Do not amend or dilute Right to Information Act

Created on Sunday, December 12, 2010 Last update: Tuesday, March 08, 2011 @ 23:00 hrs Indian Std. Time
http://persmin.gov.in/WriteReadData/RTI/RTI_rules_01122010-1.pdf
Do not amend or dilute Right to Information Act created on Sun, Dec 12, 2010
http://www.petitiononline.com/rtisave/ created on Sun, Dec 12, 2010
An appeal to save the Right to Information or RTI Act 2005 created Tue, July 25, 2006
http://www.petitiononline.com/savertia/ created Tue, July 25, 2006
Online campaign - The Hindu Saturday, May 10, 2008
http://cic.gov.in/CIC-Minutes/Minutes03062008.pdf
Govt proposes new RTI rule: Ask, but only in 250 words, on only one subject Indian Express Sunday, December 12, 2010
http://www.indianexpress.com/news/govt-proposes-new-rti-rule-ask-but-only-in-250-words-on-only-one-subject/723495/ 
Govt proposes new RTI rule: Ask, but only in 250 words, on only one subject - Indian Express Sunday, December 12, 2010
The government has proposed new rules that require a Right to Information (RTI) application to be restricted to 250 words and only one subject. There's no word cap currently, and applicants can seek information on any number of subjects in a single application.

The 250 words do not include addresses of the Central Public Information Officer and the applicant. The proposed rules require the applicant to pay postal charges above Rs 10 incurred by authorities in replying to the application.

Applicants do not currently pay postal charges. They pay Rs 10 when filing the application. RTI activists said the proposed rules will dilute the landmark legislation.

"By restricting the application to 250 words the government will make it difficult for the common man to seek information," said Noida-based RTI activist Lokesh Batra.

"This act is meant even for illiterates, how can you expect people to follow such a tight word limit? Everyone is not capable of summarising thoughts so well."

Delhi-based Anil Sood said the proposal was a "clear attempt to create grey areas in a transparent law and allow scope for harassment of applicants".

Centre must add purpose clause to RTI Act Times of India February 17, 2011
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/Centre-must-add-purpose-clause-to-RTI-Act/articleshow/7511579.cms
Given the doubts raised by a section of chief ministers, the Centre is planning to amend the Right to Information (RTI) Act to curb its misuse.

"Our information is that a group of chief ministers has approached the Centre for amending the RTI Act. In several cases, it was used to settle personal scores by rival businessmen, builders and politicians," a senior information commissioner told TOI on Wednesday.

The information commissioner said that when the Congress-led Democratic Front government promulgated an ordinance in 2004 to provide for right to information, it was specifically mentioned that a person seeking information will have to state in the application the purpose for which the information is required. When the Centre enacted the RTI Act in 2005, this particular clause on purpose was removed. , as a result, now a person can seek information on any subject, without mentioning the purpose for which he requires the information. "We feel that If the Centre wants to curb misuse, it must include the purpose clause in the act, else, we will not be able to stop misuse of the legislation. It will have to move an amendment bill in the parliament for the purpose," he said.

The information commissioner said that in Mumbai, the maximum number of applications are filed by the same group of persons. "We are bound to provide information but we don't know how it will be used," he said.

RTI changes may make it toothless Times of India January 13, 2011
Proposed changes to the Right to Information (RTI) Act threaten to render it ineffective to a large extent. The amendments include restricting questions per RTI query to one and word count to 250 per query, and levying a higher charge.

If the Department of Personnel and Training proposed draft comes into effect it would be applicable to all Central government agencies and respective state commissions can follow suit. RTI activists said the draft rules would kill the Act and citizens will not get adequate responses.

The manner in which the DoPT is pushing the draft rules without asking for suggestions shows they want to dilute the Act and make it ineffective. The DoPT just gave 17 days, from December 10 to December 27 to invite suggestions and comments. "The draft rules suggest major changes that need to be debated. The Centre should have given more time for the people to respond and given far more coverage to the rules in public forums, informing everyone of these changes.

After all this is a people's Act," Bhaskar Prabhu, convener of the Mahiti Adhikar Manch said. Kurla-based activist Anil Galgali agreed: "The one-query rule is really absurd. How can one just ask one query when there are so many angles to an issue?"

He cited an example wherein he had to ask 10 questions on an issue where politicians had usurped apartments reserved for the common man under the chief minister's discretionary quota.

Draft amendments may sound RTI death knell Times of India January 11, 2011
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/Draft-amendments-may-sound-RTI-death-knell/articleshow/7261168.cms
RTI activist Krishnaraj Rao said the draft rule is silent on complainants." There is no mention of this important tool wherein an applicant can directly file a complaint with the information commission in case they do not get the correct information. If the department does away with this then we will be at the mercy of the PIOs and appellate authorities,'' Rao said.

The rules, Prabhu said, should in fact look at problems and limitations of the Act and amend them for the benefit of the citizens. "There is still no way we can challenge an order of the information commission and there is no prescribed time limit to comply with its order. These limitations should be looked into and amended accordingly,'' he said.

Hyderabad oppose changes in RTI Act
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/hyderabad/Hyderabad-oppose-changes-in-RTI-Act/articleshow/7337197.cms
City-based RTI activists have written to the Centre opposing the proposed changes in the Right to Information Act. The activists have written to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), New Delhi, which had invited public comments on the proposed amendments.

Activists here have expressed their objection to imposing a word limit on the RTI application.

"Putting a restriction on the number of subjects and the number of words can be considered a curtailment of the citizen's fundamental right to freedom of speech. Apex court judgments in the past have held "Right to Information" as an integral part of the fundamental right. Another proposed amendment is restricting an RTI application to one subject. This would lead to disputes in deciding what constitutes one subject," said C J Karira, city-based RTI activist.

According to activists, the amendments would only empower the Public Information Officer (PIO) who will dismiss applications on one ground or the other.

Among other proposed amendments are a hike in the application fee and specification in the paper size, both of which have been objected to by activists.

NAC & govt lock horns, now over RTI changes Times of India February 9 2011
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/NAC-govt-lock-horns-now-over-RTI-changes/articleshow/7454549.cms
The government refused to budge on the controversial RTI amendments in a meeting with the National Advisory Council on Tuesday. In fact, the wedge between the Sonia Gandhi-led council and the government got deeper with yet another ministry - this time the Union ministry of personnel - defying the thinktank and not entertaining the group's foray into its turf.

Earlier the PMO, with the Planning Commission and the food ministry in tow, had taken on the NAC on the proposed food security law. Similarly, the tribal affairs ministry had outrightly rejected all the council's recommendations on reforms on the Forest Rights Act.

On Tuesday, the ministry of personnel met the NAC sub-group on Right To Information Act and the results were no different, sources told TOI. The bone of contention between the two was the mandate to limit a RTI application to one subject and 250 words and abatement of an appeal after an applicant's death.

