The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Plan to make civil service less secretive

New Delhi, May 26: With Parliament clearing the Right to Information Bill, the government plans to amend the civil service conduct rules, making it compulsory for officers to give information to the public.

Though the Bill has been passed, the infrastructure needed to put it in place may take years, especially as the bureaucracy works on the premise that information is power and has made a habit not to part with it, however innocuous.

“That mindset will have to change. Nor can the bureaucracy be blamed for it because from the first day they (officers) join service, the need for secrecy is ingrained in them,” an official of the department of personnel and training said.

The first step is to amend the service rules to make it obligatory for officials to provide information to the public. The amendments suggested are with the minister of state for home, in charge of personnel, Harin Pathak. It will be sent to the law ministry for approval.

While the importance of being transparent in a democracy is being appreciated, officials are mulling over how to implement the clauses in the Bill. Should people have to pay for the information' If so, how much' Will it vary depending on the work culling this information takes, or will there be a general token levy' None of this has yet been worked out, officials explained.

All departments have received circulars from the personnel department to work out a skeletal plan of action and give their views on how best can information be given to the public. “There is a lot of work to be done, as this is an entirely new exercise for both the Centre and the state governments,” an official said.

Officials, however, are not unduly worried. Saying that these things take time, they pointed out that even in the UK, it took nearly seven years to get a similar Bill fine-tuned to answer the citizens’ needs.

Department officials say there is a misconception among people that civil servants are opposed to the Bill as it would double their workload and take away some of the power that comes from not allowing access to information.

“This is nonsense. No one in the bureaucracy has opposed the Bill. After all, civil servants are also citizens and they know they will retire one day and may be in need of some urgent information,” said an official.

Although no punishment has been suggested for officials who refuse to comply with the new rules, officials admit there could be a few glitches initially, which would later be smoothened out. As of now, apart from adverse comments in confidential reports, there is no price an official has to pay if he refuses to cooperate in giving information demanded by a citizen.

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