They expressed fear that the RTI Act is under threat of dilution from two sources next week:
1) The RTI (Amendment) Bill 2013 introduced by the Central Government on 12 August, 2013 seeks to keep all political parties outside the RTI Act. The amendment Bill also seeks to nullify the June 2013 order of the Central Information Commission which brought all political parties directly under the RTI Act.
2) The Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill, 2011 (NSRA Bill) introduced by the Central Government in the Lok Sabha in September 2011 seeks to add a new exemption clause under Section 8 of the RTI Act to keep away from public scrutiny commercially sensitive information relating to nuclear plants held by technology holders. Second the NSRA Bill brings any regulatory authority that the Government may set up in future to regulate matters relating to nuclear materials, premises and activities connected with national defence and security interests under Section 24 of the RTI Act. They will be like the CBI, R&AW, NTRO which do not have to give any information (even the postal address of their offices) to the public except in matters relating to allegations of human rights violation and corruption.
Both amendments to the RTI Act are scheduled for discussion and passing in the Lok Sabha next week (19-24 August, 2013). A grand total of 5 hours has been set aside for discussing these amendments. But the exact dates on which these Bills will be discussed will be disclosed next week. The Lok Sabha will not sit on the 20, instead it will sit on the 24th on Saturday and Question Hour has also been cancelled for this day. I have attached the Lok Sabha Bulletin listing business for next week for your reference (see pages 10-12).
These amendments dilute the RTI Act and restrict the people's right to know the truth.
RTI (Amendment Bill): Despite the publicly proven fact that political parties are benefiting from public funds or public assets like land and rented buildings in a big way, they do not want to be treated as substantially financed non-government organizations. Political parties are creating this exception for themselves while they want other organizations in the private and social sector to be covered by the RTI Act, if they receive substantial funding from the Government. This amendment clearly violates the principle of equality before law which forms the bedrock of India's Constitution. Neither the Government nor the political parties have held any public consultation on this amendment Bill to ask the people if they support such a dilution of their RTI Act.
NSRA Bill: India increasingly is looking at the nuclear option for generating electricity. Multi-national companies like Areva and Westinghouse, amongst others, are looking for business opportunities in India. Westinghouse even sponsored a visit of a team of a prominent TV channel recently to show how safe one of their reactors was in the USA. The TV Channel faithfully beamed this story several times this week. If these companies build nuclear plants in India, they can conceal under the new exemption, a lot of information about their plants which should ideally be open to public scrutiny. Moreover regulatory authorities established for national defence and security purposes will be born almost completely exempted from the RTI Act. Even worse is the possibility that the jurisdiction of the CIC may be ousted because any person disclosing information about these matters is liable for imprisonment up to five years.
The Dept. of Personnel and Training which is the nodal ministry for implementing the RTI Act sent a written objection to these exemptions proposed by the NSRA Bill arguing that the current exemptions under Section 8 were enough to take care of legitimate interests of technology holders and the State. The members of the Communist Parties sitting on the Parliamentary Standing Committee which vetted the NSRA Bill put in a dissent note in the final report objecting to, amongst other things, the curbs on transparency. Nevertheless the Government is going ahead with these clauses which will dilute the RTI Act further.