The Cabinet on Thursday gave its nod to an amendment to restrict access to file notings under the Right to Information law, a move that RTI activists say has the potential to practically kill the infant law.
"It'll take the entire life out of the law; it's unfortunate," said OP Kejriwal, member, Central Information Commission (CIC).
Corruption can only be detected in file notings -- records of the government's decision-making process. Without them, it will never be revealed who took the decision and on what grounds.
The bureaucracy had been quietly pushing the amendment since last year, determined to pull back the iron curtain lifted by the RTI Act when it came into force in October.
So quietly that when HT reported the controversial plan in April, RTI activists criticised the plan but hinted that the political leadership would not take the "retrograde" step within months of enacting the law.
On Thursday, the cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh caught them off-guard, permitting access to file notings only on plans, schemes, programmes and projects that relate to development and social issues.
Earlier, the bureaucracy had interpreted the existing provisions to have barred access to file notings. The CIC had, however, rejected this view.
Restricting access to file notings implies that under the RTI law citizens can at best seek what decisions were taken -- almost never why.
This is why Aruna Roy -- among the ones who started the 'right to information' campaign a decade ago -- says the government has bowed to pressure from the bureaucracy and the people in power.
She said if the amendment was carried through Parliament, "It'll give protection to corruption and the arbitrary use of power. Both these things can be understood in total only if you look at the way decisions are being made."
The government had sought to take away half of what it gave a year ago, she said, pledging to "fight every inch" to prevent the cabinet decision from getting parliamentary approval.