Despite insistence by the Council headed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the department had rejected these key suggestions on the draft RTI rules and instead sent a 13-page reply to the council on its observations on the rules.

On Tuesday, while the NAC sub-group members argued that these rules should be dropped as they were against the spirit of the act, officials of the department of personnel and training (DoPT) did not give in. An activist who attended the meeting said, "The attitude of the officials was quite hostile. We don't think there will be a solution soon."

Yet another NAC member speaking to TOI said, "There was an exchange of views but the ministry officials did not budge on the critical concerns." Sources said that there could be another meeting with DoPT before the NAC meeting on February 26.

The rules framed by the personnel department lay down provisions for the application process, fee for providing information, filing first appeals and appointments in information commissions.

One of the provisions that the council had expressed its strong reservations is that an applicant will file an application in not more than 250 words, excluding the address of the public information officer and the applicant.

The draft rules lay down that the application would only be on a single subject. Despite objections, the department has refused to budge and said that it is the well-educated who are unable to write an application in 250 words and instead go into long-winding explanations.

Abatement of an appeal in case of an applicant's death has also raised the ire of activists who have argued that this could be misused to kill people asking uncomfortable questions.

RTI queries on only 1 subject at a time: CIC January 9, 2011
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/RTI-queries-on-only-1-subject-at-a-time-CIC/articleshow/7244295.cms 
Even as the Centre is considering amendments to the Right To Information rules, seeking to restrict RTI applications to one subject at a time and to 250 words, the Central Information Commission (CIC) in New Delhi seems to have gone a step ahead by implementing the draft proposals.

To an RTI application filed by this reporter (Jeeva) on December 6, 2010, which raised 20 queries seeking details pertaining to follow-up of fines imposed against public authorities, court stay obtained by public information officers against commission's order, disposal of cases and pending final appeals, the CIC chose to reply to only to ten questions.

The remaining ten questions, the commission said, were related to a different subject matter' and hence the applicant has to file another RTI application to get the information. "Your queries number 1 to 10 would qualify as one request' for which you have paid the application fee of Rs 10. You may therefore, send separate request and pay fee for your queries number one 11 to 20,'' the reply from the CIC, dated December 30, 2010, said.

This reporter had sought to know the average number of appeals received daily and, number of cases in which fines were imposed, number of errant public information officers paid the fine and those who have not paid it, number of cases in which errant public authorities obtained court stay against commission's orders and whether the CIC is included as respondent in such cases.

During early last month, department of personnel and training (DoPT), functioning under the Union ministry of personnel and public grievances, released the draft amendments and announced that public can send their views on or before December 27, 2010. While the DoPT has not yet announced the decision on the draft amendments, the CIC's reply, arbitrarily enforcing the draft rules, has agitated RTI activists and groups.

"When rules are not yet amended and the amendment is only in the draft stage, the CIC should clarify that under which provisions of law and under what authority it has imposed the one-subject' restriction. In fact, this reply is a standing testimony as to why we oppose the draft amendments tooth and nail," said Venkatesh Nayak, a coordinator of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, a New Delhi-based NGO.

A Sukumar, an RTI activist in Chennai, said, "We cannot accept this sort of reply from the CIC, which is supposed to safeguard the Act from being diluted by the bureaucracy. It would only mislead public authorities to discourage RTI applicants instead of encouraging them. This reply only shows that the DoPT should not give effect to the draft amendments.''

Sonia's NAC prevails over govt on RTI, Forest Rights Act February 27, 2011
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Sonias-NAC-prevails-over-govt-on-RTI-Forest-Rights-Act/articleshow/7582949.cms
The Sonia Gandhi-led national advisory council (NAC) has won decisive victories in keeping at bay the governments attempt to regulate right to information and ensuring the pro-tribal Forest Rights Act is made more effective for its intended beneficiaries.

On the national Food Security Act -- the third bone of contention between the government and NAC -- the Council at its meeting on Saturday held its ground and advocated a staggered rollout. It disagreed with the government to insist that procuring 65 million tonnes of food grains for a full rollout of the programme is not a difficult task.

NAC, seen as a policy interface with civil society, is an influential body providing policy and legislative inputs headed as it is by the Congress president.

Prevailing on RTI and forest rights are major achievements while guaranteeing 35 kg of food grains a month to families below poverty line and sections of urban poor is a key Sonia scheme, too.

On RTI, the government ceded ground on its bid to restrict an application to 250 words and a clause stating an inquiry would end if the applicant died. Now, it will say an application should preferably not exceed 500 words. It has also agreed that a query will not cease on an applicant's death.

The government is still insisting that an RTI application should be focused on one subject. But NAC has decided not to give up. Sonia Gandhi told Council members on Friday that this should be pursued with the government.

Department of Personnel and Training had earlier opposed NAC's suggestions Information activists who saw the proposed amendments as a bid to dilute the powerful act can rejoice after a protracted three-month battle.

The 250-word cap and the single subject rule are in particular seen to be limiting clauses. Abatement of an appeal in case of an applicant's death has also seen activists arguing that this provision could be misused to kill people asking uncomfortable questions as has been reported in some cases recently.

While NAC feels the Forest Rights Act is doing well, it wants to tweak it to reduce the scope of tribal beneficiaries being defeated by red tape. Thus required quorum for convening a gram sabha may be reduced from two-third to half to increase the frequency of meetings for speedy settlement of claims. And the tribal representation in the forest rights committee may go up from one-third to two-third to increase their clout under the Act.

The Centre may also issue guidelines to allow tribals to transport and sell minor forest produce with a guaranteed minimum support price although this may imply removing restrictions that stipulate that forest dwellers can take away only as much as an individual can carry.

Just like the DoPT on RTI, tribal affairs ministry had earlier opposed the suggestions of the NAC on Forest Rights Act.

The NAC and the tribal affairs ministry have narrowed differences on changes proposed in the landmark law giving settlement rights rights to tribals and other forest dwellers with sources saying that tribal affairs ministry accepted most of the councils suggestions.

On food security, the end to the government-NAC standoff might take some more time with the Sonia-led panel digging in its heels. It refused to accept the governments plea that covering 90% of the rural population and 50% of urban dwellers is not feasible in terms of food grain availability, storage and distribution.

Most recently, the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council sought a middle ground by paring down the NAC proposals while enhancing the government's offerHowever, NAC members argue that the governments view is conservative and the council has released its version of the draft bill on its website for public comment.

An NAC working group will prepare a draft food security bill taking into account the public feedback. In the first phase NAC estimates a total public distribution system food requirement of 49.4 million tones based on lower rural and urban coverage and smaller off-take of 85%. This is to allow improvements in food procurement and distribution.

