RTI Act needs changes to protect judiciary: Balakrishnan

NHRC chief KG Balakrishnan on Friday favoured changes in the RTI Act to protect independence of judiciary and right to privacy, saying loopholes in the law, probably enacted "hurriedly", were being grossly misused.

New Delhi: NHRC chief KG Balakrishnan on Friday favoured changes in the RTI Act to protect independence of judiciary and right to privacy, saying loopholes in the law, probably enacted "hurriedly", were being grossly misused.

"Like every other legislation, this (RTI Act) is also grossly misused by some people. Just like right to information, right to privacy is also an important right and independence of judiciary is an important thing. These are all on the basis of Constitution. Just like RTI Act, any other constitutionally valued principles should also be protected," the former Chief Justice of India said.

The chairperson of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) was addressing a seminar organised by Institute of Secretariat Training and Management on `Right to Information - Key to good governance`.

Balakrishnan noted that the Act is "wonderful" and has had "great impact" on Indian society but it is infact "a sort of misuse" of the provisions of the Act which creates
problem.

"Not drastic, but some cosmetic changes are required in the act to plug the loopholes," he suggested noting that the legislation was "probably" passed in the Parliament
"hurriedly".

Balakrishnan, who demitted office of the Chief Justice in May, had consistently maintained during his tenure that his office does not come under the transparency law and hence cannot part with information like disclosure of judges` assets under it.

In a path-breaking verdict, the Delhi High Court had on January 12 held that the office of the Chief Justice of India comes under the purview of the RTI Act following which
the Supreme Court filed an appeal before itself challenging the judgment.

The former CJI noted that in over 50 countries, which have Right to Information Act, judiciary is "completely" exempted from the purview of the legislation except in India.

"I was told that it (RTI Act) is touching on privacy. That is also a serious subjects.

"I also, in my previous office, had to fight it out to some extent. Any information regarding appointment of judges...about reputation and activities of chief justice we
get written opinion. And we can not divulge it to the public. I strongly objected to these. But under the provisions of the Act, we had to divulge some of these informations. It could be misused," Balakrishnan maintained.

The NHRC chairperson noted that under the RTI Act, there are provisions for exemption in matters like public safety, integrity and safety of country, criminal investigations.

"But even then making use of the provisions of 2005 (RTI) Act, we can get so many information which could be used to harm some body, some corporate bodies individuals and all," he said.

"Unfortunately, most of the applicants, who seek information (under the Act), are misusing it in the sense that the information they see is not for public good," he said.

Suggesting that it was time to do some "introspection to the functioning of the various provisions of this Act", Balakrishnan said that citizens` conscience should also
improve, "otherwise the act is bound to be misused." Balakrishanna maintained that the Act is "mainly" intended to give information regarding the spending of the public money.

"That is more crucial. Public should be aware that whether the money spent by the government was for good of the people or it is for other reasons. That is the purpose of
the Act and to that extent it has worked well," Balakrishnan said.

Addressing the seminar, Chief Information Commissioner AN Tiwari said government guards the information and RTI Act has created a "little bridge" through which people could reach out to the government and seek information.

"...Otherwise you go to an MP or MLA. They ask questions in Parliament or Legislative Assembly. You have got starred questions and unstarred question and I repeatedly keep
saying that unstarred questions are neither questions nor answers. Most of the answers are by yes sir, no sir, don`t know sir..," he quipped.

He said that public authority must accept transparency as a norm and underlined, "RTI needs small action by ordinary people in government departments".

Noting that the entire gamut of human emotions can be seen in the RTI, Tiwari cautioned, "I would like to urge we must save RTI from an upsurge of irrational emotion."

He noted that the Act creates both the opportunity as well as problem "because it is located within the larger canvas of freedom of speech and expression."

"The problem is that because it is located within the legalistic frame work, it creates a legalistic framework on its own," he added.

PTI

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