Today's Paper

Manmohan orders changes in Information Act

Siddharth Narrain

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has instructed the Department of Personnel and Training to exempt file notings on identifiable individuals, groups of individuals, organisations, appointments, matters relating to inquiries and departmental proceedings from the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The department, nodal agency for implementing the Act, has been instructed to make appropriate changes to the RTI rules to make a distinction between notings which cannot be disclosed and "substantive notings" that can be revealed.

Related to development

"Substantive" notings that can be disclosed include those on plans, schemes, programmes and projects of the government related to development and social issues except those protected by the exemption clauses in Section 8. However, the Principal Information Officer appointed under the Act may withhold the individual identity of the functionary who has made the file notings. The department has been asked to incorporate these changes to the rules in consultation with the Ministry of Law and Justice.

Dr. Singh's announcement came after citizen's groups protested against the department web site listing file notings as exempt from the Act. They argued that Section 2 (f), which defines information broadly, was intended to include file notings in its ambit. Thursday's announcement says the decision to categorise file notings into "substantive" notings that can be disclosed and those that should not be revealed was taken after considering "various representations made by concerned citizens" and taking into account "all relevant factors."

However, the government's move has already come in for criticism from citizen's groups. Shekhar Singh, convener, National Campaign for People's Right to Information, said, "This kind of a change needs an amendment to the RTI Act. It cannot be done on an instruction from the Prime Minister's Office. What happens to subjects that fall between these two categories?"

Asked about the Prime Minister's instructions, Central Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah declined to offer comment until he examined the details.

In a recent interview to The Hindu , Mr. Habibullah said the issue whether file notings were exempt should be decided case-by-case.