Move to disclose Cabinet notes a fillip to RTI Act
By The New Indian Express
30th June 2012 12:28 AM
In a significant ruling, the Central Information Commission has ruled that Cabinet notes on proposed laws have to be made public within a week of such Bills being introduced in Parliament. The directive came while ordering the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) to put the Cabinet note prepared for introduction of the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill on their website by July 20. Opposing the access, the DAE had argued that the process of framing a law is not complete until the Bill is passed, gazetted and notified and cited a section of the transparency law that states that ‘Cabinet papers shall be made public after the decision has been taken, and the matter is complete, or over’.
Rejecting the argument, the CIC held that once the Cabinet clears the Bill, the ‘decision has been taken’ and ‘the matter is complete or over’ as far as the Cabinet is concerned. The ruling is yet another step forward towards expansion of the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) law. There is a larger public interest in disclosing Cabinet notes related to every new Bill tabled in Parliament. The citizen who gives legitimacy to the members of Parliament and thereby to the institution itself must be provided reasons that are behind the laws being made by their public representatives. Such disclosures will lead to a ‘better and meaningful’ democracy.
The case underlines both the strengths and the weaknesses of the RTI Act. Few would deny that it is an empowering legislation and many have benefited from it. However, as the government’s refusal to make information public indicates, seven years after Parliament passed it the road to accessing information remains arduous. A sustained public campaign to assert the right to information is necessary to bring public authorities out of their denial mode and ensure that they do not get away by providing incomplete and half-baked information.
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