In contrast to government's view, the Council considers assumption of 90% (final) offtake at proposed prices (Rs 3 a kg) to be reasonable. Theexperience of Tamil Nadu (with a near universal PDS system) shows the off take tends to be much lower than 100% at even lower prices (Rs 1 per kg of rice) than under the National Food Security Act, the NAC's note says.

More local procurement and reducing exports of about 7-14 million tonnes of cereals a year and could augment food procurement, feels the NAC.

On the Forest Rights Act, the NAC working group, it is learnt, wants the condition for non-tribals to claim right on forest land to be possession of land. Presently, they are required to be in possession of the land (75 years) and also be dependent on it for livelihood.

However, there are doubts on the efficacy of reducing quorum strength. While the objective is to facilitate frequent meetings sources said setting quorum at half the gram sabha strength would disadvantage tribals where they were numerically weaker. It would be easier for non-tribals to ignore the tribals in convening the gram sabhas.

On allowing tribals the freedom to sell and transport minor forest produce it is feared may bring in motorised vehicles for ferrying of minor produce and make the system vulnerable to exploitation by contractors and non-tribals.

http://www.dailypioneer.com/303145/Govt-pitches-contentious-protocols-for-RTI-applications.html 
Govt pitches contentious protocols for RTI applications - Sunday, December 12, 2010

RTI applications may now be limited to 250 words and to only one topic if the rules for processing of such applications suggested by the Department of Personnel may find their way through.

According to proposed amendments in the RTI rules, the DOPT, nodal body for implementing the Act in the country, has said each application will be limited to 250 words excluding the address of the public authority and applicant. It will also be limited to only one subject matter.

Even more surprising is the fact that RTI applicants will have to pay the "actual amount" spent by public authority on hiring a machine or any other equipment, if any, to supply information.

The rules will be a modification of the present RTI (regulation of fee and cost) rules, 2005 and the central information commission (appeal procedure) rules, 2005.

The rules have resulted in furore among RTI activists who say that they will be of no good to semi-literate and illiterate people who are the main users of the law.

"Though Comments being sought from Civil Society though in accordance with Section 4(1)(c) of the RTI Act, however this notification gets limited to only those who are net friendly and that too only two weeks time given," Commodore (Retd) Lokesh Batra said.

He said people from rural areas who do not have Internet access will be devoid of sending their views on the subject.

"Putting a word limit of 250 words will obstruct the Right to Information. There was no need for such limits on word usage," said Subhash Agrawal, another RTI activist.

"The new rules widen the ambit of discretionary use by the concerned Public Information Officer who can reject the applications summarily," Venkatesh Nayak of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative said.

He asked how can the Government set a limit of words especially when same set of questions in different languages will require different word usage.

He also said legally the process of RTI starts when application is submitted to a PIO. "The State cannot dictate the user to set word limit before process starts" he said.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/DopT-draft-rules-to-rein-in-RTI/articleshow/7084704.cms
http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/7085996.cms 
RTI queries not beyond 250 words - Times of India and Economic Times Sunday, December 12, 2010
In what is seen to be another attempt to tame the Right to Information Act, the government has in a recent notification recommended RTI applicants keep their application to just one subject and also limit the query to only 250 words.

Citizens asking for information under RTI may also have to pay charges that the public authority has incurred if it needs to hire equipment used in gathering and providing information.

The proposed rules have been drafted by the department of personnel and training (DoPT) and public comments are invited till December 27. The rules have been drafted after a Delhi High Court order rejected the Central Information Commission's powers to draft rules on RTI.

The DoPT move has worried activists who feel the rules limit the empowering RTI legislation. "These are a major policy shift and not pro-RTI. They restrict citizens' fundamental right to freedom of information and can be misused by public information officers as they place enormous discretion in the hands of the PIO to decide what constitutes one subject matter and what doesn't," CHRI's Venkatesh Nayak said.

In its draft rules, DoPT has also allowed that a public authority can accept fees by cash, demand draft, bankers cheque and electronic transfers or any other means as well. Activists feel that this rule is loosely worded and can allow RTI recipients to pick means of payment and in effect block queries.

RTI activists fear the provision calling for an appellant to be represented through an "authorised representative" may be misused. "The earlier provision said that the authorised representative other than a lawyer could be present. This has been removed to include only authorised representative, which may be interpreted by public authorities to depute lawyers to argue cases," Nayak said.

RTI activist S C Agrawal, who has been instrumental in making assets of Cabinet ministers public, said, "It is definitely an obstruction in implementation of the RTI Act."

This is not the first time that the government has tried to narrow the interpretation of the legislation. There was a move last year (in 2009) to introduce amendments to the RTI Act to reject an application on the basis of being "frivolous and "vexatious" and to exempt Cabinet papers from the purview of the act. However, the government move to restrict RTI met with little success as information commissioners and citizens rejected the amendments.

RTI amendment: Sonia, PM not on same page?
Times of India April 10, 2010, 03.26am IST
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/RTI-amendment-Sonia-PM-not-on-same-page/articleshow/5780108.cms 
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi had firmly resisted changes to the RTI Act despite the government being keen to tinker with the transparency legislation, it was revealed in an RTI reply.

Amendments to the RTI Act  - considered one of the most significant achievements of the UPA - have been under controversy for some time now with activists protesting against government's move to exempt disclosure of Cabinet papers, internal discussions and judiciary.

Ms. Sonia, in a letter dated November 10, 2009, had voiced this concern adding that the government should "refrain from accepting or introducing changes in the legislation... in my opinion there is no need for changes or amendments".

The letter, accessed under RTI by activist S C Agrawal, said, "It will of course take time before the momentum generated by the Act makes for greater transparency and accountability in the structures of the government. But the process has begun and it must be strengthened... It is important, therefore, that we adhere strictly to its original aims and refrain from accepting or introducing changes in legislation on the way it is implemented that would dilute its purpose. In my opinion, there is no need for changes or amendments. The only exceptions permitted such as national security, are already well taken care of in the legislation."

She, in fact, said that lack of training of government staff, inadequate record maintenance and harassment of applicants and lack of awareness needed to be addressed.

Has Sonia written to Manmohan on RTI amendment, asks applicant - The Hindu Sunday, Mar 07, 2010
http://www.hindu.com/2010/03/07/stories/2010030762601100.htm 
The proposed changes would lead to dilution of the Act.

http://www.deccanchronicle.com/latest-news/pm-amendment-rti-act-721 
PM for amendment of RTI Act April 9th, 2010
Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who played a key role in the enactment of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, thinks it is "changing people's lives" and that it does not require any changes.

"The RTI Act is now four years old. Much has been achieved in these initial years and while there are still problems of proper implementation, the RTI has begun to change the lives of our people and the ways of governance in our country," wrote Sonia Gandhi in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Nov 10 last year.

Sonia Gandhi said the problem with the RTI Act is about "public lack of awareness of the RTI and the harassment of applicants" and "these problems need to be addressed."

