Vidya Subrahmaniam

Government seems disrespectful in treating October meeting as a non-event: Shailesh Gandhi

At meeting, majority of 60-odd Commissioners vetoed amendments proposed by DoPT

Meeting concluded on understanding that DoPT would forward minutes to the Commissioners

NEW DELHI: The minutes of the stormy October 14, 2009 meeting between Central and State Information Commissioners and the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) on the controversial issue of amendments to the Right To Information Act, 2005 are now available for the common citizen to see.

Among other things, the DOPT proposed amendments to exclude from the Act “frivolous and vexatious” complaints as well as “discussions/consultations” (previously known as file notings) preceding a government decision.

Curiously, the minutes were released on Monday, not by the Union Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pension of which the DoPT is a part but by Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi. Mr. Gandhi resorted to the extreme step after being repeatedly fobbed off by the DoPT on the release of the minutes.

The October 14 meeting concluded on the understanding that the DoPT would forward the recorded minutes to the Information Commissioners (ICs). At the meeting, the majority of the 60-odd ICs entirely vetoed the idea of amendments, and only two officers agreed on the need to exclude “frivolous and vexatious” complaints.

Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Gandhi said the minutes formed an important part of the record on the proposed amendments. In the event that the government went ahead with the amendments, the minutes would prove that it had done so by overruling the ICs. Mr. Gandhi said he and another IC, Satyanand Mishra, sent several reminders to the DoPT to no avail.

Ten days ago, he wrote an e-mail to Shantanu Consul, Secretary of the DoPT, in which Mr. Gandhi told him that it was disrespectful to the institution of ICs if a meeting with “over 50 per cent of Information Commissioners across the country” was treated so casually.

“I told him that the Government seemed to want to treat the meeting as a non-event,” Mr. Gandhi said.

When even this step did not produce the desired result, he went ahead and released his own recorded minutes of the meeting.

Mr. Gandhi’s minutes show that Union Minister for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pension Prithiviraj Chavan proposed seven amendments in all, arguing that these were needed to “strengthen the Act.” The ICs pointed out that five of these required change of rules at best and not full-fledged amendments. The other two proposals were vetoed by all ICs present barring two.