Right To Information Act - the final countdown

IN Media Practice | 21/07/2005
With ninety days left for the full implementation of the RTI Act, it is time for an update.



Prakash Kardaley




Rules: Nothing new has emerged since the first update 10 days ago. We hear that the ministry has already framed rules, but these haven`t been circulated for comments. While this procedure is not mandatory, it is - after all - a transparency law. It is hoped that the rules would be circulated and suggestions sought, as was done last time in case of the Freedom of Information Act.


The National Council for People`s Right to Information (NCPRI) has framed rules based on inputs from various activists (including CHRI). The National Advisory Council, scheduled to meet on June 30, will presumably discuss the rules and submit its recommendations to the ministry.


States have been given the liberty to frame their own rules, but no state has begun that exercise yet, presumably - and thankfully - waiting for the central rules to be framed first.


Information commissions: There is still no report that the panel (comprising the Prime Minister, the leader of the opposition and a minister nominated by the PM) has even held its first meeting to start the process of nominating the Central Chief Information Commissioner and Central Information Commissioners. It is still not clear how many information commissioners will be appointed, though a maximum of ten is allowed.


As a matter of fact, it is not clear if the PM has even nominated a minister to the panel that will select the commissioners.


Though some states are waking up to the inevitability of appointing State Information Commissions, there is no news of any meetings having been held in any state - by the Chief Minister, a minister nominated by him/her and the leader of the opposition.


States: The Department of Personnel & Training (DOP&T) has sent letters to the chief secretaries of all states to start the process of enforcing the national RTI law within their respective states - including appointments of State Information Commissions. The letter is silent on the fate of existing state laws, so it can be presumed that the decision on whether the existing state RTI laws should be dropped, or continue to co-exist with the national law for state matters, is left to the states. States could presumably retain their existing laws on RTI, provided the provisions of existing or new state laws are not inconsistent with the central law.


Of the nine states which have local RTI laws, Karnataka and Goa have said they would enforce the national law and withdraw their respective state laws;


Maharashtra has begun to prepare for enforcement of the national law. There has been no official announcement yet on repeal of the Maharashtra RTI act, but this appears imminent;


Delhi is enforcing national law and will probably retain the state law with modifications;


There is no news from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Assam.


The national law does not extend to Jammu & Kashmir, where rules for the existing state RTI law were recently framed. Regrettably, it is a toothless act with no stringent penalty provisions. Activists in the state will approach the state government with a request to scrap the state law and replace it with the national law. They will make a similar request to the Government of India, or to NAC president Sonia Gandhi, urging them to recommend that the J&K government adopt the national law like rest of the country.


Of the states which do not have RTI laws, the Meghalaya government has announced that it is enforcing the national law. There had been a Bandh in that state for an RTI law, which is perhaps the only example in the country - if not the entire world - of a general strike being called by the people to demand a transparency law.


Orissa also has initiated steps. And that`s it - just two. There is no news from any of the other states, some of them very powerful ones, which is surely not good news for the RTI movement.


The saving grace is that the nation-wide euphoria has aroused the interest of activists everywhere. Some activists in West Bengal, who learned about the RTI law only recently, are seeking more details so that they can compel their state government to adopt the national law on schedule.


July 15, 2005

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