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/46384/supreme-court-loses-rti-battle.html
CJI office comes under transparency law, rules three-judge bench

The Delhi High Court on Tuesday, January 12, 2010 reinforced its earlier verdict that the office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) was within the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
 
Delhi High Court Judgement on Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Judicial independence not the personal privilege or prerogative of an individual judge

Judiciary of undisputed integrity is the bedrock institution for democracy and rule of law

Democracy expects openness and openness is concomitant of a free society. Sunlight is the best disinfectant

Scandal in judiciary more deplorable than scandals in the executive or legislature

Judges of the higher judiciary are as accountable as judges of a trial court

Judge must keep himself absolutely above suspicion

Even I-T returns and medical records can be disclosed if there is a public interest

Public authorities should make info available suo motu

A three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice A P Shah and Justices Vikramjeet Sen and S Muralidhar said that the CJI cannot be said to have a fiduciary relationship (between a trustee and a beneficiary) with other judges.

According to the bench, judges of the superior courts should make public their assets as they were not "less accountable" than the judicial officers of the lower courts, who were bound by service rules to declare assets.

The high court's order followed an appeal filed by the apex court which had challenged the order of Justice S Ravindra Bhat of the Delhi High Court on September 2. In his judgment of far-reaching implications, Justice Bhatt had maintained that the CJI was a public authority and, therefore, his office was within the ambit of the RTI Act.

In its appeal, the Supreme Court registry had contended that Justice Bhat had erred in holding that the CJI's office comes within the ambit of the transparency law and had interpreted its provisions too broadly which were "unnecessary" and  "illogical".

Tuesday's (Jan 12, 2010) judgment was categorical in arguing that the higher the judge in the judicial hierarchy, the greater the standard of accountability and stricter the scrutiny.

Fundamental right
It argued that "if declaration of assets by a subordinate judicial officer is seen as essential to enforce accountability at that level, then the need for such declaration by judges of the constitutional courts is even greater".

Widening the interpretation of the RTI Act, which was hailed as the "most significant event in the life of Indian democracy", the judges unanimously said that right to information was part of fundamental rights enshrined in Articles 14 (right to equality), 19(1)(a) (freedom of speech) and 21 (right to life) of the Constitution".

Observing that the standards of judicial behaviour, both on and off the bench, was normally extremely high, the high court said: "For a judge to deviate from such standards of honesty and impartiality is to betray the trust reposed to him... A judicial scandal has always been regarded as far more deplorable than a scandal involving either the executive or a member of the legislature. The slightest hint of irregularity or impropriety in the court is a cause for great anxiety and alarm".

Countering the stand taken by Attorney General Goolam E Vahanvati, who contended on behalf of the Supreme Court registry that apex court judges cannot be exposed to public scrutiny as it would hamper their independence and functioning, the high court observed that a legislator or an administrator may be found guilty of corruption without apparently endangering the foundation of the State.

"But a judge must keep himself absolutely above suspicion, to preserve the impartiality and independence of the judiciary and to have the public confidence thereof," the bench said.

The high court also turned down the Supreme Court plea that information pertaining to other judges were confidential in nature which cannot be made public by the CJI. "The CJI cannot be a fiduciary vis-a-vis judges of the Supreme Court. The judges of the Supreme Court hold independent office, and there is no hierarchy in their judicial functions which places them at a different plane than the CJI."

It noted that "the declarations are not furnished to the CJI in a private relationship or as a trust but in discharge of the constitutional obligation to maintain higher standards and probity of judicial life and are in the larger public interest", adding that disclosure of such information "would not result in breach of such duty".

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/70306/rti-amendments-retrograde-step.html 
RTI amendments: A retrograde step
Without information, people cannot adequately exercise their rights or make choices

The UPA government's move to amend sections of the Right to Information Act (RTI) negates the very purpose for which the Act has been passed. The RTI Act was passed in 2005 to cover all the departments except defence, atomic energy and all those dealing with the country's security.

That the CJI is also a public authority and therefore comes under the jurisdiction of the Act has been found unpalatable by the supreme court, within five years of its passing.

The RTI Act has been considered a progressive and meaningful legislation as it brought in transition from an opaque system of governance to a transparent system: from one of 'confidentiality is the rule and disclosure an exception' to 'transparency is the norm and secrecy an exception.' This undid the culture of secrecy that was the hallmark of government functioning for over six decades.

The amendment would demean the interests of the information seeker. The spirit of this citizen-centric legislation which brought in a paradigm shift in the citizen-government relationship is being dampened.

Even the budget data of local self-governments that are public documents are not easily available and when available, it is full of errors as seen by the study of Centre for Budget and Policy Studies, Bangalore. Many zeroes are added to the budget figures, the closing balance at the end of the financial year does not tally with the opening balance of the next financial year. All this and more, reflects the low importance given to managing information. That budget information can be used as a tool that can hold governments accountable is lost because of this attitude.

The RTI law is applicable to governments at all levels, Union, state and local. Demanding the resolution of the council meetings of the urban local bodies in a few cases in Karnataka has been found to be a good measure of holding elected representatives accountable. The civil society can verify if the promises made by the councillors is fulfiled by asking for the resolutions passed at the meetings.

What seems to be lost sight of is the fact that RTI would, by itself, build informed citizenry. But then, this can happen only if it is allowed to settle down and strengthened. Without information, people cannot adequately exercise their rights or make choices. Information is an important ingredient of democracy effective. The opening lines of the Right to Information Act, 2005, states that democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information which are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and to hold governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed.

It is precisely for this reason that the Right to Information movement originated in a remote village in Rajasthan. The movement began as a demand for labour that rightfully belonged to the poor as designed by the food for works programme of the government of India, it led to 'Jan Sunwais'(public hearing) which exposed corruption among officials and demand for information by the Mazdoor Kisan Sakthi Sangatan. This resulted in the national campaign for the people's right to information and subsequently to the passing of the RTI Act.

Conclusion:
We the petition signers / signatories believe that the amendments that the proposed amendments affect the original spirit of the act.

There should not be any word or subject / topic limit in the RTI queries / applications, applicants must not be asked to pay postal charges and the actual amount spent by public authority on hiring a machine or any other equipment, if any, to supply information.

Appeals shouldn't be rejected at their admission stage itself.

The RTI Act should in fact be strengthened by reducing the fees charged from the present rupees two per page of photocopy for extracts from the publication to rupee one and for information provided in diskette or floppy it should be reduced from the present Rs.50/- to Rs.10/- or Rs.15/- only per diskette or floppy.
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This petition's been addressed to The Hon'ble Supreme Court, PM, President, Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT), Central Information Commission (CIC), Cabinet Ministers, Ministers of State & Members of the Parliament or MPs (Lok Sabha LS / Lower House & Rajya Sabha RS / Upper House).

