Transparency Has Taken a Backseat Under Modi Rule, Says RTI Activist

RTI activist Commodore (Retd.) Lokesh K. Batra says he was provided details on the appointment of information commissioners during the Manmohan Singh era, but under the Modi government, there has been a marked change.

New Delhi: Over the last 12 years, deliberate attempts have been made to dilute and lessen the effectiveness of the Right to Information Act, according to RTI activist Commodore (Retd.) Lokesh K. Batra.

On the basis of the responses received by him from the prime minister’s office (PMO), the latest being on Friday (October 12), Batra has alleged that this marked reduction in transparency also extends to how the PMO under Prime Minister Narendra Modi responds to requests for information.

In 2012, he had asked the PMO for information on the subject of the appointment of information commissioners (IC). Batra said that at that time, the PMO central public information officer ad pointed out that the “Appointment of information commissioners in CIC (Central Information Commission), were processed on PMO’s File No.600/31/C/75/2011-ES2.”

Moreover, the activist said in 2012, when the Manmohan Singh government was in power, he was also “provided with certified copies of PMO’s complete file on appointments of chief and ICs.” But this time, when he filed an application with the PMO on September 11 seeking information on the “appointment of ICs” in the CIC, Batra said the response provided to him clearly showed that transparency in PMO had touched a new low.

“While in my RTI application, I had requested information pertaining only to PMO’s records; on 31st day of the request, the CPIO, instead of providing information, transferred the complete application to Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) under Section 6(3),” said Batra, adding that past precedent had shown that information could have easily been provided and even certified copies of the file could have been shared by the CPIO.

On the need for his filing the application with the PMO this time, Batra said in September 2016 DoPT had asked for applications for “Appointment of two information commissioners in the Central Information Commission.”

According to the information provided by the DoPT, he said, 225 people had applied for the post. But although over a year has passed, “as of now appointments have not been announced.” With two more information commissioners due to complete their terms – one having already done so on September 22 – and the other due in mid-January 2018, Batra felt it necessary to ask about the progress in the matter.

As such, he had asked the CPIO, PMO to provide him information on the list of files with reference numbers on which the current appointments of ICs in CIC was being processed in PMO; the names and designations of the Members of Screening Committee approved for shortlisting the names for the consideration by selection committee under the prime minister; and the name of cabinet minister nominated to the selection committee.

Apart from this, the activist had also asked for certified copies of the PMO communications on these matters and requested that he be allowed to inspect all the files concerned with the issue. While such a request had been entertained in 2012, Batra lamented that it has been denied this time. “It is a clear attempt by PMO to delay information,” he said.

The activist, who in the recent past has written several letters to government functionaries on “shrinking transparency” and why the appointment of commissioners was not “transparent and timely”, has this time questioned “how come CPIO, PMO thought that the information requested from PMO’s records, would be available with records held with DoPT?”

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