The Union Cabinet has approved amendments to the RTI Act which will keep out file notings from disclosures.
Anna Hazare is planning a fast unto death and on returning the Padma Bhusan to protest against the amendment.
CIC (Central Information Commissioner) head says amendment will take "life out of RTI Act"!
The National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI) press release is here.
What are file notings and why are they important?
Here is an answer from an email by Arvind Kejriwal of Parivartan on the AID listserve ...
Every file has two portions. The right portion contains correspondence, minutes of meetings and orders. The left part is green pages. This is called file noting portion. When a file is put up to an officer, he writes his comments or decision on the green pages and forwards it to the next officer. The next officer similarly writes his/her comments on the green pages. Therefore, green pages are a record of the entire decision making process -which officer said what. File notings would expose if any officer wrote anything illegitimate or if he sat on the file for long. The Government would be protecting corrupt and dishonest officials, if file notings were taken out of RTI Act.
Let me give some examples.
1) Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) got a consultancy contract from Delhi Government. File notings obtained under Delhi Right to Information Act revealed that PWC was at 10th position. In fact, it did not even qualify in the preliminary round. File notings revealed how World Bank pressurized Delhi Government to bring up PWC, cancel bids, do rebidding, change selection criteria etc till such time as PWC got the contract. File notings also revealed how some honest officers protested but their protests were not accepted.
2) 150 jhuggis were razed in Mayur Vihar. DDA said no land was available to resettle them. File notings revealed that 700 plots of land had actually been developed by DDA in Kondli for resettling them. Perhaps, DDA officials wanted to sell these plots clandestinely in association with land sharks.
File notings are important even in very routine matters. Suppose you applied for a ration card or a passport and the babu expects a bribe. Under RTI, as soon as you ask for the action taken in your case and names of officials responsible for delay, they immediately do your job. You won’t be able to ask for this information any longer as it is contained in file notings. 20,000 applications filed by people across the country in the recently concluded “Drive Against Bribes” campaign will become void with this amendment.
Government says that it is important to exempt file notings from disclosure because this is preventing officers from giving honest opinions. This is an absurd defense. Many honest bureaucrats have admitted in private that RTI has made it much easier for them to say no to illegitimate pressures. Besides, nine state governments already had RTI Acts for more than seven years before the Central Act was passed. File notings were being disclosed under all these laws. No bureaucrat in any of these states felt threatened the way bureaucrats in Central Government seem to be feeling.