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Sunday, March 15, 2009

DOPT website contradicts info commissioner

Publication: Times of India Mumbai; Date: Mar 12, 2009; Section: Times City; Page: 3

‘RTI Act Doesn’t Cover Babus’ File Notings’

Viju B | TNN

Mumbai: Chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah might have passed an order stating that file notings and decisions made by bureaucrats and ministers should fall under the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the department of personnel and training (DoPT) does not think so.

The DoPT website’s “frequently asked questions” (FAQ) section states that access to file notings are denied under the act. DoPT is in charge of training and funding government officials on RTI awareness programmes and is also the nodal agency appointing information commissioners.

Central information commissioners expressed shocked at this. “It is deplorable that the government’s website continues to provide false and misleading information to PIOs and citizens. The government must accept the repeated rulings of the commission, show respect for the rule of law and stop spreading wrong interpretations of the RTI Act,’’ information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi told TOI.

The issue came to light when the public information officer (PIO) and the appellate authority of DoPT rejected an RTI query filed by applicant Syed Arshad Ali on the grounds that the website’s FAQ section maintained that access to file notings were denied under the act.

Syed Ali , a retired senior MTNL officer, had been battling for his dues and asked for details of the rules governing the pay of government servants who held temporary posts but were later promoted to other posts.

When the case up for hearing before the CIC, the commission took strong note of this and asked whether departmental instructions could be used to override provisions of the RTI Act.

The CIC noted that the public information officer of DoPT, U S Zoya, had earlier defended the denial of information to Syed Ali by producing a DoPT circular (issued by director Simi Nakra) that such information should not be published.

The CIC said file notings fell well “within the means of information under Section 2(f) of the RTI Act”.

The reasons given for the refusal—giving weight to departmental instructions over the law despite the commission issuing orders stating that file notings fell under the RTI Act—could only be described as vexatious and flippant, Habibullah said.


What the FAQ section of the DoPT website says:

Information means any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, emails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law in force, but does not include “file notings”. TNN

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