The government's zero transparency enabled Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority (NSRA) Bill has got thumbs down from a Parliamentary standing committee.
The Atomic Energy Department had introduced NSRA Bill for setting up independent nuclear safety watchdog in Parliament last year with specific clauses limiting the applicability of the Right To Information (RTI) Act, the government's first such move.
The bill propose to incorporate additional proviso in section 8 --- listing exempted clauses --- of the RTI Act prohibiting disclosing of information compromising confidentiality of commercially sensitive information of technology holders. The insertion of this provision would mean no information related to nuclear safety would be disclosed.
The bill also seeks to keep existing nuclear organizations outside the purview RTI Act by including them in the second schedule of the Act in the name of country's defence and nuclear interests. Intelligence and investigating agencies such as Central Bureau of Investigation are already listed in the schedule.The clause 26 of NSRA bill prohibits any person from disclosing information relating to exempted organization and disclosing such information would be liable for punishment ----- maximum of five years in prison and an unspecified amount of fine. The RTI law provides penalty of up to Rs 25,000 for not disclosing information but it is for the first time that jail term has been prescribed for providing information.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, which discussed the bill, felt that these clauses would restrict people's right to information and allow only that information to be disclosed which the proposed authority wanted.
"Such provisions do not augur well in democracy," said a standing committee member, who was not willing to be quoted as the committee report is yet to be tabled in Parliament. The report finalised this week would be introduced in the budget session starting from second week of March. "The jail provision for disclosing information will prevent disclosing any information."
Venkatesh Nayak, co-convenor of National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI), said the bill exempts people centric information related to nuclear safety under the blanket phrase "sensitive information" which was not desirable. He also wondered why the government was incorporating additional exemption clauses in NSRA Bill when such provisions were part of the RTI Act.
The committee, which received representations from civil society organizations against the Bill, is likely to seek changes in some of the provisions restricting applicability of the RTI Act on nuclear installations.