Created on Sunday, December 12, 2010 Last update: Tuesday, March 08, 2011 @ 23:00 hrs Indian Std. Time
http://persmin.gov.in/WriteReadData/RTI/RTI_rules_01122010-1.pdf
Do not amend or dilute Right to Information Act created on Sun, Dec 12, 2010
http://www.petitiononline.com/rtisave/ created on Sun, Dec 12, 2010
An appeal to save the Right to Information or RTI Act 2005 created Tue, July 25, 2006
http://www.petitiononline.com/savertia/ created Tue, July 25, 2006
Online campaign - The Hindu Saturday, May 10, 2008
http://cic.gov.in/CIC-Minutes/Minutes03062008.pdf
Govt proposes new RTI rule: Ask, but only in 250 words, on only one subject Indian Express Sunday, December 12, 2010
http://www.indianexpress.com/news/govt-proposes-new-rti-rule-ask-but-only-in-250-words-on-only-one-subject/723495/ 
Govt proposes new RTI rule: Ask, but only in 250 words, on only one subject - Indian Express Sunday, December 12, 2010
The government has proposed new rules that require a Right to Information (RTI) application to be restricted to 250 words and only one subject. There's no word cap currently, and applicants can seek information on any number of subjects in a single application.

The 250 words do not include addresses of the Central Public Information Officer and the applicant. The proposed rules require the applicant to pay postal charges above Rs 10 incurred by authorities in replying to the application.

Applicants do not currently pay postal charges. They pay Rs 10 when filing the application. RTI activists said the proposed rules will dilute the landmark legislation.

"By restricting the application to 250 words the government will make it difficult for the common man to seek information," said Noida-based RTI activist Lokesh Batra.

"This act is meant even for illiterates, how can you expect people to follow such a tight word limit? Everyone is not capable of summarising thoughts so well."

Delhi-based Anil Sood said the proposal was a "clear attempt to create grey areas in a transparent law and allow scope for harassment of applicants".

Centre must add purpose clause to RTI Act Times of India February 17, 2011
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/Centre-must-add-purpose-clause-to-RTI-Act/articleshow/7511579.cms
Given the doubts raised by a section of chief ministers, the Centre is planning to amend the Right to Information (RTI) Act to curb its misuse.

"Our information is that a group of chief ministers has approached the Centre for amending the RTI Act. In several cases, it was used to settle personal scores by rival businessmen, builders and politicians," a senior information commissioner told TOI on Wednesday.

The information commissioner said that when the Congress-led Democratic Front government promulgated an ordinance in 2004 to provide for right to information, it was specifically mentioned that a person seeking information will have to state in the application the purpose for which the information is required. When the Centre enacted the RTI Act in 2005, this particular clause on purpose was removed. , as a result, now a person can seek information on any subject, without mentioning the purpose for which he requires the information. "We feel that If the Centre wants to curb misuse, it must include the purpose clause in the act, else, we will not be able to stop misuse of the legislation. It will have to move an amendment bill in the parliament for the purpose," he said.

The information commissioner said that in Mumbai, the maximum number of applications are filed by the same group of persons. "We are bound to provide information but we don't know how it will be used," he said.

RTI changes may make it toothless Times of India January 13, 2011
Proposed changes to the Right to Information (RTI) Act threaten to render it ineffective to a large extent. The amendments include restricting questions per RTI query to one and word count to 250 per query, and levying a higher charge.

If the Department of Personnel and Training proposed draft comes into effect it would be applicable to all Central government agencies and respective state commissions can follow suit. RTI activists said the draft rules would kill the Act and citizens will not get adequate responses.

The manner in which the DoPT is pushing the draft rules without asking for suggestions shows they want to dilute the Act and make it ineffective. The DoPT just gave 17 days, from December 10 to December 27 to invite suggestions and comments. "The draft rules suggest major changes that need to be debated. The Centre should have given more time for the people to respond and given far more coverage to the rules in public forums, informing everyone of these changes.

After all this is a people's Act," Bhaskar Prabhu, convener of the Mahiti Adhikar Manch said. Kurla-based activist Anil Galgali agreed: "The one-query rule is really absurd. How can one just ask one query when there are so many angles to an issue?"

He cited an example wherein he had to ask 10 questions on an issue where politicians had usurped apartments reserved for the common man under the chief minister's discretionary quota.

Draft amendments may sound RTI death knell Times of India January 11, 2011
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/Draft-amendments-may-sound-RTI-death-knell/articleshow/7261168.cms
RTI activist Krishnaraj Rao said the draft rule is silent on complainants." There is no mention of this important tool wherein an applicant can directly file a complaint with the information commission in case they do not get the correct information. If the department does away with this then we will be at the mercy of the PIOs and appellate authorities,'' Rao said.

The rules, Prabhu said, should in fact look at problems and limitations of the Act and amend them for the benefit of the citizens. "There is still no way we can challenge an order of the information commission and there is no prescribed time limit to comply with its order. These limitations should be looked into and amended accordingly,'' he said.

Hyderabad oppose changes in RTI Act
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/hyderabad/Hyderabad-oppose-changes-in-RTI-Act/articleshow/7337197.cms
City-based RTI activists have written to the Centre opposing the proposed changes in the Right to Information Act. The activists have written to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), New Delhi, which had invited public comments on the proposed amendments.

Activists here have expressed their objection to imposing a word limit on the RTI application.

"Putting a restriction on the number of subjects and the number of words can be considered a curtailment of the citizen's fundamental right to freedom of speech. Apex court judgments in the past have held "Right to Information" as an integral part of the fundamental right. Another proposed amendment is restricting an RTI application to one subject. This would lead to disputes in deciding what constitutes one subject," said C J Karira, city-based RTI activist.

According to activists, the amendments would only empower the Public Information Officer (PIO) who will dismiss applications on one ground or the other.

Among other proposed amendments are a hike in the application fee and specification in the paper size, both of which have been objected to by activists.

NAC & govt lock horns, now over RTI changes Times of India February 9 2011
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/NAC-govt-lock-horns-now-over-RTI-changes/articleshow/7454549.cms
The government refused to budge on the controversial RTI amendments in a meeting with the National Advisory Council on Tuesday. In fact, the wedge between the Sonia Gandhi-led council and the government got deeper with yet another ministry - this time the Union ministry of personnel - defying the thinktank and not entertaining the group's foray into its turf.

Earlier the PMO, with the Planning Commission and the food ministry in tow, had taken on the NAC on the proposed food security law. Similarly, the tribal affairs ministry had outrightly rejected all the council's recommendations on reforms on the Forest Rights Act.

On Tuesday, the ministry of personnel met the NAC sub-group on Right To Information Act and the results were no different, sources told TOI. The bone of contention between the two was the mandate to limit a RTI application to one subject and 250 words and abatement of an appeal after an applicant's death.

