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Secretive officials to face the music

New Delhi, March 22: Bureaucrats could get into trouble for holding back information, if Parliament approves.

The standing committee that scrutinised the Right to Information Bill 2005 has retained provisions that make withholding information as serious an offence as harbouring a murderer, possessing counterfeit coins, adultery and having sexual intercourse not amounting to rape.

All these offences are punishable with a jail term of up to five years, the same that has been proposed for secretive bureaucrats. The bureaucrats might also have to pay a fine of up to Rs 25,000.

But the standing committee has gone a step further. Drawing a leaf out of the now-repealed Prevention of Terrorism Act, it has recommended that if an official is accused of withholding information, 'the burden of proving that he acted reasonably and diligently shall be upon him'.

If bureaucrats are unable to convince the statutory information commission at the Centre or in the state ' wherever the complaint is made ' that they acted in a reasonable manner, they will have to face criminal charges.

Once an information commission concludes that a bureaucrat has delayed information, the bill makes it mandatory for it to lodge a complaint with a first class judicial magistrate. There is no room for use of discretion.

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