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PM calls for critical review of RTI

Calling for a critical look at the Right to Information (RTI) Act, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Friday said the law should not adversely affect the deliberative processes in the government.

Addressing the Sixth Annual Convention of Information Commissioners here, the prime minister said the RTI Act had been effective but there were ‘concerns that it could end up discouraging honest, well meaning public servants from giving full expression to their views’.

‘Even as we recognise and celebrate the efficacy and the effectiveness of the Right to Information Act, we must take a critical look at it. There are concerns that need to be discussed and addressed honestly,’ the prime minister said.

He said the legislation for the protection of whistleblowers would further strengthen RTI and hoped the law would be enacted in the next few months.

‘It would, among other things, help in prevention of violence against those who seek to expose wrongdoings in our public administration,’ he said.

Calling for a balance between the need for disclosure of information and limited time and resources available with public authorities, he said it was not desirable to have a situation in which an authority was flooded with requests for information having no bearing on public interest.

Manmohan Singh said there was need to deliberate on ways to deal with the ‘vexatious demand’ without hindering information to those whose demands genuinely serve public interest.

‘…I think we need to remember here that a point of view brought under public scrutiny and discussion in an isolated manner may sometimes present a distorted or incomplete picture of what really happened in the processes of making the final decisions. The Right to Information should not adversely affect the deliberative processes in the government,’ he said.

The prime minister said the government was committed to a comprehensive agenda of legal, executive and technology initiatives to curb corruption and improve governance, and the RTI was a powerful tool in that direction.

‘We wish to make the Right to Information an even more effective instrument for ensuring transparency and accountability in administration,’ he said.

Calling for a critical look at the exemption clauses in RTI Act, the prime minister urged the participants at the convention to come up with concrete suggestions. He said the RTI had provisions to deal with privacy issues but there were certain grey areas that required further debate.

He said the convention was taking place at a time when there was ‘a vigorous debate on the issues of corruption and governance’ and hoped it will give a holistic assessment of the ground situation about implementation of the RTI Act.

The prime minister said the number of appeals or complaints before the commission were very large and public authorities must endeavour to voluntarily put information in the public domain without waiting for applications from information seekers.

‘If this is done, a lot of time will be saved both for public authorities as well as for citizens,’ he said.

Expressing satisfaction over decline in rejection rate of information requested under RTI from 7.2 in 2007-08 to 6.4 in 2009-10 and 5.2 in 2010-11, he said the commission, ‘through its decisions, had laid down principles for disclosure of information which was not considered fit for disclosure’.

‘All this indicates that public authorities today are more open and more sensitive to concerns voiced in the act, and they are better prepared to respond to citizens’ request for information,’ he said.

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