dealt with, except by amending the Act.”

He said: “The Chief Justice of India has pointed out that the independence of the higher judiciary needs to be safeguarded in the implementation of the Act. There are some issues relating to disclosure of Cabinet papers and internal discussions. All these issues are being examined carefully in consultation with all stakeholders.”

Dr. Singh assured Ms. Gandhi that any amendment would be considered only after consultations and without diluting the spirit of the Act.

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