Your right to get information from the government has become slightly more difficult.
The government has prohibited public information officers (PIOs) from providing information marked as confidential by another department without consulting the latter.
The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), the nodal office implementing the Right To Information (RTI) Act, has curbed the power of information officers by invoking the “third party” clause for sharing inter-departmental information with RTI applicants.
The third party clause under the RTI was mostly applied in cases of an individual about whom an information would be sought. The RTI law clearly says third party information cannot be provided without prior consent of the concerned party.
But, there have been instances of a department providing the information it received from another department as part of inter-departmental consultations to RTI applicants, apparently creating disharmony.
So, the DoPT arrived at the conclusion that the third party clause under RTI law is also applicable to inter-government information.
“It (seeking consent) is a statutory requirement, non-compliance of which may make the public information officer liable for action,” said the department’s circular issued this week.
To avoid disciplinary action, the circular details the procedure that the information officers will now have to undertake a procedure to provide inter-departmental information.
The circular says that if a public information officer intends to give information marked as confidential by another department,it will have to provide chance to the latter department (third party) to make a submission in that regard.
The circular, however, does not say that the PIO will have to seek approval of the third party. But, allows the third party to challenge the decision of the PIO with the first appellate authority constituted under the RTI law and thereafter, with the Information Commission.
Many RTI activists feel that the circular is unwarranted as the RTI law provides for transferring an RTI application to the department, which has created the information.
“The circular is a clear setback for transparency in the government,” said Lokesh Batra, a Noida-based RTI activist.