Thursday, April 13, 2017

Centre trying to weaken RTI? Commissioner says debate needed over new draft rules

DNA: New Delhi: Thursday, April 13, 2017.
Speaking exclusively to DNA-WION, the Information Commissioner Yashovardhan Azad said that certain provisions in new draft RTI rules need to be debated further as they require greater consultation. “The right to withdraw an RTI petition is not required. There is no need for this provision. We at the Commission are already looking in to such issues where public interest is concerned,” he said.
The new draft rules in circulation have the provision to withdraw the application by the applicant and that of RTI ceasing to exist in case of applicant’s death. On this issue Yashovardhan Azad said that the Information Commission believes that in case of an assault or murder, the Commission will abide by its resolution of 2011 whereby information sought would be published in the website.
This suggestion in the draft rules had come under criticism from RTI activists who claimed that anyhow RTI activists face lot of violence and it should not have been part of the draft. Even the issue of withdrawal remains contested as many activists argue that it would create counter pressure from vested interest and would expose them to unnecessary pressure.
The draft rules circulated by the government also add a new provision in form of section 17 where by the power is given to the Chief Information Commissioner to shift individual appeals from one Commissioner to another which also includes withdrawal of an appeal pending before a commissioner and transfer it to another Commissioner.
On this Yashovardhan Azad said,"So far as the procedure was that whenever conflict of interest arose, the Commissioners would recuse themselves or the matter would be shifted to a wider bench. This is new and requires wider consultation and needs to be properly debated."
The Centre had claimed that new draft rules were originally proposed by the UPA and the current government had only circulated it for public opinion rather than converting all of them into rules. Congress on the other hand had attacked the Centre for trying to dilute the Right to Information Act which was enacted during UPA’s first avatar. The preamble of RTI states that the act is built to promote accountability and transparency. As an Act, it over rides all other acts in context of public interest.
In this context, Azad said that despite burden of work there exists a strong move that private companies with public interface should be brought under the RTI act. “For example, an RTI activist can seek information on bad service from Air India but he cannot do so when it comes to private airlines,” said Yashovardhan Azad. The draft rules in circulation before notification will have to be ratified by the Parliament where all changes done will go through intense scrutiny.