Despite insistence by the Council headed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the department had rejected these key suggestions on the draft RTI rules and instead sent a 13-page reply to the council on its observations on the rules.

On Tuesday, while the NAC sub-group members argued that these rules should be dropped as they were against the spirit of the act, officials of the department of personnel and training (DoPT) did not give in. An activist who attended the meeting said, "The attitude of the officials was quite hostile. We don't think there will be a solution soon."

Yet another NAC member speaking to TOI said, "There was an exchange of views but the ministry officials did not budge on the critical concerns." Sources said that there could be another meeting with DoPT before the NAC meeting on February 26.

The rules framed by the personnel department lay down provisions for the application process, fee for providing information, filing first appeals and appointments in information commissions.

One of the provisions that the council had expressed its strong reservations is that an applicant will file an application in not more than 250 words, excluding the address of the public information officer and the applicant.

The draft rules lay down that the application would only be on a single subject. Despite objections, the department has refused to budge and said that it is the well-educated who are unable to write an application in 250 words and instead go into long-winding explanations.

Abatement of an appeal in case of an applicant's death has also raised the ire of activists who have argued that this could be misused to kill people asking uncomfortable questions.

RTI queries on only 1 subject at a time: CIC January 9, 2011
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/RTI-queries-on-only-1-subject-at-a-time-CIC/articleshow/7244295.cms 
Even as the Centre is considering amendments to the Right To Information rules, seeking to restrict RTI applications to one subject at a time and to 250 words, the Central Information Commission (CIC) in New Delhi seems to have gone a step ahead by implementing the draft proposals.

To an RTI application filed by this reporter (Jeeva) on December 6, 2010, which raised 20 queries seeking details pertaining to follow-up of fines imposed against public authorities, court stay obtained by public information officers against commission's order, disposal of cases and pending final appeals, the CIC chose to reply to only to ten questions.

The remaining ten questions, the commission said, were related to a different subject matter' and hence the applicant has to file another RTI application to get the information. "Your queries number 1 to 10 would qualify as one request' for which you have paid the application fee of Rs 10. You may therefore, send separate request and pay fee for your queries number one 11 to 20,'' the reply from the CIC, dated December 30, 2010, said.

This reporter had sought to know the average number of appeals received daily and, number of cases in which fines were imposed, number of errant public information officers paid the fine and those who have not paid it, number of cases in which errant public authorities obtained court stay against commission's orders and whether the CIC is included as respondent in such cases.

During early last month, department of personnel and training (DoPT), functioning under the Union ministry of personnel and public grievances, released the draft amendments and announced that public can send their views on or before December 27, 2010. While the DoPT has not yet announced the decision on the draft amendments, the CIC's reply, arbitrarily enforcing the draft rules, has agitated RTI activists and groups.

"When rules are not yet amended and the amendment is only in the draft stage, the CIC should clarify that under which provisions of law and under what authority it has imposed the one-subject' restriction. In fact, this reply is a standing testimony as to why we oppose the draft amendments tooth and nail," said Venkatesh Nayak, a coordinator of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, a New Delhi-based NGO.

A Sukumar, an RTI activist in Chennai, said, "We cannot accept this sort of reply from the CIC, which is supposed to safeguard the Act from being diluted by the bureaucracy. It would only mislead public authorities to discourage RTI applicants instead of encouraging them. This reply only shows that the DoPT should not give effect to the draft amendments.''

Sonia's NAC prevails over govt on RTI, Forest Rights Act February 27, 2011
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Sonias-NAC-prevails-over-govt-on-RTI-Forest-Rights-Act/articleshow/7582949.cms
The Sonia Gandhi-led national advisory council (NAC) has won decisive victories in keeping at bay the governments attempt to regulate right to information and ensuring the pro-tribal Forest Rights Act is made more effective for its intended beneficiaries.

On the national Food Security Act -- the third bone of contention between the government and NAC -- the Council at its meeting on Saturday held its ground and advocated a staggered rollout. It disagreed with the government to insist that procuring 65 million tonnes of food grains for a full rollout of the programme is not a difficult task.

NAC, seen as a policy interface with civil society, is an influential body providing policy and legislative inputs headed as it is by the Congress president.

Prevailing on RTI and forest rights are major achievements while guaranteeing 35 kg of food grains a month to families below poverty line and sections of urban poor is a key Sonia scheme, too.

On RTI, the government ceded ground on its bid to restrict an application to 250 words and a clause stating an inquiry would end if the applicant died. Now, it will say an application should preferably not exceed 500 words. It has also agreed that a query will not cease on an applicant's death.

The government is still insisting that an RTI application should be focused on one subject. But NAC has decided not to give up. Sonia Gandhi told Council members on Friday that this should be pursued with the government.

Department of Personnel and Training had earlier opposed NAC's suggestions Information activists who saw the proposed amendments as a bid to dilute the powerful act can rejoice after a protracted three-month battle.

The 250-word cap and the single subject rule are in particular seen to be limiting clauses. Abatement of an appeal in case of an applicant's death has also seen activists arguing that this provision could be misused to kill people asking uncomfortable questions as has been reported in some cases recently.

While NAC feels the Forest Rights Act is doing well, it wants to tweak it to reduce the scope of tribal beneficiaries being defeated by red tape. Thus required quorum for convening a gram sabha may be reduced from two-third to half to increase the frequency of meetings for speedy settlement of claims. And the tribal representation in the forest rights committee may go up from one-third to two-third to increase their clout under the Act.

The Centre may also issue guidelines to allow tribals to transport and sell minor forest produce with a guaranteed minimum support price although this may imply removing restrictions that stipulate that forest dwellers can take away only as much as an individual can carry.

Just like the DoPT on RTI, tribal affairs ministry had earlier opposed the suggestions of the NAC on Forest Rights Act.

The NAC and the tribal affairs ministry have narrowed differences on changes proposed in the landmark law giving settlement rights rights to tribals and other forest dwellers with sources saying that tribal affairs ministry accepted most of the councils suggestions.

On food security, the end to the government-NAC standoff might take some more time with the Sonia-led panel digging in its heels. It refused to accept the governments plea that covering 90% of the rural population and 50% of urban dwellers is not feasible in terms of food grain availability, storage and distribution.

Most recently, the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council sought a middle ground by paring down the NAC proposals while enhancing the government's offerHowever, NAC members argue that the governments view is conservative and the council has released its version of the draft bill on its website for public comment.

An NAC working group will prepare a draft food security bill taking into account the public feedback. In the first phase NAC estimates a total public distribution system food requirement of 49.4 million tones based on lower rural and urban coverage and smaller off-take of 85%. This is to allow improvements in food procurement and distribution.

