Government agencies and institutions are increasingly finding ways to decline information sought through the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Over the last six months, RTI queries filed by BusinessLine seeking information from agencies ranging from the Railways to the RBI have been stonewalled.
For example, on a query on newly-printed ₹500 and ₹2,000 notes, the Currency Press in Nashik declined disclosure saying the information about production numbers could “prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic and economic interest of the State or lead to incitement of an offence and would disproportionately divert the resources of the public authority”.
Hitting a stone wall
Even on the crucial Income Declaration Scheme, the amnesty scheme for tax evaders, the I-T Department is not willing to share details such as the number of taxpayers and the amount of income declared.
Details such as the number of companies that have declared income under the scheme are also under wraps. The Department is taking refuge in a July 2016 order of the Finance Ministry, which has effectively sealed off all information about the scheme.
Upon conclusion of the ‘Make in India Week’ last February, the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) announced that different State governments had received investment commitments of ₹15.20 lakh crore. When an RTI query was filed seeking names and investment commitments, the DIPP responded saying that it did not possess the information as it pertains to various State governments.
Aquery filed with the Railway Ministry seeking a detailed project report on the ₹77,000 crore Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet Train elicited the response that the information could not be shared as it could affect the competition position of agencies working on the project.
Former Central Information Commissioner, Shailesh Gandhi told BusinessLine that after litigation in the Supreme Court, the RBI had come up with a disclosure policy last year, which actually works as a non-disclosure policy. It had listed a number of items on which information cannot be shared with an RTI applicant.
Till about 2011, Public Information Officers were sharing information and were worried about repercussions and penalties. But thereafter, Information Commissioners started delaying and denying the RTI applications and were reluctant to levy penalties on an errant officer.
“In recent times there is a hardening of attitudes from people in power towards sharing of information and the Information Commissioners are also responsible for this situation,” Gandhi said.