Plea not to `dilute' Information Act

NEW DELHI, AUG. 14. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) has appealed to the Centre not to `weaken' the people's democratic aspirations by `diluting' the Freedom of Information Act 2002 (FOI Act).

Though enacted in 2002, the FOI Act is yet to be notified and in its Common Minimum Programme, the United Progressive Alliance has stated that the FOI Act would be renamed as "Right to Information Act" and the law would be made more progressive, participatory and meaningful.

In a statement the CHRI Director, Maja Dharuwala said contrary to the assurance in the CMP, the bureaucracy had made a `pre-emptive strike' to undermine the efforts of civil society to improve the law and released a draft set of rules under the current FOI Act. "The draft is so weak that it has only five clauses, but it provides the strongest sign yet that the bureaucracy will do everything it can to block the enactment and implementation of a meaningful right to information".

She said "the Rules have been put up on the Government's website with an invitation to the public to comment on it by August 31. However, both the draft Rules - and the current FOI Act itself - are deficient in a number of key respects. For example, in a country where over 60 per cent live on less than Rs. 100 per day it is insulting to ordain that the cost of one application is pegged at Rs. 50, and this must be paid by demand draft or bank cheque. Moreover, copies of documents will be charged at Rs. 5 per page".

Referring to this, the CHRI said it seemed that the Government was actually trying to make money out of providing information, which rightfully belonged to no one else, but the people.

"It is information, which has been gathered through public funds, by public officials for public use, and information, which bureaucrats are already under a constitutional duty to disclose", she said.

She has noted: "Our people deserve better. After 18 months of saying they were making rules, the Government brings out rules with five inadequate Sections that could have been written up in two days. What is more the Rules make it hugely expensive to ask for information... " the statement added.

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