Special Correspondent

It will be taken after consultations with eminent jurists: Wajahat Habibullah

CHENNAI: A decision on whether Members of Parliament are required to disclose information under the Right to Information Act will be taken shortly, after consultations with eminent jurists, said Wajahat Habibullah, Chief Information Commissioner, Central Information Commission (CIC), here on Tuesday.

Speaking to presspersons at a meeting organised by the Muslim Educational Foundation, Mr. Habibullah said that the Commission’s recent decision that the Speaker (or the presiding officer for Rajya Sabha members) had to allow release of information about Cabinet Ministers would not directly apply in the case of all Members of Parliament. A separate decision would be taken after due consideration of merits.

When asked about the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to exempt the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption and the State Vigilance Commission from the purview of the Act, he said that it was a matter for the State government and the State Information Commission (SIC). [Under the Act, the SICs and the CIC are independent bodies covering State and Central subjects respectively.]

He pointed out that the Central Vigilance Commission and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) were covered under the Act, and only organisations working on security matters were exempted.

Mr. Habibullah said that the Act had increased the transparency of government bodies, and added that a recent survey (to be released on March 31) had found that, on average, nearly three people in every village in India used RTI petitions to obtain information. But, monitoring mechanisms on the ground were weak and some procedures were also becoming complicated.

To correct this situation, he suggested that the government should increase awareness by creating an RTI cell attached to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry.

Video conferencing facilities, available at many district headquarters, could be used to make it easier for appellants to obtain information. The CIC had already implemented this procedure, and had suggested to all SICs to implement the same.

Until awareness is increased, there was no point in trying to amend the Act, Mr. Habibullah said, adding that a sub-committee appointed by the Commission had already submitted recommendations, which were pending with the government to implement the Act in a better manner.

‘Cost of information’

On recent reports of government bodies asking appellants to pay the wages of employees as “cost of information,” Mr. Habibullah said that there was some confusion within the Commission about the exact interpretation of the provision for fees in the Act. A Full Bench hearing of the CIC would decide on the matter in the near future.

As part of his visit to Chennai, Mr. Habibullah also met members of the Tamil Nadu SIC and activists to discuss measures to be taken to strengthen the Act.