In contrast to government's view, the Council considers assumption of 90% (final) offtake at proposed prices (Rs 3 a kg) to be reasonable. Theexperience of Tamil Nadu (with a near universal PDS system) shows the off take tends to be much lower than 100% at even lower prices (Rs 1 per kg of rice) than under the National Food Security Act, the NAC's note says.

More local procurement and reducing exports of about 7-14 million tonnes of cereals a year and could augment food procurement, feels the NAC.

On the Forest Rights Act, the NAC working group, it is learnt, wants the condition for non-tribals to claim right on forest land to be possession of land. Presently, they are required to be in possession of the land (75 years) and also be dependent on it for livelihood.

However, there are doubts on the efficacy of reducing quorum strength. While the objective is to facilitate frequent meetings sources said setting quorum at half the gram sabha strength would disadvantage tribals where they were numerically weaker. It would be easier for non-tribals to ignore the tribals in convening the gram sabhas.

On allowing tribals the freedom to sell and transport minor forest produce it is feared may bring in motorised vehicles for ferrying of minor produce and make the system vulnerable to exploitation by contractors and non-tribals.

http://www.dailypioneer.com/303145/Govt-pitches-contentious-protocols-for-RTI-applications.html 
Govt pitches contentious protocols for RTI applications - Sunday, December 12, 2010

RTI applications may now be limited to 250 words and to only one topic if the rules for processing of such applications suggested by the Department of Personnel may find their way through.

According to proposed amendments in the RTI rules, the DOPT, nodal body for implementing the Act in the country, has said each application will be limited to 250 words excluding the address of the public authority and applicant. It will also be limited to only one subject matter.

Even more surprising is the fact that RTI applicants will have to pay the "actual amount" spent by public authority on hiring a machine or any other equipment, if any, to supply information.

The rules will be a modification of the present RTI (regulation of fee and cost) rules, 2005 and the central information commission (appeal procedure) rules, 2005.

The rules have resulted in furore among RTI activists who say that they will be of no good to semi-literate and illiterate people who are the main users of the law.

"Though Comments being sought from Civil Society though in accordance with Section 4(1)(c) of the RTI Act, however this notification gets limited to only those who are net friendly and that too only two weeks time given," Commodore (Retd) Lokesh Batra said.

He said people from rural areas who do not have Internet access will be devoid of sending their views on the subject.

"Putting a word limit of 250 words will obstruct the Right to Information. There was no need for such limits on word usage," said Subhash Agrawal, another RTI activist.

"The new rules widen the ambit of discretionary use by the concerned Public Information Officer who can reject the applications summarily," Venkatesh Nayak of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative said.

He asked how can the Government set a limit of words especially when same set of questions in different languages will require different word usage.

He also said legally the process of RTI starts when application is submitted to a PIO. "The State cannot dictate the user to set word limit before process starts" he said.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/DopT-draft-rules-to-rein-in-RTI/articleshow/7084704.cms
http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/7085996.cms 
RTI queries not beyond 250 words - Times of India and Economic Times Sunday, December 12, 2010
In what is seen to be another attempt to tame the Right to Information Act, the government has in a recent notification recommended RTI applicants keep their application to just one subject and also limit the query to only 250 words.

Citizens asking for information under RTI may also have to pay charges that the public authority has incurred if it needs to hire equipment used in gathering and providing information.

The proposed rules have been drafted by the department of personnel and training (DoPT) and public comments are invited till December 27. The rules have been drafted after a Delhi High Court order rejected the Central Information Commission's powers to draft rules on RTI.

The DoPT move has worried activists who feel the rules limit the empowering RTI legislation. "These are a major policy shift and not pro-RTI. They restrict citizens' fundamental right to freedom of information and can be misused by public information officers as they place enormous discretion in the hands of the PIO to decide what constitutes one subject matter and what doesn't," CHRI's Venkatesh Nayak said.

In its draft rules, DoPT has also allowed that a public authority can accept fees by cash, demand draft, bankers cheque and electronic transfers or any other means as well. Activists feel that this rule is loosely worded and can allow RTI recipients to pick means of payment and in effect block queries.

RTI activists fear the provision calling for an appellant to be represented through an "authorised representative" may be misused. "The earlier provision said that the authorised representative other than a lawyer could be present. This has been removed to include only authorised representative, which may be interpreted by public authorities to depute lawyers to argue cases," Nayak said.

RTI activist S C Agrawal, who has been instrumental in making assets of Cabinet ministers public, said, "It is definitely an obstruction in implementation of the RTI Act."

This is not the first time that the government has tried to narrow the interpretation of the legislation. There was a move last year (in 2009) to introduce amendments to the RTI Act to reject an application on the basis of being "frivolous and "vexatious" and to exempt Cabinet papers from the purview of the act. However, the government move to restrict RTI met with little success as information commissioners and citizens rejected the amendments.

RTI amendment: Sonia, PM not on same page?
Times of India April 10, 2010, 03.26am IST
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/RTI-amendment-Sonia-PM-not-on-same-page/articleshow/5780108.cms 
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi had firmly resisted changes to the RTI Act despite the government being keen to tinker with the transparency legislation, it was revealed in an RTI reply.

Amendments to the RTI Act  - considered one of the most significant achievements of the UPA - have been under controversy for some time now with activists protesting against government's move to exempt disclosure of Cabinet papers, internal discussions and judiciary.

Ms. Sonia, in a letter dated November 10, 2009, had voiced this concern adding that the government should "refrain from accepting or introducing changes in the legislation... in my opinion there is no need for changes or amendments".

The letter, accessed under RTI by activist S C Agrawal, said, "It will of course take time before the momentum generated by the Act makes for greater transparency and accountability in the structures of the government. But the process has begun and it must be strengthened... It is important, therefore, that we adhere strictly to its original aims and refrain from accepting or introducing changes in legislation on the way it is implemented that would dilute its purpose. In my opinion, there is no need for changes or amendments. The only exceptions permitted such as national security, are already well taken care of in the legislation."

She, in fact, said that lack of training of government staff, inadequate record maintenance and harassment of applicants and lack of awareness needed to be addressed.

Has Sonia written to Manmohan on RTI amendment, asks applicant - The Hindu Sunday, Mar 07, 2010
http://www.hindu.com/2010/03/07/stories/2010030762601100.htm 
The proposed changes would lead to dilution of the Act.

http://www.deccanchronicle.com/latest-news/pm-amendment-rti-act-721 
PM for amendment of RTI Act April 9th, 2010
Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who played a key role in the enactment of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, thinks it is "changing people's lives" and that it does not require any changes.

"The RTI Act is now four years old. Much has been achieved in these initial years and while there are still problems of proper implementation, the RTI has begun to change the lives of our people and the ways of governance in our country," wrote Sonia Gandhi in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Nov 10 last year.

Sonia Gandhi said the problem with the RTI Act is about "public lack of awareness of the RTI and the harassment of applicants" and "these problems need to be addressed."

