Sunday, October 18, 2009

Move to exempt ‘file notings’ from RTI

The Government is once again trying to sneak in an amendment which would exempt disclosure of file notings under Right to Information (RTI) Act. Unlike its failed attempt in 2006, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) has carefully worded the proposed amendment without mentioning the term ‘file notings’ anywhere.

The fact came to light when DoPT had a day-long interaction with Central Information Commissioners and State Information Commissioners at Delhi Secretariat on Wednesday to get a feedback on the proposed amendments to RTI Act. In a presentation, DoPT mentioned that it wanted to include some exemptions under RTI Act. The exemption as proposed in the presentation was, “Discussion/consultation that take place before arriving at a decision have no relevance for general public. Disclosure of such discussion/consultation will hamper free flow of thought within the Government.”

With this sentence, the Government steered clear of the word ‘file notings’ but still conveyed that whatever a bureaucrat notes down on the side of the file, which is defined as discussion and consultation, should not be divulged under RTI Act. There has been a long-drawn face-off between DoPT and Central Information Commission (CIC), the final appellate authority for RTI Act, over disclosure of file notings. Within a year of RTI Act enactment, DoPT had tried to amend it to exempt file notings. However, this attempt failed completely as civil society waged a battle against the move. This year, CIC forced DoPT to issue a circular to all departments clarifying that file notings have to be divulged under RTI Act.

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