Wednesday 21 October 2020

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Issues | Right to Info

Govt presents Right to Info bill

 

The Goa government has presented the Right to Information bill in the ongoing Assembly session, which would be now thrown open for a public debate, before it is discussed in the House.

Being the second state in the country after Tamil Nadu, Goa government has also made a special provision of ten-member state council, comprising officials and non-officials, to promote the culture of openness and transparency and monitor the process of providing information .

"As series of court judgements have declared that right to know is a facet of the fundamental right of speech, Right to Information is indispensable for increasing and enforcing accountability", said information minister Domnick Fernandes, while presenting the bill.

The bill is however presented, going against the demand made by journalists and the NGOs that the policy recommendations be made public before the draft bill is prepared. But Fernandes is planning to invite suggestions from the public instead of referring the bill to the select committee.

Though seminars were organised by journalists and academicians to debate the kind of bill Goa needs, the government refused to disclose any details of the draft bill stating that 'it is secret'. It's intention was doubted since no information was provided even on the Right to Information bill.

The minister however claims that the draft is being prepared after going through the Right to Information act of Tamil Nadu, as well as the model draft prepared by Justice P B Sawant, chairman of the Press Council of India and the H D Shourie committee recommendations.

At both the seminars, even top bureaucrats however had expressed their disapproval over the TN act, the only one existing in the country, stating that it primarily caters to how not to give information. "It's better not to have a bill instead", it was felt.

Despite tall claims made by the information minister about transparency and openness to strengthen democracy, the Goa bill however contains several 'funny' provisions of the TN act, which authorises the state to withhold any information which will prejuducially affect "public order", without explaining what it means.

"The comprehensive bill has converted our needs into a right. But it needs further clarification on the vague exemptions mentioned in it as well as who would be the competent authority to furnish information", states Kashinath Jalmi, the state opposition leader.

Besides withholding information which may affect sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the state, international relations and trade and commercial secrets, the bill also provides to withhold any other information protected by law, which means that information could be withheld, quoting the Official Secrets Act and conduct rules for government servants.

The only good feature about the bill however is that the public would now have an access to any information which cannot be denied to the state legislature, within 30 working days from making a formal application.

The government however still remains sceptical about the competent authority to supply information, which would be notified 'later on'.

Not supplying or furnishing false information under this legislation is considered a cognizable offence, even with a fine upto Rs 5000 and Rs 50 per day for a delay after 30 days. The appellate authority is specified as the administrative tribunal.


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