Q&A: Satyananda Mishra, Central Information Commission

Last Updated: Mon, Oct 03, 2011 20:00 hrs

At a time when apprehensions have been raised on the attempts to use information acquired through Right to Information (RTI) Act, Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra says the law has sufficient in-built mechanism to curb misuse. In an interview with Santosh Tiwari, the former IAS bureaucrat says information officers require proper training before appointment so as to handle the law effectively. Edited excerpts:

In the last few weeks, questions have been raised on certain quarters on the use of information culled out through RTI for settling personal scores. Do you think steps are required to correct this situation?

I also read about that...hear about that...but what is the misuse? If the law provides for disclosure of information and if it is disclosed, then why do you call it a misuse?

Investigating agencies have raised the issue that a majority of the RTI applications are filed to settle personal scores...
The law didn’t probably anticipate this. There is no such provision to prevent any class of information that is intended to be used in the manner in which you are saying. The RTI Act has outlined different situations in which the information should not be given — national security, strategic interest of India, foreign relation, economic stability of India, commercial confidence, trade secrets, intellectual property rights, breach of privileges of parliament, contempt of court, smooth investigation and prosecution of offenders, privacy of individual and personal information.

In all these circumstances, information should not be given. In the rest, information has to be given. In what way the information will be used is beyond law. Ideally, it is expected that there should be nothing in the government — apart from those prohibited to be given under the law — that can be put to misuse. If there are certain things that people feel can be put to misuse, well, the law has no remedy for them.

Do you think that the current system in place is adequate to handle the law effectively? The ultimate decision on giving the required information is on the information officer?
The holder of the information is government and the officer to decide is also a government officer. If he goes beyond his duty and discloses details that should not be provided, then he is engaging into misconduct. I have not come across a case where information officer transgressed the boundary of the law.

Do you think there should be some deterrent mechanism in the law to curb misuse of RTI and frivolous applications?
That will be a dangerous kind of a provision. Who will define what is frivolous? Whether the information will be put to any misuse or settle personal scores is subjective.

If such a clause comes, then in most of the cases information officer would conclude it is frivolous. So the law will suffer. If we try to whittle down the law, then probably you would be able to stop one or two bad cases. But, that will stop the flow of information.

Generally, this law has succeeded in bringing out the information. We should not be really short-sighted in this matter. It might initially appear to be a setback, but in the real sense it might not be a setback. While bringing the law, the government was well aware of what all it can do.

Now when the information is trickling, if you think the law is not good, it is not correct. I feel this is just a passing phase and people will mature in the use of RTI in coming times.

What about the instances of use of RTI information in cases like CWG and 2G?
Why should it be stopped? This is what information is for. Why should somebody get an information if he cannot use it in the intended manner?

Ideally, in the government, there should be no information which can be put to a wrong use. The kind of information that need to be not given have already been exempted for the purview of this law.

Investigating agencies, including the Income Tax department, complain that majority of RTI applications are filed to get personal information about individuals. How to handle that?
Income-related information is personal. It should not be disclosed if it has no relation to a public cause. Actually, what is lacking in the system is proper training to the information officers for handling RTI cases. Information officers are appointed without training. This is a dangerous situation. For, an officer without training can do both: he can stop information where it should be given and he can give information where it should not be given.

By now, the government departments should have realised the importance of preparedness to handle RTI applications. That kind of exercise has not been done anywhere. Information officers are appointed randomly. Who should be blamed — it is not good to blame the law.

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