The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Information law draft on Sonia table

New Delhi, Aug. 13: The national advisory council, headed by Sonia Gandhi, is likely to finalise a draft of the amendments suggested to the Freedom of Information Act and the National Employment Guarantee Act when it meets for the third time in two months tomorrow.

The Freedom of Information Act, passed in 2002, has not been notified even 18 months after it received presidential assent. Council sources hoped the amendments mooted would be debated and incorporated in the law in the second phase of Parliament’s budget session or in the winter session.

Among the significant amendments proposed by the council are renaming the act as the Right to Information Act because “the right to information has been treated as a part of the fundamental right to speech and expression by the Honourable Supreme Court and should be treated as such”.

The council has also proposed a section elaborating the objectives of the act, which is missing in the present legislation. These include giving effect to the fundamental right to information to strengthen democracy, improve governance, increase public participation, promote transparency and accountability, and reduce corruption.

To sharpen the definition of “freedom of information” and “information”, the council’s preliminary amendments state that the “right to information” means the right to access information held by, legally accessible by or under the control of any public authority and includes works, documents, records, taking notes and extracts and obtaining certified copies of documents or records, taking certified samples of material and obtaining information in the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or any other electronic mode or through printouts. The present act does not use the verbs “taking” and “obtaining”.

While the act defines “information” as “any material in any form relating to the administration, operations or decisions of a public authority”, the council’s version is more expansive on what precisely constitutes “information”. It lists 19 heads ranging from records, file notings, memos and advisories to reports, papers, samples and electronic data.

On the employment guarantee act, a draft of which was circulated in the last council meeting under the name of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, sources said a number of changes were suggested. These include extension of guaranteed employment to large cities, giving an intermediate benchmark of 180 days as a via media between the council’s proposal of an employment guarantee for 365 days and the UPA’s common minimum programme’s 100 days.

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