New Delhi, Nov. 1: The government has at least for now shelved a set of controversial amendments to the Right to Information (RTI) Act, gladdening activists who feared the changes would dilute the law.
The amendment bill was to be placed before the cabinet for approval today but was eventually withdrawn from the agenda because of opposition from RTI activists and the Sonia Gandhi-headed National Advisory Council, a senior Union minister told The Telegraph.
“While I welcome the move, I must say it was a political requirement for (the government). Just before the elections, they could not have angered their constituencies,” senior RTI activist Lokesh Batra said.
Citizens can now seek information under the act on file notings except on issues of national security, but the proposed amendments sought to restrict file-noting disclosures exclusively to social and development issues. The amendments also sought to limit the act’s scope in order to protect privacy and commercial interests.
Another proposal was to exempt the exam selection process from the act’s ambit, which would have ruled out disclosures about public examinations and candidates’ evaluation for government jobs.
The amendments were mooted in 2009, three years after the act came into effect, but are yet to be introduced in Parliament. National Advisory Council member Aruna Roy had led the campaign against the amendments.
Batra said: “The department of personnel and training has been trying to get the act amended since 2006 to exclude file notings, except for the social and development sectors, from its ambit. It is thanks to the persistent efforts by activists that the move has been dropped.”
He added: “Now, at least till the elections, the government will not tinker with the act.”
Nikhil Dey, RTI activist and member of the National Advisory Council, said: “It is an important decision. The amendments would have killed the RTI Act and there would have been no transparency in governance.”
India’s youngest RTI activist, 18-year-old Mobashir Sharwar, was “extremely happy”.
“It is something we have been fighting against for the past six years. Why introduce the RTI Act if you want to curb citizens’ rights over what they can access? I hope the government does not touch the act any more,” Sharwar said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said last month that the RTI Act could not be used to violate the privacy of individuals and suggested that citizens’ right to know might have to be “circumscribed”.