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/46384/supreme-court-loses-rti-battle.html
CJI office comes under transparency law, rules three-judge bench

The Delhi High Court on Tuesday, January 12, 2010 reinforced its earlier verdict that the office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) was within the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
 
Delhi High Court Judgement on Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Judicial independence not the personal privilege or prerogative of an individual judge

Judiciary of undisputed integrity is the bedrock institution for democracy and rule of law

Democracy expects openness and openness is concomitant of a free society. Sunlight is the best disinfectant

Scandal in judiciary more deplorable than scandals in the executive or legislature

Judges of the higher judiciary are as accountable as judges of a trial court

Judge must keep himself absolutely above suspicion

Even I-T returns and medical records can be disclosed if there is a public interest

Public authorities should make info available suo motu

A three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice A P Shah and Justices Vikramjeet Sen and S Muralidhar said that the CJI cannot be said to have a fiduciary relationship (between a trustee and a beneficiary) with other judges.

According to the bench, judges of the superior courts should make public their assets as they were not "less accountable" than the judicial officers of the lower courts, who were bound by service rules to declare assets.

The high court's order followed an appeal filed by the apex court which had challenged the order of Justice S Ravindra Bhat of the Delhi High Court on September 2. In his judgment of far-reaching implications, Justice Bhatt had maintained that the CJI was a public authority and, therefore, his office was within the ambit of the RTI Act.

In its appeal, the Supreme Court registry had contended that Justice Bhat had erred in holding that the CJI's office comes within the ambit of the transparency law and had interpreted its provisions too broadly which were "unnecessary" and  "illogical".

Tuesday's (Jan 12, 2010) judgment was categorical in arguing that the higher the judge in the judicial hierarchy, the greater the standard of accountability and stricter the scrutiny.

Fundamental right
It argued that "if declaration of assets by a subordinate judicial officer is seen as essential to enforce accountability at that level, then the need for such declaration by judges of the constitutional courts is even greater".

Widening the interpretation of the RTI Act, which was hailed as the "most significant event in the life of Indian democracy", the judges unanimously said that right to information was part of fundamental rights enshrined in Articles 14 (right to equality), 19(1)(a) (freedom of speech) and 21 (right to life) of the Constitution".

Observing that the standards of judicial behaviour, both on and off the bench, was normally extremely high, the high court said: "For a judge to deviate from such standards of honesty and impartiality is to betray the trust reposed to him... A judicial scandal has always been regarded as far more deplorable than a scandal involving either the executive or a member of the legislature. The slightest hint of irregularity or impropriety in the court is a cause for great anxiety and alarm".

Countering the stand taken by Attorney General Goolam E Vahanvati, who contended on behalf of the Supreme Court registry that apex court judges cannot be exposed to public scrutiny as it would hamper their independence and functioning, the high court observed that a legislator or an administrator may be found guilty of corruption without apparently endangering the foundation of the State.

"But a judge must keep himself absolutely above suspicion, to preserve the impartiality and independence of the judiciary and to have the public confidence thereof," the bench said.

The high court also turned down the Supreme Court plea that information pertaining to other judges were confidential in nature which cannot be made public by the CJI. "The CJI cannot be a fiduciary vis-a-vis judges of the Supreme Court. The judges of the Supreme Court hold independent office, and there is no hierarchy in their judicial functions which places them at a different plane than the CJI."

It noted that "the declarations are not furnished to the CJI in a private relationship or as a trust but in discharge of the constitutional obligation to maintain higher standards and probity of judicial life and are in the larger public interest", adding that disclosure of such information "would not result in breach of such duty".

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/70306/rti-amendments-retrograde-step.html 
RTI amendments: A retrograde step
Without information, people cannot adequately exercise their rights or make choices

The UPA government's move to amend sections of the Right to Information Act (RTI) negates the very purpose for which the Act has been passed. The RTI Act was passed in 2005 to cover all the departments except defence, atomic energy and all those dealing with the country's security.

That the CJI is also a public authority and therefore comes under the jurisdiction of the Act has been found unpalatable by the supreme court, within five years of its passing.

The RTI Act has been considered a progressive and meaningful legislation as it brought in transition from an opaque system of governance to a transparent system: from one of 'confidentiality is the rule and disclosure an exception' to 'transparency is the norm and secrecy an exception.' This undid the culture of secrecy that was the hallmark of government functioning for over six decades.

The amendment would demean the interests of the information seeker. The spirit of this citizen-centric legislation which brought in a paradigm shift in the citizen-government relationship is being dampened.

Even the budget data of local self-governments that are public documents are not easily available and when available, it is full of errors as seen by the study of Centre for Budget and Policy Studies, Bangalore. Many zeroes are added to the budget figures, the closing balance at the end of the financial year does not tally with the opening balance of the next financial year. All this and more, reflects the low importance given to managing information. That budget information can be used as a tool that can hold governments accountable is lost because of this attitude.

The RTI law is applicable to governments at all levels, Union, state and local. Demanding the resolution of the council meetings of the urban local bodies in a few cases in Karnataka has been found to be a good measure of holding elected representatives accountable. The civil society can verify if the promises made by the councillors is fulfiled by asking for the resolutions passed at the meetings.

What seems to be lost sight of is the fact that RTI would, by itself, build informed citizenry. But then, this can happen only if it is allowed to settle down and strengthened. Without information, people cannot adequately exercise their rights or make choices. Information is an important ingredient of democracy effective. The opening lines of the Right to Information Act, 2005, states that democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information which are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and to hold governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed.

It is precisely for this reason that the Right to Information movement originated in a remote village in Rajasthan. The movement began as a demand for labour that rightfully belonged to the poor as designed by the food for works programme of the government of India, it led to 'Jan Sunwais'(public hearing) which exposed corruption among officials and demand for information by the Mazdoor Kisan Sakthi Sangatan. This resulted in the national campaign for the people's right to information and subsequently to the passing of the RTI Act.

Conclusion:
We the petition signers / signatories believe that the amendments that the proposed amendments affect the original spirit of the act.

There should not be any word or subject / topic limit in the RTI queries / applications, applicants must not be asked to pay postal charges and the actual amount spent by public authority on hiring a machine or any other equipment, if any, to supply information.

Appeals shouldn't be rejected at their admission stage itself.

The RTI Act should in fact be strengthened by reducing the fees charged from the present rupees two per page of photocopy for extracts from the publication to rupee one and for information provided in diskette or floppy it should be reduced from the present Rs.50/- to Rs.10/- or Rs.15/- only per diskette or floppy.
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This petition's been addressed to The Hon'ble Supreme Court, PM, President, Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT), Central Information Commission (CIC), Cabinet Ministers, Ministers of State & Members of the Parliament or MPs (Lok Sabha LS / Lower House & Rajya Sabha RS / Upper House).

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