Tweaking laws to escape RTI a bad idea: Info Commissioner

The Information Commissioner says the provisions in the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill will affect the Right to Information Act and could even lead to other laws that allow government bodies to be shielded from the transparency law.

Pallavi Polanki April 02, 2012 17:34:50 IST
Tweaking laws to escape RTI a bad idea: Info Commissioner

Coming at a time when the government is facing stiff opposition to the nuclear power plant in Kudankulam by the local community, the relevance of Information Commissioner’s Shailesh Gandhi’s letter to the Prime Minister expressing serious concern over proposals in the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority (NSRA) Bill, to amend the Right to Information Act cannot be over-emphasised.

The NSRA, 2011, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha in September, proposes two amendments to the RTI Act. The first seeks to remove from the scope of the RTI Act sensitive information relating to nuclear and radiation safety issues. And the second seeks to shield regulatory bodies that oversee nuclear facilities established for strategic and defence purposes.

Gandhi has challenged both proposals in his letter to the PM on the grounds that there is already adequate protection in the Act to prevent disclosure of sensitive information, especially concerning matters of intelligence and security.

Tweaking laws to escape RTI a bad idea Info Commissioner

Gandhi said the government making issues like nuclear safety transparent could help them avoid protests to policy decisions.Image Courtesy Central Information Commission

Speaking to Firstpost on the need for transparency especially went it comes to nuclear safety, Gandhi said, “The word ‘safety’ itself should indicate that most things should be transparent...this Bill talks of putting all nuclear regulatory bodies outside the scope of the RTI Act. What was sought be included in Schedule II (which lists the government agencies exempted from RTI) of the Act was intelligence and security agencies."

"Nuclear safety certainly does not qualify to be bracketed under intelligence or security agencies. Therefore, to classify it under Schedule II wouldn’t be right,” he said.

Gandhi pointed out that ever since the RTI Act has come into force there hasn’t been a single instance of the country’s security suffering because of information being disclosed.

“The government should realise that when there is lack of transparency, protests erupt at a later stage resulting in high cost to the economy and to itself. Therefore, being transparent is in the interest of the government and the economy. When there is opacity, the total cost of everybody becomes high and the trust deficit between the government and citizens keeps increasing.”

Asked about his assessment of the government transparency record on the Kudankulam nuclear power plant, Gandhi said, “To be honest, I don’t know enough about it to comment. My point is, even if people are going to protest, transparency will ensure that it will happen in the early stages. The government has a right to make policy. We cannot take that away from it. And citizens have a right to put across their viewpoint, you cannot take that away from them. What transparency does is, it reduces the cost for everyone - the government and the people.”

Coming back NSRA Bill, Gandhi is apprehensive that such proposals to amend the RTI Act could set a dangerous precedent.

“If you go by this logic, various other bills will also start adding exemptions to the RTI Act. As democracy progresses, exemptions should be whittled down,” he said.

Gandhi’s letter describes the proposals as “a regression in the journey of our Parliament towards a participatory democracy. Whereas, nuclear power and energy are important for the Nation, transparency and democracy are certainly more important and must not be whittled down.”

Full text of letter written by the Information Commissioner to the Prime Minister: LettertoPM

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