Letters exchanged between the Prime Minister and his cabinet colleagues are written in confidence based on mutual trust and should not be made public under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the government's top law officer has advised.
There have been growing demands within the government to amend the RTI Act, though top functionaries have denied any such move to keep communication between the PM and his cabinet colleagues inaccessible to the public.
The latest opinion from attorney general GE Vahanvati has come on a reference from the minority affairs ministry, which sought a legal opinion on an RTI application instead of replying to it.The RTI applicant sought details of the entire communication between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the minority affairs ministry since the UPA came to power for the second time in May 2009.
Before Vahanvati's opinion, corporate affairs minister M Veerappa Moily and law minister Salman Khurshid had expressed concern at the RTI Act hampering the government's functioning.
Last month, the PM himself had gone public with his concern about balancing the people's right to know and the protection of privacy.
"Even as we recognise and celebrate the efficacy and effectiveness of the RTI Act, we must take a critical look at it… The act does have provisions to deal with privacy issues, but there are certain grey areas that require further debate," Singh had said at a convention on the RTI law in October.
Referring to the RTI Act, 2005, Vahanvati stated that letters written by the PM and cabinet ministers are within the ambit of a "fiduciary relationship", which means that such information is "held in trust" and cannot be divulged.
The attorney general's opinion comes at a time when the government has faced some anxious moments due to uncomfortable internal communications being put in the public domain due to the RTI Act.
One such letter revealed under the transparency law, written by sports minister Ajay Maken to the PM about Maken's predecessor, Mani Shankar Aiyar had sparked a political controversy, with Aiyar taking strong exception to the letter.