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Information Bill stuck on last step

New Delhi, April 27: The Centre is still working out the modalities for ensuring right to information for the masses as enshrined in the Freedom of Information Bill, 2002.

Three months have lapsed since Parliament passed the legislation during the winter session.

Normally, the Centre notifies an Act in the official gazette within three months of Parliament passing a Bill so that it becomes a law. But the government is taking more time with this Bill.

The only other major Bill with a similar fate is the Delhi Rent Control Act of 1995, which has not been notified for a couple of years now as no Delhi government wants to antagonise voters from the trading community.

Apart from the time-consuming process of outlining rules to implement the information Act’s provisions, the delay can be attributed to some bureaucrats’ opposition to certain amendments needed in their service rules, government sources said.

The archaic All India Services Act of 1956 and the Official Secrets Act bar public servants from disclosing information to people, which clashes with the professed objectives of the new legislation.

So the services Act, which administers Central services such as the Indian Administrative Service, Indian Police Service and Indian Forest Service, will have to be amended to complement the provisions of the information Act.

Officials at the Centre believe bureaucrats should be made accountable to the people to ensure that the new Act achieves its objective.

Once the Act comes into force — except in Jammu and Kashmir — a citizen can seek from government departments all information excluding those that could affect the country’s sovereignty and integrity, scientific and economic interests, and international relations.

The information Act also lists six more areas, such as Cabinet papers and records of deliberations among the council of ministers, which would be out of bounds for people asking for information in the public interest.

The Act stipulates the creation of public information officers who will get the information from the ministries and government departments.

According to sources, the Centre is planning to nominate officers of the ranks of deputy secretary and director to officiate as information officers, once the rules are notified.

This is being considered a cost-cutting exercise as creation of a fresh cadre of information officers and other staff would adversely affect the exchequer, sources said.

The right to information Bill was courting trouble ever since the United Front government introduced it in Parliament.

After it lapsed once, the BJP government reintroduced it. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home took two years in consulting academics, experts and social workers to come up with a final version of the draft legislation.

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