RTI activists to move CIC as govt. blocks details on Land Bill

April 21, 2015 12:00 am | Updated 05:48 am IST - NEW DELHI:

The government has refused RTI requests for information on the decision-making process on amendments to Land Acquisition Bill.

On January 17, Chitrangada Choudhury, a Fellow with the Open Society Institute, filed an RTI request with the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD), seeking documents, file notings and correspondence between the MoRD and other authorities relating to any proposed amendments to the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, and the NDA’s December 2014 ordinance.

Two months later, the MoRD's Public Information Officer (PIO) sent Ms. Choudhury documents, none of which related to the RTI request.

She then filed her first appeal. On April 8, she was shown files with representations to the government from various quarters. The PIO and Appellate Authority denied access to documents related to the drafting and issuing of the ordinance, and she insisted on a written order about the withholding of information.

On April 15, she got two letters from the PIO and the AA stating that “part information related to file notings and correspondence relating to the LARR (Amendment) ordinance are exempted from disclosure under Section 8.1 of RTI and is not being provided right now.” Section 8.1 is merely the section of the Act that lists circumstances under which information can be withheld; the response did not state which of the ten exemption clauses had been invoked, nor what documents were being withheld.

Simultaneously, Venkatesh Nayak, Coordinator of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative’s Access to Information Programme, filed an RTI request with the President’s office on January 5, seeking “all materials on the basis of which [the President] was satisfied that circumstances existed for him to take immediate action by promulgating the [land] ordinance”, and file notings related to this.

The request was forwarded by Rashtrapati Bhavan to the MoRD from whom Mr. Nayak did not hear for over 30 days. On February 25, he filed the first appeal and on March 3, he received a reply from the MoRD saying it had no information, and was sending both the request and the appeal to the Ministry of Law and Justice. After that, Mr. Nayak has heard nothing further.

Information on Cabinet decisions has been provided in the past, albeit with difficulty. Former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi while hearing a second appeal in 2012 ordered the release of a Cabinet note relating to the nuclear safety Bill. “The Act in fact specifically states that documents related to Cabinet decisions will be made public after the decision has been taken,” Mr. Gandhi told The Hindu . Ms. Choudhury is preparing to move the CIC. “Going by the over 30,000 citizen appeals already waiting at the CIC’s doors, it would be heard in late 2016 or early 2017. Given that the government seeks to urgently amend the Act, the appeal will request the Commission for an early hearing,” Ms. Choudhury told The Hindu.

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