September 14, 2006, Indian Express
New Delhi, India

AMID the public discontent over the Right to Information Amendment Bill, Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah says: “I cannot presume to know whether the amendment bill will be passed. Nor 0am I so arrogant to believe that the government will accept my advice on the matter.” The Right to Information Act, which was to reverse the 1923 Official Secrets Act which protects government secrets from the public, is set to be amended in the winter session of Parliament. Habibullah was one of the delegates to the Interactive Session on the Right to Information Amendment Bill, organized by CUTS International at the India International Centre today. Magsaysay Award winner and CEO of Parivartan, Arvind Kejriwal, was also present. Kejriwal, who thanked Habibullah for having spoken out against amending the Act, said people mistakenly believed that only file notings will be removed under the amendment. He says not just file notings but also information on a particular project would be withheld unless the authorities take a final decision. “This exclusion of the public from decision-making defeats the purpose of the Act.

The public can now only conduct post-mortems of various “decisions,”Kejriwal said. The amendment would also lead to the exclusion of any information regarding examination systems and evaluations as well as personal information regarding promotions, appointments or dismissals. The public information officer will also have the right to withhold information on ‘substantiative’ file notings. “The vague wording of the amendment could mean that any demand for information can be denied,” Kejriwal says. “The government’s rationale behind the amendment is to accommodate the free flow of opinion among government employees on various projects. However this is not true. Most bureaucrats in fact state that the Right to Information (Act) would save them from being pressurised by corrupt politicians or seniors,” the CEO of Parivartan added. Habibullah and Kejriwal agreed that the mindset of the public and bureaucrats has to change, with the latter saying that the landmark Act could give millions of Indians hope if it is left untouched. “If the amendment bill is not passed this winter session and more citizens use it, in a few years no government will be able to touch it,” the Magsaysay Award winner said.