Saturday, December 5, 2009

Cabinet papers can be sought under RTI

Cabinet papers can be sought under RTI

TNN 5 December 2009, 01:29am IST

NEW DELHI: A Delhi High Court judgment, rejecting the government's plea that Cabinet papers could not be disclosed under the RTI Act even after a decision was taken on an issue, has been received with mixed response. Practioners of the Right to Information Act say that while the decision to allow Cabinet papers was welcome, the reasoning behind certain other aspects of the judgment may create confusion in its interpretation.

Justice Sanjiv Khanna recently rejected the Centre's plea that the decision by the Cabinet could be disclosed but not the Cabinet papers which record the deliberations of the council of ministers, secretaries and other officials.

Reacting to the judgment, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative's Venkatesh Nayak said, "The judgment says that information referred to under Article 74(2) of the Constitution cannot be disclosed under the RTI Act as the Constitution is a higher law. While this principle is to be honoured, it does not appear to be the correct principle to be invoked in the context of RTI as the purpose of the constitutional provision is different from the purpose of the exemption in section 8(1)(i). Article 74 protects the independence of the council of ministers from interference by the judiciary. It is not meant to be a bar on disclosure of information to entities other than courts.''

He added that the judgment also says that exempt information cannot be disclosed by the PIO under section 8(2). The court's interpretation that a PIO cannot order disclosure in the public interest if it is covered by an exemption cannot be agreed with, Nayak added. "Section 8(2) does state that a public authority may allow disclosure of any of the exempt information in public interest. By insisting that a PIO must always reject an application if an exemption can be invoked will only lead to more and more litigation,'' he said.

Decisions of competent authority cannot be challenged before the CIC but only before the courts could also prove to be detrimental to the Act.

National Campaign for Promotion of Right to Information (NCPRI)'s Shekhar Singh said the Act was very clear and there was no room for ambiguity. "The government's interpretation has no basis. The court has only reiterated what is in the law. The judgment is significant as it has not allowed government to misinterpret the law,'' Singh said. The activist said there should be a time limit to when an issue was considered complete as that was a loophole that the government took advantage of.


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The RTI Act was passed by the Lok Sabha (Lower House) on 11 May 2005, by the Raj Sabha (Upper House) on 12 May 2005 and received Presidential assent on 15 June 2005. Parts of the Act came into force upon Presidential assent, but the Act came fully into force on 12 October 2005, 120 days after Presidential assent.

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