Even as we tirelessly debated and agitated over the Lokpal Bill and related issues such as grievance redress, whistleblower protection and judicial standards and accountability in 2011, the Government of India very quietly introduced amendements to the Right to Information Act, 2005. The Government introduced The Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill (NSRA Bill) in the Lok Sabha in September 2011. This Bill seeks to add a new exemption to Section 8(1) of the RTI Act about nuclear safety matters and recommends the exclusion of an unspecified number of yet-to-be-established nuclear safety agencies from transparency obligations by placing them in Schedule 2 of the RTI Act. Thanks to information received from friends at PRS-India a couple of weeks ago I woke up to the existence of this Bill.

What is the NSRA Bill all about?
The Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions introduced this Bill (attached) in the Lok Sabha in September 2011. The same Minister is responsible for the administration of the RTI Act also.

This Bill is also available HERE

The Bill seeks to establish a legal framework for strengthening radiation and nuclear safety in India. For more details please see the second attachment.

What amendments to the RTI Act have been proposed?
The NSRA Bill introduces two amendments to the RTI Act under Sections 8 and 24. For more details please see the second attachment.

What are the implications of these proposed amendments?
The proposed amendment to Section 8(1) of the RTI Act is superfluous. The formulation of the proposed exemption also poses problems. The Bill seeks to exclude organisations concerned with nuclear safety that have not yet been established. Such organisations clearly do not fall within the categories of intelligence and security organisations mentioned in Section 24 of the RTI Act. For more details please see the second attachment.

What is the current status of the Bill?
The Bill was referred to the Department-related Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests soon after tabling. The Committee invited comments on the Bill in September itself. The press release issued by the Committee’s secretariat is accessible at: http://164.100.47.5/webcom/MainPage.aspx Friends at PRS-India say that the Committee has completed its hearings in January 2012 and is working on its report. So the report may be finalised any day before the budget session starts.

What can we do to prevent negative amendments to the RTI Act?
There is an urgent need for the entire RTI movement in India to write to the Chairperson and Members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee to reject the amendments proposed to the RTI Act. The list of committee members is given in the second attachment.

Please use the following petition to the Parliamentary Standing Committee:

No Amendments Through the Backdoor : Save the Right to Information Act

"We the people of India who have been actively using RTI to promote transparency and accountability in government are distressed to learn that the Government of India has proposed amendments to the Right to Information Act, 2005 through The Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill, 2011. This Bill was tabled in the Lok Sabha in September 2011 and has since been referred to your committee. These amendments are unnecessary in view of the adequate protection for all legitimate interests provided under Section 8(1) of the RTI Act. The exclusion of special nuclear regulatory authorities referred to in Clause 25 even before they are established by the Government is a clear instance of misuse of Section 24 of the RTI Act. Such bodies by their very nature, purpose and functions cannot be categorised as intelligence and security organisations. We urge you to recommend deletion of all clauses that seek to amend the RTI Act."

[signature]

21 signatures

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You can also send your letter/fax/email ([email protected]) directly addressed to:

The Chairperson
Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committee on
Science, Technology, Environment and Forests
Rajya Sabha Secretariat,
Room No. 005, Ground Floor,
Parliament House Annexe,
New Delhi-110001.
Tel.: 011-23034597 Fax: 011-23015585

 

 

No Amendments Through the Backdoor : Save Our RTI Act
Sincerely,
Venkatesh Nayak
Programme Coordinator
Access to Information Programme
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
B-117, First Floor, Sarvodaya Enclave
New Delhi- 110 017
Tel: +91-1143180215/ 43180201
Fax: +91-11-26864688
Website: www.humanrightsinitiative.org
Skype: [email protected]
Alternate Email ID: [email protected]