Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Elected representatives not 'public authorities' under RTI

Elected representatives not 'public authorities' under RTI

Sowmya Aji

New Delhi, January 5, 2010: In India, unlike in the US, an elected representative is not liable to answer queries on personal matters under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

So queries such as that of Dr Awadesh Mishra, an RTI applicant, asking how many NGOs Rahul Gandhi had recommended to departments and ministries for participation in their schemes, go unanswered.

A recent order issued by the Central Information Commission (CIC) has given elected representatives a loophole to slip through the RTI Act. They can now state they are not " public authorities" who can be directly queried under the Act.

Many queries under the RTI Act have been ignored by public representatives.

A case in point is that of activist Subash Chandra Aggarwal. He had asked: " Under what law does Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi have two wives?'' The legislative branch Central Public Information Officer, Ramisetty Srinivas, in his reply upheld by the CIC, said: " We hold no identifiable information to provide the applicant. We are not obliged to create or interpret the information, solve the problems raised by applicants, or to furnish replies to hypothetical questions.'' Aggarwal pointed out that he had raised the issue in public interest, as people such as Karunanidhi were emulated by many. " All my petitions were rejected because no one other than Karunanidhi was in a position to answer. And he is not covered under the RTI Act,'' he said.

The issue has been debated by the CIC in five cases filed before it, seeking information from MPs Rahul and Sonia Gandhi, Delhi MLA Sahib Singh Chouhan and Delhi municipal councillor Savita Sharma.

The queries, including Mishra's query to Rahul, were not answered.

The applicants then appealed to the CIC, which debated the cases and sought legal opinion from several luminaries.

" We must conclude that individuals, whether MPs, MLAs, councillors or members of panchayats, cannot in themselves be deemed public authorities,'' the CIC said.

This essentially relieves them of the responsibility to reply to any query from the public under the RTI Act.

The CIC also said: " Organisations and committees, which fulfil their obligations under the Constitution, are indeed organisations defined as public authorities.

Such information on activities, as are performed by these named representatives as members of such organisations, is therefore to be deemed accessible to the citizenry."


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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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