Friday 27 November 2020

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Issues | Right to Info

Is Gujral planning TN style transparency ?

 

With decks getting cleared for the united front government to present the Right to Information bill in the winter session, it is wondered whether it would be on the lines of the act passed in Tamil Nadu or the controversial legislation passed in Goa.

Following prime minister I K Gujral's announcement from the red fort on 15 august to bring total transparency and accountability in the administration through the right to information legislation, T S R Subramaniam, the union cabinet secretary, has confirmed that the draft bill would be approved by the cabinet within a fortnight.

But eyebrows are raised regarding genuinity of the government as the DMK, constituent of the UF government, has passed a legislation which provides for blocking most of the information rather than disseminating it.

The TN act has exempted over 20 subjects including cabinet proceedings, internal consultations or recommendations, internal policy analysis, legal professional privileges and any information which would harm public safety and public order.

Goa, on the other hand, has provided to disseminate any information which cannot be denied to the state assembly, while listing out few important exemptions like the one which hampers sovereignty and integrity of the nation, security of the state, trade and commercial secrets etc.

But the ruling congress party, which supports the UF government at centre, has made a special provision to punish the person if the information is used or published in a "malafide or distorted manner" - the words free for interpretation.

With the movement waged by the local media against the obnoxious clause getting overwhelming response from the general public all over the state, union law minister Ramakant Khalap, the Goan MP, has also decried the clause and supported the demand to delete it.

But he still hesitates to assure that such an anti-media clause would not be part of the central legislation, though he is against it in principle.

The journalists are up in arms against the clause as it will not allow to interpret any information obtained from the authorities and expose scandals or control corruption. As the offence committed under the legislation is cognizable, it would result into immediate arrest and a prolonged hearing before the administrative tribunal.

"Isn't the whole purpose of the bill defeated with such clause", asks Chandrakant Keni, Goa Editors' Guild chairman.

As suggested by Justice P B Sawant, the Press Council of India chairman, and also recommended by H D Shourie committee appointed by the centre, Dr P S A Sundaram, additional secretary for administrative reforms, has now announced that section 5 of the official secrets act, sections 123 and 124 of Indian evidence act and rule 11 of the conduct rules, 1964 would be amended.

All these provisions punish the government servants for disclosing any information.

Against only three exemptions listed in justice Sawant's draft and five in Goan legislation, it appears that the central legislation may not be so transparent with almost 11 subjects listed in the Shourie committee draft.

However, the major lacunae found in the Shourie committee draft is the missing proviso, suggested by Justice Sawant and incorporated by the Goa government, as per which any information supplied to the parliament or assembly cannot be denied to any citizen.

In order to make the elected MPs and MLAs more accountable, justice Sawant feels that all the parliamentary proceedings should be considered a public document. "It can't remain property of the house, except the expunged remarks. Elected members are the agents of the people. How can they hide any information from its rulers", he asks.

It also appears unlikely that justice Sawant's proposal to legally bind the private sector, including all the multinationals and the business establishments, to disclose all the information to any citizen of India, will be accepted.

"As the private sector is becoming a dominant force in the liberalised Indian economy, we must have a right to know what's going on in the private sector", he opines.


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