Even though a folder containing public comments was lost in 2010, the Centre has not changed the way it maintains records in such matters.
New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government does not appear to be learning from past mistakes. Its Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) has revealed that while it has so far received 789 responses on the suggestions and comments sought from the general public on the new draft RTI rules, these responses have not been “diarised” or recorded properly. This is despite the fact that the Centre, while going through a similar process in 2010, had not maintained such records and even lost the folder containing public comments.
Incidentally, the RTI applicant on whose query the information has been revealed, Commodore (retired) Lokesh Batra, had earlier this year demanded that the Centre make better preparations for ensuring the security and proper upkeep of public comments.
Past mistakes went unheeded
In the wake of past mistakes, Batra had said that the Centre must assure the public that the records of public comments will be maintained in compliance with Section 4(1)(a) of the Right to Information Act 2005.
However, the appeal from Batra, who had unearthed that the folder dealing with the public comments had gone missing in 2010, does not appear to have made any impact.
The latest information has come in response to a query filed by Batra in July this year, seeking the details of the responses received. The chief public information officer in the DoPT responded that while 789 persons have responded and 30 of them did so through “physical mail”, the records of email responses “need not be diarised”.
A violation of Section 4(1)(a)
Batra charged that “by not maintaining records of communication received, the public authority (DoPT) is not only flouting the office procedure of record maintenance but also violating the section 4(1)(a) of the RTI Act”.
He said the section requires that every public authority shall “maintain all its records duly catalogued and indexed in a manner and the form which facilitates the right to information under this Act and ensure that all records that are appropriate to be computerised are, within a reasonable time and subject to availability of resources, computerised and connected through a network all over the country on different systems so that access to such records is facilitated”.
On why such record-keeping was important, he said while processing the draft RTI rules 2010, the government had not maintained the records and later lost the folder containing the public comments. Even then, “due to administrative reasons the communication under reference was not diarised and it was placed in a folder”. Batra had therefore called for greater caution this year.
But with the latest RTI response revealing that even now the records are not being maintained properly, he has urged compliance with the rules.
RTI applicants worried about ‘life and death’ issues
For the RTI applicants, the issue is also important as it concerns the larger subject of safety and security of the applicants. With the Centre once again bringing forth the clause on abatement of applications on the death of the applicant, RTI activists are claiming that this would imperil the lives of applicants as vested interests may look to eliminate them to bring the cases to an end.
While the Centre has maintained that the draft RTI rules 2017 do not propose any substantive changes to the key provisions of the Central Information Commission (Management) Regulations and the Rules of 2012, the poor track record of the Modi government in matters relating to transparency related laws does not give much confidence about its intent.