Different central government departments have different interpretations of the transparency law, Right To Information. While some government departments have proactively disclosed information, others have denied it, citing prohibitory clauses.
HT had filed a RTI application with the Cabinet Secretariat, seeking copies of the minutes of the Group of Ministers and Empowered Group of Ministers constituted since June 2009.
The secretariat forwarded the application to all central government departments. Almost four months after the RTI application was filed, over 50 departments responded.
Some ministries such as home affairs, urban development, law, information and broadcasting and commerce provided the copies of the minutes of the ministerial groups. The urban development ministry provided minutes of the GoM constituted to decide Phase-III of the Delhi Metro.
The law ministry provided copies of the GoM to confer voting rights to non-resident Indians and Judicial Accountability Bill. The commerce ministry gave the minutes of the GoM on price stablisation fund scheme for coffee, tea, rubber and tobacco growers.
But these were the exceptions. The civil aviation ministry refused to provide minutes of the GoM that took a final view on amendments on the Anti-Hijacking Bill. Without specifying the clause under which the information was denied, the ministry’s public information officer Ashok Kumar said, “the details of the GoM meetings and actions taken thereupon cannot be divulged”.
The ministry gave a similar reply regarding a GoM on Taj International Aviation Hub at Greater Noida.
The department of administrative reforms and public grievances, which considered a report to strengthen the RTI Act, failed to provide the information sought. Instead, it directed the applicant to visit its website to find the required information.
The RTI law, however, clearly states the information has to be provided in the format sought. Citing section 81 (a) of the RTI Act, the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion refused to provide information regarding salt pan lands in Mumbai and its suburbs. Providing such information will “prejudicially affect the economic interest of the state”, it said.
The ministry of finance provided details of the decision on price of sale of shares of Central Public Sector Enterprises, but refused to give the minutes citing section 8 of the RTI Act, which says the information cannot be provided unless the decision is completed.