How UPA will further weaken RTI with its Nuclear safety bill

The NSRA Bill, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha in September 2011, has been criticised by leading RTI activists and transparency groups for its attempts to create high levels of secrecy around matters concerning nuclear power plants and the technology they use.

Pallavi Polanki August 20, 2013 09:46:18 IST
How UPA will further weaken RTI with its Nuclear safety bill

On the Lok Sabha’s agenda this week is passing of the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill, 2011 (NSRA Bill), which is controversial for its proposals to amend the Right To Information (RTI) Act. The NSRA bill seeks to exempt the proposed nuclear safety regulatory authority from disclosing “commercially sensitive information of technology holders.”

The NSRA Bill is being taken up at a time when the UPA government is already facing widespread criticism and public anger for its attempts to dilute the RTI Act by introducing of the RTI (Amendment) Bill, 2013. The Bill introduced last week (12 August) seeks to exclude political parties from the transparency Act in a bid to counter the potentially game-changing order passed by the Central Information Commission (CIC) in June, that held that political parties should fall under the purview of the RTI Act. (Read full report here)

The NSRA Bill, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha in September 2011, has been criticised by leading RTI activists and transparency groups for its attempts to create high levels of secrecy around matters concerning nuclear power plants and the technology they use.

How UPA will further weaken RTI with its Nuclear safety bill

Getty images

Experts argue that at a time when India is increasingly looking at nuclear energy, transparency is crucial to ensuring public and environmental safety as well as the accountability of suppliers of the technology, and managers of nuclear power plants.

Says Venkatesh Nayak, coordinator of the Access to Information Programme at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), “How will transparency and accountability of technology- holders who do business in India be ensured? Under the present Bill, 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.”

“In the urban middle class mindset, nuclear energy is considered a security issue and the government is seen as being right in saying that this kind of information should not be disclosed. But this is blocking of the kind of information we need to know in order to demand accountability in case of disasters of the Chernobyl or the Three Mile Island kind. Should we wait for such a disaster to happen before we start to ask for accountability? Even now information regarding the Bhopal Gas tragedy is not available on a range of issues", he added.

The government’s strong-arm tactics against anti-nuclear energy campaigns such as the one against Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tamil Nadu, which are largely struggles for transparency on issues of safety analysis, environmental impact and emergency preparedness of nuclear plants have been strongly criticised by RTI activists such as Aruna Roy. (Read story here)

The amendments to the RTI Act sought by the NSRA Bill have not only been opposed by citizens and activists but by the very department responsible for implementing the RTI Act - the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievance and Pensions.

On 30 August, 2011, a week before the Bill was introduced in Parliament, the DoPT in its response to a cabinet note prepared by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) on NSRA Bill, made plain its view that the amendments sought were ‘inconsistent’ and that it was “legally incorrect to exclude any information from disclosure through any other legislation in the manner it is proposed to be done.”

Nayak, on whose application the DAE was forced to disclose the cabinet note on order of the CIC, says “When the DoPT has said that the existing exemptions under the RTI Act are adequate to take care of interests that are protected under the NSRA, where is the need to amend to this law”.

The NSRA bill proposes a second amendment in RTI Act. It seeks to put regulatory bodies that are set up to regulate nuclear materials, facilities and activities related to national defence and security under the same category as intelligence and security organisations, thus exempting them from the RTI Act.

In response to this clause of the NSRA bill DoPT said in response to the DAE’s cabinet had said, “As regards prohibition on disclosure by the regulatory authority which are proposed to be set up under Section 25 (as they are expected to deal with matters which have direct bearing on security of the state), the correct approach would be to seek notification for these bodies when they are set up, under Section 24 of the RTI Act, if it is felt that regulatory bodies would be in the nature of security and intelligence organisations. It would be legally incorrect to exclude them from the purview of the RTI Act through other legislation as this one.”

Updated Date:

Find latest and upcoming tech gadgets online on Tech2 Gadgets. Get technology news, gadgets reviews & ratings. Popular gadgets including laptop, tablet and mobile specifications, features, prices, comparison.

also read

PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti released after over a year in detention, demands other prisoners from J&K be set free
Politics

PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti released after over a year in detention, demands other prisoners from J&K be set free

Mehbooba Mufti was arrested along with other leaders hours ahead of the Centre bifurcating the state into two union territories and abrogating Article 370 in August 2019

Under police surveillance, students and principal of Kashmir's Siraj-ul-Uloom feel their school is being targeted
India

Under police surveillance, students and principal of Kashmir's Siraj-ul-Uloom feel their school is being targeted

Siraj-ul-Uloom Educational Institute is located in Hillow village, a nondescript village of apple orchards, in the Imam Sahib area of Shopian district of south Kashmir