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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

‘Changes to RTI Act will make it toothless’

Clauses Will Allow PIOs To Deny Information

Viju B I TNN

Mumbai: This is the second time in the past four years that the Right to Information (RTI) Act, which has made a difference to the lives of millions of ordinary people, is under the threat of becoming toothless.
This time around, the Centre has proposed several amendments to the sunshine act, including denial of information about file notings where decision is yet to be taken and adding clauses that allow a public information officer (PIO) to deny information by deeming it as frivolous or vexatious in nature.
Former city-based RTI activist Shailesh Gandhi, who is now the central information commissioner, Delhi, emphasised that the RTI Act must not be touched as its provisions empower citizens to procure information without delay and harassment from state officials.
“Any kind of change will only cause confusion and it will be used as a ploy by PIOs to deny information.’’
The proposal for amending the act in order to strengthen it came up first during President Pratibha Patil’s keynote address to the Parliament on June 4. Thereafter, it came to the spotlight on October 14 when the department of personnel and training (DoPT) had a meeting with information commissioners where they released key details of the proposed amendments.
“The DoPT had proposed amendments such as defining institutions which have substantial finance funding and even adding sub-sections to Section 4 of the Act. Section 4 of the RTI Act empowers citizen to suo moto inspect government files and documents and there is no need to add a citizen charter to it. Similarly, quasi-government organisations and charitable trusts partly funded by the government comes within the ambit of the RTI Act,’’ Gandhi said.
The RTI seminar was organised by the Bombay Chartered Accountant Society (BCAS) along with Mahiti Adhikar Manch and Public Concern for Governance Trust.
About 50 RTI activists and citizens participated in a discussion on future course of action to oppose these amendments.
Denying information on file notings where decisions have yet to be made
Denying information on the grounds that the query is frivolous or vexatious
Fresh definition on the nature of institutions which have substantial funding
Citizens’ charter to be added to RTI Act’s Section 4
Formation of a committee of information commission bench

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